As Syria and Iraq dissolve, a new regional power is rising: Kurdistan. From time immemorial, Kurds have been rebelling against surrounding empires, but since the fall of Kirkuk, Kurdistan is looking less like a pipe dream, and more a reality. Reports are emerging from regional sources that the ruling Turkish AKP party is open to an independent Kurdistan. Former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith made a strong case for Washington embracing the emerging state on Tuesday. And Reuters reports that a senior Sunni-Iraqi politician acknowledged Kurdish self-rule as a fait accompli:
Baghdad’s military retreat from the north under the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) led assault last week allowed Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to seize control of long-disputed Kirkuk and its oil reserves – potential economic lynchpin of a Kurdish entity.“The dream of a greater Kurdistan has already been achieved on the ground…. Kurdistan of Iraq is already on its national desired border and I don’t think it will be easy to push back,” [Chairman of Iraq’s oil and gas committee Adnan-al] Janabi told a conference in London.
Money has always been a big problem for the Kurds. Now, if they hold onto Kirkuk, they could easily keep Kurdistan afloat on its oil revenues.The biggest problems for the Kurds, however, has been the attitude of neighboring states—particularly America’s NATO ally Turkey. The Turkish-PKK war, fought by ethnically Kurdish extremists in Turkey, cost tens of thousands of lives and left a lasting enmity between Ankara and Iraqi Kurdistan.Recently, however, there has been a surprising reconciliation between the two. Kurdistan has exported its oil through Turkey, while the Iraqi Kurds have helped the Turks suppress the PKK. Experts thought until recently that this also involved a deeper trade: the Turks would back de facto Kurdish autonomy within Iraq, and in return, the Iraqi Kurds would make no claims on full independence, so as not to encourage Turkey’s Kurds to break away. From Turkey’s current pro-Kurdish stance in this crisis, and especially if emerging reports about the AKP’s stance are true, however, this may have just changed.Washington may also be taking another look at the Kurdish question as Iraq falls apart. A newly-independent Kurdistan would likely be both anti-extremist and friendly to America. If Kurdish independence is a fact on the ground, and the Iraqis don’t think they can reverse it, what then is the White House’s plan? Where do US interests lie? Even by Middle Eastern standards, the future of Kurdistan is one of the most explosive questions out there. Washington needs to think fast, think hard, and keep in close touch with the Turks going forward.