News & Politics

The U.S. Should Support Kurdish Independence for Moral and Practical Reasons

Peshmerga fighters from Iraq's Kurdistan autonomous region are deployed some 20 kilometers northeast of Mosul on Oct. 20, 2016, as they seek to capture a village under the control of Islamic State. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Later this month, on September 25th, 2017, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will hold a binding referendum on whether or not the Kurdish region will secede from Iraq, becoming an independent state. For all intents and purposes, the KRG is already an independent entity. It has its own capital in Erbil, its own flag, parliament, and army.

It is more than likely that the Iraqi Kurds will choose independence from the Shiite dominated regime in Baghdad, which is beholden to the Islamic Republic of Iran, with its terror sponsoring machinations and hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East and beyond. Over a decade ago (January, 2005), the Kurds held a non-binding referendum in which 99.88% endorsed independence.

In emphasizing why this referendum is imperative, Sami Ergoshi, spokesman for the KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, pointed out that “The referendum is going to be held because of the Kurdish people’s intense heartiness for being independent.” Being the only large ethnic and linguistic group in the Middle East lacking self-determination and independence, the Kurds have clearly earned their right to determine their future.

Regrettably, the U.S. administrations past and present do not support the fundamental rights of the Kurdish people to have their own independent state. It is puzzling why the U.S. would support an independent Palestinian state – a likely terrorist state, but not a democratic Kurdish state. The U.S. “continues to support a federal, unified and democratic Iraq. We do not support a referendum at this time.” That is what a U.S. State Department official told Fox News. The State Department official stated that, “A referendum now could have catastrophic consequences for Baghdad-Erbil cooperation that is essential to defeat ISIS.”

The term “catastrophic consequences” is a rather strong diplomatic language for the State Department to use. The State Department used a similar language in its attempt to persuade President Truman not to recognize the Jewish state of Israel in 1947-1948. But the similarities do not end there. Israel, as it turned out, is the only Middle East democracy that shares the same values with the U.S. The Kurds too, with perhaps not as a vibrant democracy as Israel, nevertheless share America’s values in contrast to its neighbors: Shiite dominated Iraq, the mullahs theocracy of Iran, Erdogan’s dictatorship in Turkey, or the Damascus dictator of Syria, Bashar Assad, who has the blood of half-a-million fellow Syrians on his hands.

The Kurds, like the Jews of Israel, are capable of defending themselves with their Peshmerga forces. The Kurds enjoy a growing and open economy, and Erbil has welcomed and protected Christians, Yazidi’s, Arab Sunni’s and Shiite refugees. Most of all, it has welcomed American troops and kept them safe. Unlike Baghdad, where American G.I.’s were targeted by Shiite-Arab and Sunni-Arab extremists, Erbil is a haven for Americans.

The State Department’s reference to “catastrophic consequences” is due to fear of a war between the KRG or Kurdistan and the Baghdad regime. But, if the powerful Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship couldn’t defeat the Kurds, the Shiite-Iraqi army, much weaker under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, will not try to subjugate Erbil. The claim by the State Department that a referendum would end the cooperation between Erbil and Baghdad in fighting ISIS, better known now as the Islamic State (IS), is also false. Moreover, the Kurds were far more effective in defeating IS than the Iraqi army or the pro-Iranian Shiite-militias.

Erdogan’s Turkey has been the most vociferous, militating against Kurdish independence. According to Fox News “Turkey has already warned that holding the referendum will be a grave mistake, and Iran has been very vocal in its position that the disintegration of its (Shiite) neighbor will spell danger for the region as a whole.” Naturally the Arabs, Iranians and Turks have been thwarting Kurdish aspirations for more than a century. Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria have conspired together to prevent Kurdish self-determination, while oppressing their Kurdish minorities.

On a recent trip to Turkey, Iran’s Chief-of-Staff Major-General Mohammad Bagheri, warned against the KRG independence referendum. He charged that the plebiscite will usher new tensions and clashes inside Iraq, with negative effects on neighboring countries. In response, the spokesman for the KRG’s Peshmerga affairs ministry told Kurdistan24, “We want to tell all parties that are speaking about the rights of the people of Kurdistan that it is not their job to do so, and this is considered a clear interference in the internal affairs of Kurdistan.” He added, “Holding the referendum is a justified and natural right of the Kurdish people, and no one apart from the people of Kurdistan has the right to speak about it.”

Where conflict might arise between Erbil and Baghdad is over the Kirkuk Governate. Kirkuk has oil, which is one of the reasons that under the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, the British government concocted a country called Iraq. It brought together unwilling groups of Shiite Arabs in the South (Gulf oil), Sunni-Arabs in the center, and non-Arab Kurds in the North. Kirkuk’s oil was the essential reason the Kurdish areas were added to form Iraq. Both Baghdad and Erbil want the Kirkuk oil revenue. The Iraqi government is, however, unlikely to go to war over it.

Turkey, where the Kurds count for at least 25% (about 20 million strong) of the population, is another story. Turkey and Iran remain the most dangerous foes of Kurdish independence. While Turkey may not invade and occupy the KRG territory, it has sent strong warnings to the Barzani government against including Kirkuk in an independent Kurdistan. The Turks contend that under the Iraqi constitution, Kirkuk is an Iraqi city, not a Kurdish one. Yet, the majority of Kirkuk’s population is Kurdish

A valid concern is that given the ongoing fighting between the Turkish army and the Kurdish PKK (The Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Workers Party), there is the real risk that the fighting might spill over from Turkey into Northern Syria and Northern Iraq. But, what makes things different now, is that the two Arab states – Iraq and Syria – which banded together with Iran and Turkey to suppress Kurdish aspirations, are in turmoil.

Iraqi Kurds are America’s only reliable ally. Unlike the Iraqi government in Baghdad, the Kurds have not aligned themselves with the Iranian–backed militias. Nor, for that matter, are they on the side of Hezbollah or the Syrian government, which are working together with Russia. For the Kurds, political-Islam is an anathema, just as much as it is for Americans. The Kurds view political Islam as an alien export from the Arab world.

An independent Kurdish state is far more likely to be democratic and stable than its neighbors on all sides. With American backing, the Kurdish state might be a model to its neighbors for democratic progress. Turkey and Iran have no right to determine the future of Kurdistan, and the U.S. must make it clear that it won’t allow outside interference in Kurdistan. An independent Kurdistan will be at peace with Israel, and a barrier to Iranian expansionism and it’s Shiite Crescent.

Iraq, much like Humpty-Dumpty, once broken, cannot be put together again. Iraq was an artificial creation to begin with, and thus, it is time for the U.S. government to recognize that a unified Iraq is nothing less than supporting old colonial machinations. Recognizing the will of the Kurdish people however, will do justice to a people long oppressed and denied self-determination.