They will be all the more so if the worst comes to the worst, as it might well happen. They must not be abandoned in their hour of need.
In a game in which gradual, methodical entrenchment on newly conquered territory and careful timing were everything, Kurdish leaders in Iraq, suddenly, lost their sense of reality and in one single month gambled away all their hard-won territorial gains of the last two years.
At the same time, SDF Kurds in Syria do increasingly, appear as bad, mad and dangerous to know extreme leftists, as their PKK mentors have always been, tyrannizing their own brethren as mercilessly as the Assad regime –often in the past a PKK ally–, ever did.
In Iraq, a Kurdish independence referendum on and for those territories conventionally under the authority of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) would have been risky enough, in terms of timing at least. But the extension of the voting process over Kirkuk and other disputed areas, where Kurds are not in overwhelming majority, proved a fatal mistake. It offered the reorganized and re-equipped Iraqi Army a convincing pretext to advance over vast strips of ground occupied by Peshmerga formations, which rapidly withdrew. The surprising retreat of Kurdish forces was strategically sensible without even token resistance, as the potential combined threat to their heartland, on three fronts, was daunting and they could hardly afford to sustain serious attrition in defence of recent and uncertain gains. It was, unfair; in a sense, the Peshmerga had rescued Kirkuk from the IS when the Iraqi Army was disintegrating in 2014.
I was sad that intra-Kurdish political priorities had eventually prevailed, and the ruling Barzani faction in Arbyl opted for so risky a manoeuvre to divert and outflank their own internal opposition. A crucial element of Kurdish success since the reconciliation of Barzani’s DPK and Talebani’s PUK had been the close, and remarkably plausible, approximation to a functioning parliamentary democracy, attained in the area of the Kurdish Regional Government under joint, bipartisan, administrations.
Alas, that semblance of democratic parliamentarism is neither very close, nor very plausible anymore. The gradual decline of the PUK –mainly under the blows of its own rebel offspring, Goran (Change), but also as a consequence of the prolonged illness and incapacitation of the head of the clan, Jallal Talebani, left the President of the KRG, Mr. Massoud Barzani, as the sole master of the Kurdish North of Iraq. Inevitably, the growth of one-sided rule weakened faith in nascent democratic institutions. It is characteristic that the Kurdish Parliament was reconvened after long months of eclipse only to vote on the independence referendum.
Interestingly, after the disastrous last weeks of October, Mr. Barzani promised to resign before the end of November. It is to be seen if this can suffice to re-establish a functional equilibrium of power in Arbyl.
At any rate, it is of paramount importance for the Kurds of Iraq to restore the façade –at least that–, of their democracy, for this is what will continue to diversify them from all their unsavoury neighbours and attact Western sympathy and support.
This paper has already stressed that the US and the EU have everything to gain from the presence in that corner of Mesopotamia of a secular, plausibly democratic, and militarily credible Kurdish entity. Its independence should not –depending on the evolution of broader regional conditions– be ruled out as a “final solution”, advantageous in many respects, albeit requiring drastic Western intervention.
But, for the time being, even in confederacy with Arab Iraq, as it is now, and suitably sustained and re-equipped, the KRG in Arbyl can still be a factor of regional stabilization, capable to keep Syrian Kurds under control and stop, or even destabilize, those who should be stopped or destabilized…
It must not evade our attention that an essentially anti-American and anti-European –ideologically, culturally, geopolitically– triple strategic alliance of authoritarian regimes has already emerged in the Levant, filling the vacuum which the timidity of the previous US administration had allowed to be left. Mr. Putin’s and Mr. Erdogan’s autocracies, and Teheran’s theocracy have by now formed a regional alliance, heterogeneous and opportunistic to be sure, but not necessarily as fragile and ephemeral as one might expect.
Iran in particular, is already attempting to reshape the Mashreq. President Trump is ranting and raving against it for the wrong reasons; it is not its nuclear program but its regional ambitions which are the menace now. A tougher Iran deal could have addressed both issues. It did not happen. The present US administration should start worrying less about the future of the existing agreement and doing more to prevent Teheran from further expanding its nefarious influence and establishing a corridor under its permanent control to the coasts of the Mediterranean. Lebanon is already at the mercy of Hezbollah and on the brink of the abyss.
Thus, the Kurds of Iraq are, and must, remain a valuable asset of the West –for the “West” does still exist (…)–, in the M. East, and it will be all the more so if the worse comes to the worse, as it might well happen. They must not be abandoned in their hour of need.
P.S.: It is unfortunate that in the context of rapidly unravelling situations, the US may, indeed, have to resort to extreme military measures –either in Korea or, though less likely, in the M. East against Iran–, under an administration lacking the international credibility, gravity, and moral authority needed to explain such a decision and make it accepted as a real necessity. All previous Presidents and even a President Hilary Clinton would have been believed; not President Trump. Bad –as he offten tweets– very bad…