Nov 01 2017

"The Kurds are right back where they started"

"The Kurds’ quest for independence is 100 years old. So is their sense of grievance."

As united as they are in their quest and grievances, the Kurds are also as divided as any other ethnic group — by dialect, ideology, and the priorities of their leaders, Joost Hilterman wrote in the U.S. magazine, The Atlantic.

When, on Oct. 16, Iraqi federal government forces swiftly captured the northern city of Kirkuk and the region's oil rich fields, it was thanks to a deal between Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), rivals of Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The PUK, led by Jalal Talabani until his death on Oct. 3, had opposed Barzani's much-cherished Sept. 25 referendum on Kurdish independence, Hilterman said, and the party took the opportunity to "turn the tables on Barzani".

But Barzani misjudged U.S. opposition to the referendum and was guilty of over-confidence. The United States backed Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein against Iran during the 1980-8 Iran-Iraq war and then turned a blind eye against his domestic atrocities, including a 1988 poison gas attack on the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja that killed  thousands.

So, the Kurds should have known better:

The late Nowshirwan Mustafa Amin, Talabani’s long-time deputy, as well as a thinker with a deep historical understanding and strategic outlook, told me years ago he repeatedly warned against putting all Kurdish eggs in Washington’s basket precisely because of the way it had treated the Kurds in the past.

But they did.

The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq brought about conditions where the Kurds not only laid the ground for autonomy, but also gained the friendly partnership of the United States. Turkey too, from 2007, made direct deals with the KRG, ignoring Baghdad’s protests.

So, although the Obama administration was always reserved in its promises to Barzani, the strong military backing it provided for Kurds to fight Islamic State (ISIS) was encouraging; or at least that is what the Iraqi Kurds wanted to believe. By interpolation, they hoped to receive the same level of backing against an old enemy, Iran, from the new president, Donald Trump. They were proven wrong.

Why, the Kurds asked, would Washington oppose their inalienable right to self-determination, one that Americans themselves once exercised, after they proved themselves to be Washington’s steadfast allies in Iraq after 2003, especially in the fight against ISIS? And why had America led them to believe they were on the path to independence, only to chastise them when they expressed this deepest aspiration?

Hilterman asks this question from the Iraqi Kurds' point of view and provides answers that are both rich in historical relevance and telling for a disillusionment that never be.

Read the article here: