Vernuccio’s View: The Kurds Are The West’s Neglected Ally

The Trump Administration’s plans to draw down U.S. forces in Syria has re-opened the question of western support for the Kurdish people. The Kurds have been pro-western, and scrupulous in their protection of human rights. They treat females as equals, and provide religious freedom.

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Concerns have been raised that the Kurds could be caught between ISIS forces on one hand, and those of Turkey on the other. Both Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton have consistently given assurances that the Kurds will be protected in any U.S. action, including a pullout of forces in Syria.

The Kurds, who exist as minority entities in a variety of Middle Eastern nations but have some autonomy within Iraq, have been among the most invaluable fighters against ISIS.

While the Trump Administration has pledged to protect Kurds in Syria, historically, the United States has, despite recognizing the vital role the Kurdish people play in opposing Islamic terrorism, never fully supported their ultimate goals, including an independent state. The main reason has been Washington’s sensitivity to the wishes of Turkey, a shaky NATO ally.

Iraqi opposition to the potential independence of its Kurdish region has much to do with oil. The Kurdish Project notes that “With a whopping 45 billion gallons of Kurdistan oil reserves, the Iraqi-Kurds hold almost a third of all of Iraq’s 150 billion gallons of untapped black gold.

Within Iraq, however, one non-Kurdish group does appear to be a source of support for independence. Many Iraqi Christians believe they could benefit from the move. An interview with the Secretary-General of Iraq’s small Assyrian Bet al-Nahrain Democratic Party, Romeo Hakkari and the Kurdish news source Kurdistan24, was described by Mewan Dolmari: “Hakkari…stated that Christians are with an independent Kurdistan Region that protects the right of all ethnic and religious groups in the Region, a democratic Kurdistan that defends minorities before Kurds…Hakkari …acknowledged the vital role of the President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani in promoting harmony and coexistence in the Kurdistan Region. Importantly, he stated that Christians have always supported Kurdish independence, and Christians believe that they can attain more rights if and when the Kurdistan Region becomes an independent state, ‘When our Kurdish brothers achieve more rights [independence], the rights of other ethnic and religious groups will also increase…Christians are spread throughout the Kurdistan Region, mostly live in Ankawa area located in Erbil province. Assyrians and Chaldean Christians have five reserved seats in the Kurdistan Region Parliament. Christians are able to practice their religious beliefs without hindrance. During an official Christmas Day celebration broadcast on TV, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani stated, ‘Christians are not treated as minority in the region, and they are an indigenous people of the Kurdistan Region.’”

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Syria also opposes Kurdish independence. Like Turkey, it fears Kurds within its own borders would follow suit, particularly since the nightmare regime of Bashar al-Assad, now strengthened thanks to Russian and Iranian assistance, is certainly an inducement to secession for any group that could muster the capability to do so.

Michael Rubin, writing for the American Enterprise Institute outlines the Iranian position: “The Iranian government has long opposed any Kurdish independence in Iraq, largely because they fear how the precedent might impact the Kurdish population in Iran.”

Kurdish independence does have one regional friend—Israel. Jonah Mandel, in a Times of Israel article explains that “ Israel has become the only country to openly support an independent Kurdish state, a result of good ties between Kurds and Jews and expectations that it would be a front against Iran and extremism, experts say… Israel became the first, and so far only, country to openly voice support for the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to attain a state of its own.”

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.

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