A year ago, the world abandoned a noble people.
On Sept. 25, 2017, shortly after defeating the Islamic State (IS), Kurdistan held a free referendum in which 93 percent of its population voted for independence. The atmosphere was electric: After centuries of persecution and decades of betrayal by Western superpowers, the autonomy Kurdistan was repeatedly denied through history seemed fully within grasp. A major wrong was about to be righted.
Instead, shamefully, all the nations gathering at the UN General Assembly this week in New York, including the US-led Coalition which was reliant on the ferocious Kurdish Peshmerga to defeat IS (the world’s most lethal Islamist terrorists), were united only in their deafening silence.
This silence must be held in the highest contempt.
Exploiting the global neglect of Kurdistan’s right to independence from an increasingly nefarious southern Iraq governed by its Iranian puppet-masters, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), deploying American ordinance, moved to confront the Peshmerga-controlled Kirkuk territories, seizing the region’s oil-rich basin, home to the world’s second-largest oilfield, Baba Gugur.
Deeply tragic, it was Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, who cajoled the Talabani-allied Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) to mediate the standoff of the Kurdish Peshmerga and the ISF. In doing so, the PUK effectively handed away the control of Kirkuk, the veritable Jerusalem of the Kurds, to Iran-puppeted-Iraq, in exchange for nothing, giving pause concerning where the true loyalties of the Talabani-PUK may lie.
Hence, just as Saddam Hussein forcibly displaced Kurds from Kirkuk, and baldly pursued Arabization to deny Kurds their Kurdish lands, so too has post-occupation Iraq, in plain view. Astonishingly there have been no penalties.
Last October, Soleimani visited the Kurdistan Region, meeting with the Talabani-allied Patriotic Union of Kurdistan to mediate a resolution to the standoff. It appeared to have worked. PUK fighters withdrew from Kirkuk shortly after, handing the city over to Iraqi government forces.
Disgracefully, Europe, killing fields to the world’s worst genocide, the Holocaust, failed to hear the cries for a persecuted people finally to have their own land – the Kurds have faced seven centuries of genocide, the Yezidis (Ezidis), a minority Kurdish people, have suffered 74 genocides themselves.
Europe, badly fractured by Brexit and witnessing rising nationalist sentiments in Hungary, Germany, and elsewhere, remained silent, fearing their support for an independent Kurdistan would ignite rising claims for Catalonian independence and fuel a nascent Scottish Brexit even as Britain reels from its impending separation from Europe.
Canada under Stephen Harper had been supportive of Kurdistan and overtly backed the Peshmerga meeting them on the battlefield in the war against IS, but under Justin Trudeau’s leadership, citing Canada’s experience with Quebec, Ottawa has pointedly withheld support.
Only Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the rights of the Kurdish people for a state of their own; the Jewish memory is closely tied to the Kurdish memory as I learned during my travels to both nations where both peoples hold deep affection and respect for one another.
The time has come for a reboot.
As an American, I appeal to my President. President Donald Trump is the imaginative, bold, and fearless maverick to midwife Kurdistan into independence. This must start with the President visiting Kurdistan, meeting the heroic community – the Kurds and the leonine Peshmerga – that defeated IS and survived with dignity the genocide of the Ezidi people among them.
While the State Department’s received wisdom since the 2003 US war in Iraq has been to withhold from re-drawing the country’s borders (in a desperate fantasy to cling to a greater “Federal Iraq” ), realities on the ground speak to a State which has long since fragmented. Denying that fragmentation by withholding Kurdish independence achieves one thing only: augmentation of Iranian hegemony. Worse, the State Department and American public opinion have been exceptionally contemptuous of Kurdistan’s referendum last year, perhaps revealing true biases toward regarding Kurdistan not as a nascent liberal democracy, but as a fiefdom ruled by two conflicting “warlords” – this as America now negotiates with the Taliban.
Meanwhile, Iran wastes no time. Iran is overtly preparing for the Lebanonization of Syria as Bashar al-Assad (under Russian direction and support) seals himself firmly in power over the remnants of the devastated Syrian people. Syria, where Assad has won the war with Russian airpower and Hezbollah militia ground forces, is now a landing ground for an Assad government captive to Hezbollah.
At the same time, Iran is openly installing ballistic missiles in sovereign Iraq in the boldest expression of Tehran’s annexing of southern Iraq.
An independent Kurdistan is the only bastion against the complete colonization of Iraq by Iran. With the drum beats for increasing isolation against Iran rising from both the US, Israel, and the Sunni Arab states, an independent Kurdistan provides both an invaluable gateway and a key, deeply-allied state, and in the event of the most devastating outcome of regional war with Iran, a critical geopolitical ally for both the West, Israel, and the Sunni Arab states.
The US must ratify Kurdistan’s independence as the will of its people and the moral obligation America owes the Kurdish people as a legacy of the US war in Iraq. The Kurdish flag must claim its place in the pantheon of international nations; we must have a Kurdish delegation at the United Nations, a Kurdish team at the next Olympics and a Kurdish embassy in Washington DC.
Most pragmatically, as Americans, we must permit no daylight between the US and Kurdistan as we confront the rising likelihood of a war to tackle the increasingly colonial and predatory Iranian regime. An independent Kurdistan is for sure an Iranian nightmare but for the American people and the Kurdish people, very much a dream within reach.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.