U.S. Should Support an Independent Kurdish State

The second step is to lock down the conflict in the south using enough air power to prevent major troop movements and enforce a cease-fire. Then we can bring the legitimate parties, which does not include ISIS, to the bargaining table. We can help broker an arrangement between the government in Baghdad and the Sunni tribes who were our partners during the Awakening and the surge.

During the surge, these tribes turned their allegiance toward the government in Baghdad in return for promises of fair treatment and reconciliation. The rapid collapse of the Iraqi state in the Sunni regions is largely the result of the government not acting fairly toward its citizens there. The United States promised to serve as guarantor for many of these agreements. When we withdrew our forces, we failed to oversee the faithful execution of those promises.  As a consequence, we bear some of the blame for the current situation in Iraq.

A political solution where our Awakening-era allies among the Sunni tribes are returned to power is another strategically valuable outcome. This may or may not mean a free state for them, depending on the course of the negotiations. It needs to at least provide significant autonomy, as the Shi’a-led government has proven it will not fairly guard the interests of its minority populations. It must also be a solution the powerful Sunni tribes feel they have an interest in defending.

More Sunni autonomy will also provide a buffer between the Iranian-influenced regions of Iraq and the Levant. The Iranians have powerful influence in the regions of Iraq populated by Shi’a Muslims and their defense of the government in Baghdad has only strengthened their hand.  But they also support terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah, in the Levant.  Other Sunni nations, especially Saudi Arabia, are gravely concerned by Iran’s influence. A zone led by our Sunni Awakening allies would be calming and gain the support of the Saudis and other Gulf Arab states.

The chance to contain this conflict inside the traditional borders of Iraq was lost when their government betrayed its promises to its people after we abandoned the country. There is no reason to believe that changing the prime minister can repair the trust that was squandered. While ISIS needs to be stopped, we should not forget that our greater concern is not ISIS but Iran.  We must steer very clear of anything resembling an alliance with the Iranians, which would legitimize their efforts with the appearance of powerful international support.

Encouraging and endorsing a Kurdish free state would provide a strong ally for the U.S. where we can truly use one. Locking down the conflict in Iraq would push the government in Baghdad and the Sunni tribes to negotiate. These strategic initiatives provide a roadmap to a more stable Iraq and a more peaceful region.