Criticism grows of US opposition to Kurdistan Referendum

More criticism of the US position on the Kurdistan independence referendum emerged on Thursday, as Ryan Crocker, former US ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, suggested that Washington’s strong opposition to the vote was wrong.
author_image Laurie Mylroie

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – More criticism of the US position on the Kurdistan independence referendum emerged on Thursday, as Ryan Crocker, former US ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, suggested that Washington’s strong opposition to the vote was wrong.

“I personally think that it was a mistake for the United States to come down that hard against the referendum at a time when it clearly was going to take place,” he told CNN.

Crocker was US ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 when Gen. David Petraeus led the “surge” that reversed what had threatened to become a US defeat in Iraq.

Crocker pointed to the success of the referendum, particularly noteworthy in the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk.

“There were no troubles,” save for one incident, which involved a Shiite militia, and for which it actually apologized, he explained. “There is a very capable governor in Kirkuk that Baghdad tried to fire.”

“We need to stop those kinds of punitive steps,” Crocker said, “and figure out what’s the way forward here.”

As the retired diplomat explained, “What we’ve got to do now is manage” the tensions, and the US “is the only power that really can do that.”

With the referendum results known—93% in favor of independence—and tensions increasing daily, prominent individuals, not particularly known as supporters of the Kurds, are stepping forward to express strong disagreement with the administration's policy.

Crocker thus joined two Congressmen—Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, and Rep. Trent Franks— in voicing such criticism.

On Wednesday, Schumer issued a statement, saying, “The Kurds should have an independent state as soon as possible,” and urging the administration “to support a political process” that would facilitate such an outcome.

Two days before that, on the day of the referendum itself, Franks introduced legislation, calling on the administration to support an independent Kurdish State.

A number of individuals with long experience in the Middle East agree with this perspective.

“Crocker is absolutely correct,” Brig. Gen. Ernie Audino, who is retired from the US Army and served in Iraq, including with the Peshmerga, told Kurdistan 24.

Audino lamented, “Our State Department” does not seem yet to have released “a formal statement regarding the results” of the Kurdistan referendum, although “Kurdish citizens expressed their will for liberty much like Americans did in 1776.”

“Yesterday, I saw an assertion in a State Department briefing,” Audino added, “that a unified Iraq is the best counterbalance to Iran.” But “a unified Iraq is Iran,” he protested.

Col. Norvell DeAtkine, also retired from the US Army, where he focused on the Middle East, concurred. “They shouldn’t have come down so hard” against the referendum, he advised Kurdistan 24.

By the time the US began to press the Kurdish leadership to cancel the vote, “There was actually no way” they could have done so, “even if they wanted to,” DeAtkine said.

Paul Davis, a former Pentagon analyst of Kurdish affairs, told Kurdistan 24, “Crocker is right.”

“The US did not act in what should have been the role of mediator, but took a side and pushed a hardline stance.”

“We need to calm things down and move to a resolution,” he added.

Dr. Marina Ottaway, a Middle East expert at the prestigious Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, also criticized the administration on Thursday.

In an article entitled “United States Policy and the Kurdistan Referendum: Compounding the Problem,” she, too, noted the self-defeating nature of US policy.

“By rejecting the referendum in an uncompromising and inflammatory manner,” the US “is working against its own interests: it is not bringing the Kurdish issue closer to a solution, but is instead contributing to the strife that will certainly follow the demise of the Islamic State (IS).  

Crocker’s predecessor as US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, writing from Erbil where he observed the referendum, said essentially the same thing in The Washington Post.

Like Crocker, Khalilzad warned against “continuing US pressure” on the Kurdish leadership. It would “only serve to destabilize Kurdistan while emboldening Baghdad and the Iranian-controlled militias.”

Instead, “We should choose a proactive damage control strategy that protects our interests and allows us to shape the next steps,” Khalilzad wrote.

The current US diplomatic posture is, in fact, quite undiplomatic.

Crocker described to CNN the traditional US approach to such problems: “Sit down, analyze who’s where with what agenda. And then figure out where you can move forward, where you can make it a little bit better, how you can prevent something bad from happening.”

 

Editing by G.H. Renaud