‘Biden Would Be Wrong to Abandon the Kurds’—WSJ Op-Ed

Gly and Harris warn that any growing distance between the U.S. and the Kurdistan Region would redound to the benefit of Iran.
The Wall Street Journal. (Photo: The Wall Street Journal)
The Wall Street Journal. (Photo: The Wall Street Journal)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – The Wall Street Journal, along with The New York Times and the Washington Post, is one of the three most important U.S. newspapers.

On Monday, the Journal carried an important opinion piece, entitled “Biden Would be Wrong to Abandon the Kurds.” Written by Majeed Gly, a Kurdish journalist based in New York, and David Harris, who is also based in New York, it details the multiple ways in which Kurds have shown themselves consistent and loyal allies of the U.S. over the past three decades, since they were freed from Saddam Hussein’s ruthless repression with the 1991 Gulf War.

But, as they argue, Washington does not value that loyalty as much as it should, in part, because the Biden administration still appears to seek, in some fashion, a restoration of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA.)

Reaching out to Iran often hurts the Kurds, because Tehran is hostile to them.

And there is a second way in which the Biden administration subordinates Kurdish interests to Iranian interests. That is through its commitment to the unity of Iraq, which entails the subordination of Erbil to Baghdad, where Iranian proxies exert significant influence.

Kurds as U.S. Allies

“Iraq’s Kurds shouldered much of the burden in defeating Islamic State,” Gly and Harris write, and the “Kurdistan Regional Government, which oversees the relatively autonomous northern third of Iraq, offers one of the most liberal, open societies in the region.”

“There, vulnerable minorities can find refuge, women enjoy greater equality, religion doesn’t seek to suffocate,” they add.

Indeed, U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed similar views. For example, Amb. Sam Brownback, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, earlier told Kurdistan 24, “The Kurdish region has been phenomenal in saving lives,” while he noted that persecuted groups regularly “found a safe haven in the Kurdish region.”

Read More: US hails tolerance of Kurdistan Region

Gly and Harris warn that any growing distance between the U.S. and the Kurdistan Region would redound to the benefit of Iran.

“Such a shift would bolster Tehran’s relentless efforts to make Iraq a satellite state akin to Syria and Lebanon,” they write.

Hostile Actions Against the Kurdistan Region

Denying funds to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is a major way that Iran and its proxies in Baghdad have sought to undermine the political and social cohesion of the Kurdistan Region and control the KRG’s policies.

The KRG has two potential sources of revenue. One is income from oil exports via a pipeline through Turkey to its Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. The other is the KRG’s share of the federal budget of Iraq.

Both have been severely restricted. Kurdish oil exports have been stopped for six months, resulting in the loss of a stunning amount of money: some $6 billion. This followed an adverse ruling on a lawsuit brought before the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration (ICC-ICA) in 2014 by Baghdad, when Nuri al-Maliki was Iraqi Prime Ministeri.

Maliki is a highly sectarian Shi’ite figure, and as ISIS emerged later in 2014, seizing one-third of Iraq, the Obama administration made Maliki’s resignation a condition for U.S. support against the terrorist organization.

Nine years later, the ICC-ICA issued its judgment, which was in favor of Iraq, and it decreed that Ankara owed Baghdad $1.5 billion for the illicit use of its pipeline. Although Turkey has said that it is now ready to resume oil exports from the Kurdistan Region, other obstacles remain.

At the same time, the Baghdad government failed to pay the KRG its agreed-upon share of the federal budget: some 12.67%. Consequently, the KRG could not pay ordinary expenses, including the salaries of government employees.

“This increasingly dire situation,” Gly and Harris explain, “prompted KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani to write a letter to President [Joe] Biden in early September seeking assistance to prevent the autonomous region’s collapse.”

Indeed, three Congressmen responded to Barzani’s letter with a letter of their own, also addressed to Biden, urging him “to end the unacceptable treatment of Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government by Iran-aligned elements in Iraq.”

Read More: Key Congressmen Call on Biden to Protect KRG against Abuse from pro-Iran Groups

The immediate crisis was resolved after the KRG Prime Minister met with Iran’s ambassador to Iraq a week after he had written Biden. He then led a large delegation to Baghdad. They met with expected figures, like the Iraqi Prime Minister, but they also met with Iran’s proxies, including  Qais al-Khazali.

Supported by Iran, Khazali was a major figure in attacking U.S. troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2020, Washington even designated him as a foreign terrorist and his group, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, as a foreign terrorist organization.

The pilgrimage to Baghdad secured a three-month loan to the KRG from Iraq’s federal government, averting an immediate crisis.

But what will happen three months from now? Is the KRG, again, supposed to demonstrate its obeisance to Tehran in order to avert yet another crisis?

Clearly, it is necessary either to restore the KRG’s oil revenues by renewing its exports through the Turkish pipeline or ensure that the KRG receives its agreed upon share of the federal budget.