The Iraqi Kurds have sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East after voting for independence from Iraq by an overwhelming margin of 92%. The implications of this are massive in fighting Islamic terrorism, but many countries in the Middle East are looking to make the Kurds’ lives miserable in their attempts to derail the move for independence.
Here are five things to know about Kurdish independence.
1. The Kurds have long advocated for their own country. When the Middle East borders were drawn up by the Western allies in the aftermath of World War I, the Kurds were initially given a state in the Treaty of Sevres but it was removed a few years later after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk banded together the last remnants of the Ottoman Empire forces to drive out foreign enforcement of the treaty, establishing Turkey’s border where a Kurdish state would be. Many Kurds actually joined with Ataturk due to concerns that their country would be controlled by the British.
Since then, the Kurds have remained as minorities in Iran, Turkey and northern Iraq, as outlined by this map:
And yet, many Kurdish nationalists persisted to establish an independent Kurdish state. They’re now on their way to getting one.
2. Iran, Turkey and Iraq are beginning to retaliate against the Kurds. According to The Blaze:
The prime minister of Iraq has given the Kurds a Friday deadline to turn over their airports and oil assets; Turkey is shifting tanks and troops to its border with the Kurds; and Iran has shut down all air travel.
Turkey has also threatened to implement a trade ban against the Kurds and Iran has threatened to utilize Iraqi militias against the Kurds.
It’s not hard to see why Iran, Turkey and Iraq are threatened by Kurdish independence: a potential Kurdistan would eat into the borders of all three countries and throw a wrench into Iran’s goal to establish a Shia crescent in the Middle East. While Monday’s vote only establishes Kurdish independence in northern Iraq, Iran and Turkey fear that Kurdish nationalist fervor will spill into their own countries lead to hopes of quelling it before it reaches that point.
3. A Kurdish state would thrive in the Middle East. Daniel Pipes wrote in 2014:
One could also not have known in 1991 that the Kurdish army, the peshmerga, would establish itself as a competent and disciplined force; that the KRG would reject the terrorist methods then notoriously in use by Kurds in Turkey; that the economy would boom; that the Kurds’ two leading political families, the Talabanis and the Barzanis, would learn to coexist; that the KRG would engage in responsible diplomacy; that its leadership would sign international trade accords; that ten institutions of higher learning would come into existence; and that Kurdish culture would blossom.
But all this did happen. As Israeli scholar Ofra Bengio describes it, “autonomous Kurdistan has proved to be the most stable, prosperous, peaceful, and democratic part of Iraq.”
In other words, an independent Kurdistan would not only be fully capable of functioning on its own, it would likely become one of the more stable democracies in the Middle East.
4. An independent Kurdish state would be a crucial ally in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism. The Kurds have proven to be reliable and heroic allies in fighting against ISIS in a region that is largely hostile to the West. Like Israel, the Kurds would be among the United States’ first line of defense against any Islamic terror groups that threaten Americans. An independent Kurdistan would also serve as a strategic buffer against Iran and Turkey; the former is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and the latter is providing “cover to ISIS.”
5. And yet, the Trump administration has yet to voice support for the Kurds. This is because the administration fears that Kurdish independence would de-stabilize Iraq and thus make it harder to fight ISIS, but as Jordan Schachtel points out, the Kurds have been much more effective in fighting against the terror group than the Iraqi military, and the Iraqi government is already starting to turn into an Iranian puppet government. Since the vote took place, the Trump administration has attempted “to broker a deal between Erbil and Baghdad” and “has challenged the air blockade,” per The Guardian. It’s a good start, but it remains to be seen if the administration is willing to pull out all the stops necessary to ensure that an independent Kurdish state will become a reality.
If the Trump administration fails to provide the Kurds with the support needed to establish an independent country, it will be a major black mark on Trump’s legacy. As Jonathan Tobin points out, it would be an indication “that Trump lacks the insight and the courage to ignore his establishment advisers.”