WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - US President Donald Trump hailed the Kurds as “great people” in a New York press conference on Wednesday, after spending the day at the UN where he chaired a Security Council meeting.
The Kurds “are great fighters. I like them a lot,” Trump affirmed. “Great people!” he proclaimed.
“Yes, please, Mr. Kurd,” Trump called out to Kurdistan 24’s Rahim Rashidi at the press conference, as Rashidi then asked a question about US relations with the Kurds after the military defeat of the Islamic State (IS.)
“We get along great with the Kurds. We are trying to help them a lot,” Trump replied.
“We have to help” the Kurds. “I want to help them,” Trump continued. “They fought with us; they died with us.”
“We lost tens of thousands of Kurds” fighting IS. “They died for us and with us and for themselves,” he said, adding, “We don’t forget. I don’t forget.”
Trump indicated that the US was engaged in talks with the Kurdish leadership to maintain stability after IS’ defeat. “We’re going to be discussing that situation,” Trump had earlier told another Kurdish reporter.
Until now, Trump has said virtually nothing about the Kurds since he became President.
“They’ve proven to be the best fighters. They’ve really proven to be the most loyal to us,” Trump said in early 2016. “We should be working with them much more than we are,” he stated then.
Trump’s attitude toward the Kurds stands in marked contrast to his view of the Baghdad government, or at least of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, seen as America’s man-in-Iraq until his poor showing in Iraq’s recent elections.
Abadi visited Washington in early 2017 and met with Trump, but Trump did not take to the Iraqi Prime Minister, as Bob Woodward wrote in his new book.
Woodward described how Trump had mocked his previous National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster.
“The president puffed up his chest and started noticeably exaggerated breathing,” imitating McMaster. Then Trump “said in loud staccato, ‘I know the [prime minister] of Iraq. He’s a good man, sir! I know he has our best interest at heart,’” Woodward wrote.
“Returning to his normal voice, Trump said, ‘That guy’s just full of shit. I met this guy. McMaster doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’”
That is also the likely view of Amb. John Bolton, who replaced McMaster in early April. Just before last year’s independence referendum in the Kurdistan Region, Bolton told Kurdistan 24 that he “strongly supports” holding that vote.
Bolton criticized the State Department’s “one-Iraq” policy, saying, “I just don’t think it’s possible anymore” to maintain Iraq’s unity. “I think the Kurdish people are de facto independent already,” he said.
Following Iraq’s assault on Kirkuk a month later, Bolton again criticized US policy. On October 17, one day after the attack, Bolton described it as “the Iran-dominated government in Baghdad, along with their regular forces and Shia militias, attacking our allies, the Kurds.”
“We were not paying attention,” although Qasim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was in Kirkuk “directing everything,” Bolton complained.
Mike Pompeo, who replaced Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State in late April, has said much less about the Kurds. However, it is notable that as CIA Director in October, when Baghdad attacked Kirkuk, Pompeo was the first senior US official to confirm Iran’s involvement in the assault.
Already on October 19, when the Pentagon and State Department were still saying they had no knowledge of any Iranian role, Pompeo confirmed that Soleimani was, indeed, involved.
Did Trump’s press conference on Wednesday carry a significant message for the Kurds? Rashidi thought so, as did two journalists from major US media outlets who spoke with him subsequently.
After all, hundreds of reporters were present, most of whom did not get the chance to ask their questions. But two Kurdish journalists did.
The first might have been chance—but Rashidi, who interviewed Trump in 2014, was called upon as “Mr. Kurd” by the US President.
Rashidi is “very proud” of that, and he is appreciative of Trump’s recognition of the Kurds’ contribution to the fight against IS.
Under the previous national security team of McMaster and Tillerson, the Trump administration essentially continued the Obama administration’s policy in Syria and Iraq.
However, the appointment in late August of Amb. James Jeffrey as Pompeo’s Special Representative for Syria Engagement signaled the start of a more muscular policy in Syria, which has had immediate results: the postponement, if not an outright cancellation, of what would have been a very nasty Syrian-Russian-Iranian offensive on Idlib province, with heavy civilian casualties.
Could Trump’s press conference signal the start of a more muscular policy in Iraq? One that does not subordinate “our allies, the Kurds” to the “Iran-dominated government in Baghdad?”
The weeks and months ahead should make that clear.
Editing by Nadia Riva