November 29, 2013

An Independent Kurdistan: Dream or Reality? 6 Articles + 1 Video

1. An excerpt from, "The Kurdish issue returns to prominence" by Ted Galen Carpenter, Aspenia Online, November 28, 2013:
The resurgence of the Kurdish issue involving multiple Middle Eastern countries puts the United States and its Western allies in an awkward position. US leaders already worry that ties with Turkey have frayed in recent years and are anxious to show their support for the position and interests of a valued NATO ally. Washington also shares Ankara’s goal of keeping Syria intact in a post-Assad era. Obama administration officials certainly do not want to encourage the creation of a separatist Kurdish entity in Syria - especially given the vehement opposition of both Ankara and Baghdad to such a development.

Yet Iraqi Kurds have been the only consistent, pro-Western, pro-American segment of Iraq’s population, and the Syrian Kurds appear to harbor similar sentiments. Moreover, Syrian Kurdish militias have been the most successful fighters against the Al-Nusra Front and other militant Islamist factions in Syria. By opposing Kurdish secession in Syria, the United States might weaken an ally that is successfully combating the West’s dangerous terrorist adversaries.
2. An excerpt from, "The Rise of Greater Kurdistan" by Ted Galen Carpenter, The National Interest, November 25, 2013:
Admittedly, the Kurdish issue poses a thorny diplomatic problem for Washington. The Kurdish population in Iraq is easily the most democratic, procapitalist and pro-Western faction in that troubled country. And although it is too soon to tell for certain, Syria’s Kurds seem to have a similar orientation. But existing countries in the Middle East worry greatly about the implications of spreading Kurdish autonomy, and Washington is reluctant to ignore, much less dismiss, their objections.

U.S. leaders need to ask themselves, however, whether the existing policy of insisting on a united Iraq and a united Syria is now devoid of any connection to realities on the ground. Giving consideration to establishing ties with an independent Kurdistan that extends across the Iraq-Syria border would undoubtedly make the governments of Syria, Iraq and Turkey unhappy. But one of the crucial tests of statesmanship is recognizing when an existing policy has become untenable. U.S. leaders must at least begin to consider whether that time has arrived regarding the Kurdish issue.
3. An excerpt from, "An Independent Kurdistan? Not if the US Can Help It" by Emre Uslu, Al Monitor, September 12, 2013:
First, the US will have to intervene in what will inevitably be a new crisis, just as it is trying to get out of Afghanistan. Americans have no intention to intervene. The US is reshaping its operational presence in the Middle East in accordance with “offshore balancing,” as we saw in Libya. It is extremely costly for the US to intervene in crises with ground troops. It does not want another crisis in Iraq that may require American troops on the ground.

Second, the US wants to counterbalance Shiite influence in Iraq over the Kurds and Sunnis. For Kurds and Sunnis to secede from Iraq and set up their own states means total Iranian tutelage over the critical oil region of Basra. The last thing Americans want is for the Shiites to be under Iranian control after the Kurds declare independence, as that would remove the strongest barrier to Iran’s Shiite crescent strategy. The US will not allow the Shiite region to go under Iranian control. Here, Barzani has a critical role to play. As long as Kurds and Sunnis are in Baghdad, they will always keep Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iran’s regional aspirations in check. No doubt, Tehran loves the idea of Kurdish independence.

Third, the US has always perceived the Kurdish region as an island of stability. Declaring its independence would mean decades of instability and new enmities in the region. America wants to be able to safely transfer the energy resources in both the Kurdistan Regional area and Kirkuk to Western markets. The US is pursuing a cold war strategy against Iran with no end in sight. A key pillar of this strategy is the embargo on Iranian oil. While the US created this strategy with its risks in mind, it is not going to allow Barzani to declare independence and destabilize Iraq’s oil regions indefinitely.

The US prefers a stable Iraqi government that flirts with Iran to an unstable Iraq. That is why Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s pro-Iranian attitude has gone unnoticed— what Iran stands to gain from such a tryst is less significant than what the US might lose from an unstable Iraq. Al-Maliki is well aware of the American quandary and plays up his relations with Iran to test the limits of his opponents.
The fourth reason is Saudi Arabia. It is a fact that the Saudi attitude towards Iran is more hostile than any Arab position against Israel. The real struggle in the region is between Iran and Saudi Arabia. If the Kurds declare independence in the north and Iraq is divided into three parts, then the Iranians — with their access to the Shiite region — will be land-neighbors with Saudi Arabia. Such a situation will provide Iran with a substantial opportunity to provoke the Shiites in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. The Saudis, who intervened in Bahrain to prevent the outbreak of the Arab Spring, will do everything possible to prevent Iraq’s fragmentation.

In a nutshell, Barzani’s independence would mean destabilizing not only Iraqi energy resources, but Saudi energy resources as well. No White House can live with $ 5– 6 per gallon of gasoline for its citizens, and the key to that is in Barzani’s hands. This is why the US is the biggest obstacle to an independent Kurdistan. For the time being at least…
The idea that "Tehran loves the idea of Kurdish independence" is a huge overstatement. Iran's central authorities have been against this idea for centuries upon centuries, and nothing they've done in this new century tells us that they have changed their minds about Kurdish separatism. According to David Pollock, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, the Iranian government has over 700 safe houses in Iraqi Kurdistan to keep tabs on exiles, dissidents, and activists, a reflection of the fear it has of its own Kurdish population rising up in large numbers in a period of instability and war. Watch Pollock's lecture in this video called, "The Kurdish Crescent: New Trends in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran."

It's hard not to feel sympathy for the U.S. position. A prolonged period of high prices at the pump due to widespread war in the Middle East has the potential to lead to major political instability at home. So, for the foreseeable future, U.S. policy in the Middle East will continue to revolve around two key issues: oil and Israel. 

4. An excerpt from, "U.S. Playing Iraq and Kurdistan" by Zayd Alisa, Veterans Today, January 13, 2013: 
The Kurdish leadership, particularly Barzani, has made no secret that their ultimate objective is independence and that the insurmountable obstacle has so far been the US. Yet, ironically the CG has continued to pay the KRG an over-inflated 17% share of the overall Iraqi budget, which has been utilised to ramp up the viability of an already existing Kurdish state in Northern Iraq. As the KR’s independence becomes an inescapable reality in all but name, it is imperative that the CG halts all payments to the KRG. Indeed, declaring that the KR is an independent state would, among other things, cause the following: First, perilously destabilise Turkey by aggravating its indigenous Kurdish crisis.

Second, severely undermine Saudi and Qatari attempts to topple Al Maliki’s CG because such a move is bound to spark a Sunni-Arab confrontation with the Kurds – similar to the bloody battles raging in Syria, given that the overwhelming majority of Arabs in the disputed areas are Sunnis – rather than rachting up the sectarian strife between the Sunni-Shia Arabs that the two countries have been working tirelessly to achieve. Third, turn the Arab world’s opinion against Saudi and Qatari arming and funding of the insurgents in Syria, fearing a similar break up of the country. Fourth, throw the already stumbling US Middle East policy into further disarray. These grave implications are bound to jolt the US into exerting intense pressure on Barzani to make major concessions to the CG and therefore preserving Iraq’s unity. Otherwise, if all that fails the CG must unilaterally declares the KRG as an independent state.
5. An excerpt from, "Kurdistan – Just Being Independent" by Steven A. Cook, Middle East Voices, October 29, 2013:
Finally, even though the Kurds insist they will do nothing to break up Iraq, they want others – especially the United States – to approach the region in a way that reinforces the idea of the inevitability of Kurdish independence.  Yet for political reasons Washington will resist deviating from its “one Iraq” policy. This, of course, produces policies that are incongruous with reality, but when has that ever stopped Washington?  My favorite example is the American effort to encourage better relations between Ankara and Erbil.  There was a time not too long ago when observers feared that Turkey would invade Iraq to snuff out Kurdish independence. In order to forestall such an event, the United States has encouraged Ankara to shift its approach to the Kurdistan region and since 2008 the Turks have developed (as noted above) strong economic ties with the Kurds. A great American diplomatic success, except that it is apparently too much of a success. Washington now wants the Turks to back off of a deal that would send Kurdish oil directly to Turkey, bypassing the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline that Baghdad controls. Why?  Because the Turkish-Kurdish deal would demonstrate that the Kurds can act independent of Baghdad.

Unlike the first two challenges to Kurdish independence, Washington’s position is a complication not a potential obstacle. Yet even accounting for Kirkuk and internal rivalries, it is likely that one day everyone is going to wake up and there will be a new country called Kurdistan. The Kurds will not have to declare independence, they won’t dance in the streets, there will not be a need for fireworks, or a founding date, though I am sure someone will make one up so future Kurdish embassies can invite people to their national day celebrations. No, the Kurdish state will just come into being. It is already happening.
6. An excerpt from, "Say It Again. Kurdish Independence Now" by Jonathan Spyer, The Tower Magazine, September 2013:
The civil war in Syria and the increasing fragility of Iraq have thrown the long-term future of these states into question. For years, they were ruled by brutal regimes that held power in the name of Arab nationalism; as a result, they failed to knit together the populations they ruled into a coherent national identity. With the decline of repressive centralized authority in Syria and Iraq, however, older nationalities and identities are reemerging. Chief among them are the Kurds. Indeed, current regional developments make Kurdish statehood a realistic possibility for the first time in living memory.

I have reported on a number of occasions from both Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan. I last visited these areas four months ago, and have an extensive network of friends and contacts there and in the wider Kurdish world. And it has become overwhelmingly clear to me that Kurdish sovereignty would be of benefit to the Kurds, the region as a whole, and Western interests in the Middle East. I find it unfortunate that the emerging Kurdish success story receives so little attention in the West—both among policymakers and the general public.

Kurdish statehood is good for the Kurds. It’s also good for the West.
And it's also good for Israel. 

Video Title: The Kurdish Crescent: New Trends in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Source: Washington Institute. Date Published: November 14, 2013. Description:
Kurdish-populated regions are a geopolitical keystone connecting the many parts of the Near East that dominate today's headlines, from Syria to Iraq to Turkey and Iran.

To discuss the Kurdish factor in the region's most pressing challenges, The Washington Institute on November 14, 2013, hosted a Policy Forum luncheon with Michael Knights and David Pollock, who provided fresh on-the-ground views gathered during their recent visits to the region.