As Iraq falls apart, the main storyline worth watching apart from the terrifying rise of ISIS is the potential rise of an independent Kurdistan.On Monday, Massoud Barzani, the president of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region, told CNN that, “The time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future and the decision of the people is what we are going to uphold.” But it appears that the U.S. approach will be to ask the Kurds to stay in Iraq and help rebuild the shattering country. The Wall Street Journal reports:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Kurdish leaders on Tuesday to back the Iraqi government in its fight against a growing Islamist insurgency in western Iraq and to support the formation of a new national government in Baghdad.But the president of the Kurdish Regional Government, an autonomous body inside Iraq, said the country was facing a “new reality” after the al Qaeda-linked militia, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, gained control of large swaths of western Iraq in recent weeks, including the city of Mosul.
The Kurds are unlikely to achieve full autonomy without the support—or at a minimum acquiescence—of Turkey. Historically, Ankara’s conflict with the ethnically Kurdish PKK within Turkey has made it inimical to Iraqi Kurdistan’s aspirations. In the past few years, however, there has been a paradigm shift in relations, and the previously unthinkable must feel tantalizingly close for Iraq’s Kurdish population.Nevertheless, the U.S. and Turkey appear to have consulted one another on Iraqi Kurdistan, and are singing from the same hymnal:
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden agreed on the necessity of the formation of a unified government in Iraq during a phone conversation on June 23…Erdoğan and Biden exchanged views on the latest developments in Iraq and agreed on the prompt formation of a national consensus government in order to protect Iraq’s territorial integrity and political union and to achieve success in its fight against terror, Turkish officials said, according to Anadolu Agency.
While Turkey is now a major ally of the Kurds, it also has an interest in containing the Sunni chaos at their border and in securing the release of Turkish hostages taken by ISIS. It may see an Iraqi state stiffened by the Kurds as a useful way to achieve these aims, at least in the immediate term.Meanwhile, there is an irony in this that the Kurds readily see: as the Governor of Kirkuk pointed out, when he was still a senator, Biden had been the foremost proponent of the tripartition of Iraq into a loose federation of three ethnic states.