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Iraq Disintegrates
Kurdistan Exists: What Now?

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.

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  • bigfire

    The other problem has been transportation of oil. Previously the only pipeline out of oil production Kurd region have all been going south towards the Gulf. Perhaps Turkey is thinking of grabbing a piece of oil pipe by getting Kurd->Turkey->Black Sea pipeline and getting the transit fee. In exchange, Turkey gives up Kurdish Turkey region.

  • Honk

    Well, it is good to know that someone in the region other than al-Qaeda has a handle on things.

  • LarryD

    The Kurds were promised their own country during WWII, the stumbling block has been Turkey. If the Turks no longer object, Washington should either help or stay neutral.

    If Obama’s motives are as malign as some believe, he’ll try and throw a spanner in the works.

    • S.C. Schwarz

      This would be a good idea and enhance stability in the region. Who wants to bet Obama will oppose it anyway?

      • Curious Mayhem

        We’ll see how much Obama remains smitten with Erdogan. The State Department isn’t, but advice from people who might know something counts for little at the White House.

  • lukelea

    Maybe the Sunnis in Iraq and eastern Syria should have their own state too?

  • gabrielsyme

    The idea that the West should defer to the interests of Turkey is a ridiculous position. The realpolitik considerations and loose ideological kinship of the Cold War era is no longer a justification for protecting the interests of a decidedly unpleansant regime and nation; one that has illegally occupied a significant part of another sovereign nation for the past forty years; that continues to deny the genocide committed against the Armenians and does not even have diplomatic relations with Armenia to this day. Kurdistan should be born, whether the Turks are happy about it or not. A happy and independent Kurdistan is likely to be a stronger strategic ally than if it remains part of a divided Iraq.

    • Damir Marusic

      Should NATO be scrapped, then?

      • John Stephens

        The United States should withdraw from NATO, and the remaining organization should become the military arm of the EU. Let Europe defend Europe.

        • S.C. Schwarz

          Exactly right. Why are they our problem?

      • f1b0nacc1

        Why not? Other than providing a fig leaf for policy implementation that American politicians don’t wish to accept responsibility for, what does NATO offer that a few well-placed bilateral agreements would not?

      • gabrielsyme

        I wouldn’t go that far, but Turkey should definitely be ejected from the alliance. It is a genocide-denier and continual violator of international law. Its domestic record on human rights is far worse than any other NATO member. And the overriding strategic rationale for their membership is gone.

  • stefanstackhouse

    The inclusion of any Kurdish areas within the state of Iraq was purely an accident of history, and certainly not a good accident at that. Of course there will be those who will be knee-jerk against any change in the status quo; there always are. When the perpetuation of the status quo serves mainly to perpetuate the unjust and the unsustainable, however, it is rarely if ever worth as much effort as the US usually puts into trying to perpetuate it – especially when it comes to perpetuating arbitrary border lines drawn on a map by dead white guys that were not living there and had never even seen those borderlands.

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