If you haven’t heard, there is a very precarious situation currently unfolding in the Middle East. I know…what else is new?
On Monday afternoon local time, armed forces of the Iraqi federal government stormed into the city of Kirkuk, the second largest city of Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurdistan is an autonomous region that governs itself but technically falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government of Iraq. The Kurds are known for their fierce outfit of soldiers, known as Peshmerga, who have been and will continue to be America’s most valuable ally in the fight to destroy ISIS.
On September 25th, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a special referendum vote to create a new state completely independent from Iraq. The result was not close. Over 92 percent of Kurds voted in favor of independence, much to the chagrin of the Iraqi government and other regional neighbors, particularly Turkey and Iran. Unfortunately, U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the referendum was “illegitimate.”
Why are the Kurds important? Why should Americans pay attention to their situation? And most importantly, why should the United States support their fight for independence? Well, as mentioned above, they have undoubtedly been the most reliable ally in defeating ISIS, not only in combat, but on the ideological battlefield as well. In fact, the referendum for independence was very much a booming endorsement for a secular government as well. Opposing Islamic theocracy in the Middle East should be a no-brainer for American foreign policymakers.
Along the same lines, Kurdistan is far more religiously diverse than other regions of Iraq and the Middle East. On top of that, some Kurdish Muslims possess a remarkable tolerance of Israel. Blue and white flags emblazoned with the Star of David were seen at many of the public demonstrations in the lead up to the independence referendum.
This is why yesterday’s news of Iraqi troops taking control of Kirkuk is so troubling. And yet, it gets worse. According to a report from Haaretz, “a convoy of armoured vehicles from Iraq’s elite U.S.-trained Counter-Terrorism Force seized the provincial government headquarters.”
Troubling indeed. U.S.-trained and U.S.-armed Iraqi troops invaded a region that recently declared their right to self-determination, to create a secular democracy, and to re-establish order and security in their homeland. Does that not sound like a cause the United States should get behind? And in the Middle East, no less!
It’s no surprise that the Iraqi government does not want to lose the oil-rich territory from its dominion. Turkey, despite being a NATO member state, is creeping back toward the darkness of dictatorship under Recep Erdoğan and does not want to see a fledgling democracy across its southern border. Then there’s Iran (definitely not an ally). There have been reports that Shiite militias in northern Iraq—the ones that more likely than not are influenced by Tehran—were involved in firefights with Kurdish forces.
A Peshmerga media outlet said that the Iraqi government would face significant backlash for “starting a war” on the Kurdish people. Based on all available information, there may not be a peaceful resolution to this conflict moving forward. And given the disparities in size and strength of the forces on each side, the future of Kurdish independence looks to be severely threatened.
UNLESS… the United States (i.e. the Trump administration) does the right thing. But what is the right thing?
The United States government should announce its full support for Kurdistan’s right to establish itself as a free and independent nation. It’s unfathomable to me that men and women inside the State Department cannot see why such a declaration (consequently accompanied by military support) is in the best interests of the United States.
Sadly, I don’t think that’s the problem. I’m confident that they do see why this is the right move for all of the listed reasons, and yet they will not act. Perhaps this is thanks to the lingering, noxious odor of the Obama administration’s foreign policy team, a conglomerate of “experts” that let ISIS, aka “the JV team,” run rampant from Raqqa to Mosul, cozied up to the Ayatollah in Tehran, and broke numerous bridges in Tel Aviv.
Though Bloomberg reported that Secretary Tillerson attempted to initiate a diplomatic solution between the KRG and Baghdad that would’ve given the Kurds more autonomy, there’s no clear reason to believe that this half-hearted approach would’ve actually helped the Kurds. After all, Tillerson has a record of supporting the Iran Nuclear Deal, so why would he stump for Kurdish independence?
There is no good reason why the United States should not express its support for an sovereign Kurdistan. While I understand the tepid initial response from the Trump administration, it will not be sufficient in the long run. President Trump must take decisive steps to one side or the other before too long.
Do we really want to side with the Iraqi government solely because we trained them and they have our weapons? Do we really want to side with Recep Erdoğan, who essentially rewrote Turkey’s constitution to give himself dictatorial powers, and who ordered his security goons to beat up innocent bystanders on the streets of Washington, D.C.? Do we really want to side with the Ayatollah, who regularly urges his subjects to chant “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”?
Or do we want to be on the side of a people who, in a manner that should resonate with any American with an understanding of our own nation’s founding, defied a stronger government to form a new state grounded in democracy, religious freedom, and security? The answer should be clear.
While I was writing this, I saw a report that as many as ten Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers were executed by Shiite militias in Kirkuk, several of them beheaded. A few minutes later, I watched President Trump take a question on the situation in Kurdistan at a press conference. His response: “We’re not taking sides, but we don’t like that they’re clashing.”
Not good enough, Mr. President.
Cover image courtesy of The Daily Caller