The Kurds – A Force For Moderation And Stability In Syria And Iraq

photo of a Kurdish political rally of thousands waving the flag of Kurdistan.

 

by Richard Cameron


 

Editor’s Note:

This is an article I wrote in 2014, on a different outlet, as a brief outline of the role Kurdish fighters were playing in the U.S. led coalition’s war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and their development of a firewall against the further spread of Salafist militants. With Donald Trump’s decision to green light Turkey to commence a military campaign against the Kurds in Northern Syria, it seemed like it might be of value at this point, to repost it with a few updates at the conclusion of the report.

Adversity has honed the survival skills of the Kurdish people to a razor edge, much in the same way it has the Jews and the Armenians.  And like the Jews, until the establishment of Israel, and the Armenians, prior to their establishment of the Republic of Armenia – the Kurds have been a people without a nation of their own.

This was accountable to the territorial disputes between the Ottoman Empire, the Colonial powers (Britain and France), Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

The main adversary of the Kurds, has been the modern Turkish state, another common thread between the Kurds and the Armenians.  As matters stand at the present, Kurds have organized themselves into areas within Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, existing in various degrees of semi-autonomy. Collectively the Kurds aim to create a state of their own, comprised in some fashion, from those regions that they occupy currently as a large ethnic minority.

Also at present, the Kurds in Iraq have proven to be the only successful adversary of the Islamic State and its bid for more territory with which to build a caliphate. As Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker, notes, “The Kurdish army is known throughout the region for its ferocity—its fighters are called Peshmerga, or “those who face death”.

The Peshmerga were almost as caught off guard by the aggressive and fast moving bid for territory launched by ISIS, as was the Iraqi Army. The difference was the fierce and unwavering determination of the Kurds to launch a punishing counter-offensive, that in the span of approximately a month (August), saw the retaking of all territory ISIS had occupied.

Whatever political consideration the Kurdish region of Iraq has earned, has been a matter of seizing opportunity against the varying interests in the region – Iran, Iraq, Turkey and NATO. Each of these players resist the bid for independence based on the reality that within the footprint of a conceivable Kurdish state, exist an abundance of natural resources that all parties contest a proprietary interest in – not the least of which is a considerable amount of oil – Kirkuk being one example.

While the vision of a ‘Greater Kurdistan’ seems somewhat blurry in the indefinite future, the official independence of the Kurds within Iraq, is at this point, an inevitability – and an unintended consequence of America’s failed chessboard tactics in the region.

The Kurds are nominally Moslem, but include Christian minorities, more in Iraqi Kurdistan, than in Syria, where Christians and Kurds co-exist peacefully as communities of shared interests. Kurds advance a secular oriented form of government in the regions they occupy and women are treated as co-equals in society, in contrast to other parts of the Middle East where they are culturally subjugated.

Ironically enough, it was Joe Biden, back in 2007, who, acting as the mouthpiece of the Council On Foreign Relations, brought the concept of the partitioning of Iraq into the mainstream of thought concerning solutions for that areas problems.

The Council On Foreign Relations (CFR), is, by the way, the de-facto architect of U.S. foreign policy worldwide. But Biden maintains he and Leslie Gelb – an erstwhile Kissinger protege, did not explicitly advocate a partition, only the establishment of autonomous regions. This is true, but what Biden said from the floor of the Senate on April 24, 2007, included this:

“The most basic premise of President Bush’s approach, that the Iraqi people will rally behind a strong central government headed by Maliki, in fact, will look out for their interests equitably, is fundamentally and fatally flawed. It will not happen in anybody’s lifetime here, including the pages.”

Joe Biden could see the obvious signs of futility and failure of the central Iraqi government we so proudly hailed with the irrational exuberance of the ‘Purple Revolution’, which was a kind of absurd bookend to the “Mission Accomplished” banners. And so, we’ve seen Biden’s prediction bear fruit.

But the Kurds are a singular success story, one that neither the Bush or Obama administrations can take credit for. As Filkins further outlines:

When American forces departed, in 2011, not a single U.S. soldier had lost his life in Kurdish territory. As the rest of Iraq imploded, only the Kurdish region realized the dream that President George W. Bush had set forth when he ordered the attack: it is pro-Western, largely democratic, largely secular, and economically prosperous.

Anne Speckhard, writing in the Daily Beast, points out:

While the rest of the world was silent, the YPG and YPJ can also take credit for going to the rescue of the Yazidis on Sinjar mountain in 2014, fighting to stop ISIS from carrying out a massive genocidal campaign in which ISIS cadres captured and enslaved countless Yazidi women, boys, and girls. The men were killed by ISIS, the boys killed or indoctrinated. The women and girls subsequently were raped and treated as chattel. But thousands were able to escape with YPG help.

And now, in October 2019, the Kurds have been betrayed by President Trump, who, it is clear on the evidence that is surfacing, has personal motives in turning his back on them, including investments in Turkey and the intent to further partner with Russia in disrupting the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Of particular interest is the sentiment on the part of Israel regarding the cutting adrift of our allies, the Kurds.

Member of the Israeli Parliament and former Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked posted on Facebook that the survival and promotion of an autonomous state for the Kurds, is strongly synchronous with the interests of the West:

“The Kurds are the world’s largest nation without a country, with a population of about 35 million people. They are an ancient people that share a special historical connection to the Jewish people. The Kurds in general, and especially those who live in Turkey and northern Syria, are the most progressive and Western in that region. They are the main force that fought against ISIS and endured thousands of deaths, under a special joint leadership of men and women. The Western world should stand with them.”

In agreement with Shaked, is Retired four-star Army General Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command (Cencom) during the campaign against the Islamic State and Elizabeth Dent, from the Middle East Institute’s Countering Terrorism and Extremism program. They wrote in the Atlantic that, “Eventually, the YPG became the backbone of the fighting force against ISIS in Syria. Without it, President Donald Trump could not have declared the complete defeat of ISIS.”

General Votel, similarly told the Military Times, “There was a lot of work undertaken to avoid a decision like this” (Trump’s move to expose the Kurds). “The SDF have been exceptional partners and we would have not been successful against ISIS in Syria without them.”

A strong pro-Kurdish sentiment is gaining momentum among Israeli IDF reservists, who forwarded a petition to the offices of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi. In part, the petition – authored by Major (Reservist) Yair Fink, to assist the Kurdish people in Northern Syria, reads:

“We, as Israelis and Jews, must not stand by when we see another nation abandoned by its allies and left defenseless. We remember very well the blood of our people, what happens when the nations of the world abandon the fate of a people.”

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