Monday, October 18th | 12 Heshvan 5782

July 13, 2017 10:36 am

The Time Is Ripe for Kurdish Independence

avatar by Joseph Puder


Kurdish fighters in Syria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will hold a referendum on independence on September 25, 2017. By all accounts, the majority of Iraqi Kurds under the umbrella of the KRG would vote for independence. This would make Iraqi Kurdistan the 196th sovereign nation in the world. In terms of fairness and justice, such a step is long overdue, given the lack of self-determination for 40 million Kurds in the wider region, and approximately 5.5 million Iraqi Kurds.

Naturally, all of the neighboring states — Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey — have had a pact among them to prevent the creation of a Kurdish state. These states fear that Kurdish independence would inspire their restless Kurdish minorities to join the newly establish Kurdish state.  

The Kurds in Turkey account for approximately 20% of the country’s 80 million citizens. In Iran, the Kurdish population is the third largest sect after the Persians and the Azeris; the Kurds comprise 10% of Iran’s population of more than 79 million people. In Syria, the Kurds number approximately 2.5 million out of a total population of 17,591,634

Sadly, previous US administrations have opposed Kurdish independence, and clung to the erroneous policy that Iraq must be maintained in its current form as a “united” Iraq. Yet Iraq, like neighboring Syria, is a fractured entity that combines ethnic and religious groups that do not wish to stay together. 

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The colonial powers of Britain and France concocted the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916; this pact outrageously forced different sects together as new nations, and did not take into consideration the interests of the local people. Rather, Sykes-Picot sought to advance the colonial powers’ political and economic interests. Although most Kurds are Sunnis, they are not Arabs, and they have always been discriminated against by the Arab regimes in Iraq and Syria.  

It is incomprehensible that US supports the regime in Baghdad at the expense of the pro-American and pro-Western Kurdistan Regional Government — which is, for all intents and purposes, already an independent entity with its own government ensconced in the capital of Erbil. The KRG has its own parliament, flag and army. The Baghdad government, led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, is doing Iran’s bidding, and its powerful Shiite militias are more loyal to the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei than to al-Abadi.

To demonstrate the advantages of establishing an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, I asked Sherkoh Abbas, the president of the Kurdistan National Assembly, to explain the situation to American audiences. He told me:

An independent Kurdistan will bring to a halt the creeping Shia Crescent. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf states have recently started to view an independent Kurdistan in a positive light. They view it as a way to confront Iranian aggression in the Middle East.  [Kurdistan would be] a buffer against Iran and the new emerging neo-Ottoman threat from Turkey, which seeks to replace Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Muslim world.

…new developments in the Arab world should convince many in the US Congress and the Trump administration that supporting an independent Kurdistan would bring stability to the region, and reduce two major threats from Iran and Turkey. Moreover, the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria have been — and continue to be — the most effective fighting force against the Islamic State.

Two years ago, the Arab world opposed the idea of splitting the “Arab lands” of Iraq and Syria. Now however, they know that if they keep these two countries whole, it would disadvantage and undermine the Saudi kingdom and benefit Iran. It is for this reason that the moderate Sunni states think it is good to let the people of these nations (Iraq and Syria) go their own way.

It is also important to note that the US does not need American boots on the ground in order to confront Iranian aggression in the Middle East. … A good portion of Iran’s population is comprised of large minority groups such as the Azeris, Balochis, Kurds and Ahwazi Arabs. These groups are capable of waging an uprising against the Iranian regime, and could help collapse it from within. 

Finally, America should support an independent Kurdistan because it is the right and moral thing to do.

The Treaty of Sevres (August 1920), signed by the Ottoman government, provided for a Kurdish state — but was then superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. All the promises to the Kurds were nullified, and Kemal Ataturk annexed the Kurdish area. The Soviets, for their own reasons and interests, helped the Kurds in Iran establish an independent entity called the Republic of Mahabad in 1946, but less than a year later, it was crushed by the Shah of Iran. Iraqi Kurds have been struggling for autonomy since the 1930’s. In March 1970, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi-Kurdish parties agreed to a peace accord. It granted the Kurds autonomy. The accord also recognized Kurdish as an official language, and amended the Iraqi constitution to state that: “The Iraqi people is made of two nationalities, an Arab nationality and a Kurdish nationality.”

Yet Iraqi Kurdish autonomy never came to be. On March 16, 1988, more than 6,800 Kurdish civilians were killed in a poison gas attack initiated by Saddam Hussein. A Kurdish uprising against Hussein in March 1991, encouraged by the US, resulted in Saddam Hussein unleashing his army against the Kurds. The US refused to intervene, resulting in 1.5 million Kurds fleeing before the Iraqi onslaught.  

The Kurds, unlike the Palestinians, have not been coddled by the United Nations or the European Union, nor do Western leftists groups wage demonstrations on behalf of their self-determination. Yet they are a distinct people with their own language and culture. It his high time for the US to support Kurdish independence.

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