On April 19, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln declared a naval blockade of southern ports in order to strangle the economy of the newly proclaimed the Confederate States of America. The cause of this was that seven states had seceded from the union because the anti-slavery Lincoln had been elected to the Presidency.
On September 26, 2017, the Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi ordered the Kurdish Region to hand over control of its international airports and subsequently closed them to international flights, in effect blockading Kurdistan.
When Lincoln blockaded the southern ports, it allowed European countries to treat the Confederacy as a new political entity and deal with it as an independent country. The difference is, had Lincoln declared the ports closed to shipping, he would have had a stronger legal argument, but of course, he would also have had no way to enforce the closures.
While Abadi may have learned from Lincolns mistake, the closure and the closing of border crossings still amount to a blockade. The other difference, of course, is that unlike the American south, there was no open rebellion – just a free and opened referendum that was supposed to begin negotiations. What does this then mean, and how should the world react?
While some blockade runners managed to evade the Union’s patrols, it was generally insufficient to keep the economy of the south afloat. No European country recognized the Confederacy, although treated it as an official belligerent with certain rights under law. The problem was always one of morality. Slavery by this time was outlawed in Europe, and no nation would recognize a wholly slave country regardless of economic deprivation to its own.
The world must take up this moral lesson and look to Iraq with a critical eye. Lincoln’s proclamation was made following an armed rebellion started to support the immoral activity of slavery. Abadi’s decision was made in a fit of pique, driven by outside forces and directed at punishing an ethnic minority for standing up for their rights. While the Kurdish government has made concessions and is willing to negotiate with Baghdad, Abadi recently declared the airport closures would remain for at least the next two months.
The world needs to look at the actions of Baghdad as a crime against its own people, and for the time being, accept the Kurdish region as a legal and political entity with rights under international law. Currently, the closure of the airports has resulted in the reduction of aid to displaced persons who sought refuge in Kurdistan, the reduction of needed medical supplies which is affecting treatment for innocent civilians and other economic hardships to the population in general.
The west should use what leverage it must to break this blockade or to use its power to reopen the airports and get much-needed relief to the general population. A strong show of support by the US and/or the EU should preclude Baghdad and its regional allies from doing anything foolish.
Once the military option is off the table for Abadi, it will be possible for the two sides to talk. The lessons of history combined with a pragmatic and moral understanding may prove the answer to at least one of the issues in an otherwise unstable region.
Paul Davis is a retired US Army military intelligence officer. He has been a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently, he is the President of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington D.C.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan24.
Editing by Nadia Riva