Koplow insists that Turkey’s best course of action right now is to support an independent state for the Kurds in northern Iraq:
The best way to neutralize ISIS as a threat is to strengthen the KRG, whose peshmerga already took Kirkuk in response to the ISIS takeover of Mosul, and can keep the conflict with ISIS in Iraq rather than having it cross the border into southeastern Turkey. In the past, even considering supporting the KRG as an independent state was not an option, but the circumstances have changed now that it is clear just how weak and ineffectual the Maliki government is. Ankara should be getting in front of this issue, recognizing that even if the Maliki government survives it will be only through the intervention and support of outside powers such as the U.S. and Iran (which is not a phrase I ever envisioned writing) and that the consequences of angering the Maliki government pales in comparison to the consequences of an actual radical jihadi state bordering Turkey.
Furthermore, if Turkey still subscribes to the theory that strengthening Barzani and the KRG sends the message to Turkish Kurds that Kurdistan already exists without them and thus they need to drop any hopes of separation or independence for themselves, then now is the time to test out whether this theory is actually correct.
Throwing our weight behind the Kurds is also on Adam Garfinkle’s list of policy recommendations for the US:
Above all, we should further tighten relations with the Kurds in what used to be northern Iraq but is now an independent state in everything but name.
We probably should try to get on the same sheet of music with the Kurds, offering support but counseling prudence—in other words, collecting some leverage so we can influence the behavior of Barzani et al. in future. Personally, I’m fine with the Kurds in Kirkuk, so long as they occupy and eventually stabilize the city with genuine justice for all of the city’s communities.
By the same token, we should begin private and earnest, if inevitably complex and difficult, talks with the Turks to discuss what conditions, if any, could lead to a mutual and simultaneous recognition of Kurdish independence from Washington and Ankara.
Mohammed A. Salih spells out why the Kurdish Peshmerga are Iraq’s best hope for defeating ISIS:
There are over 100,000 Peshmerga fighters, according to Halgurd Hikmat, a senior official at the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s Ministry of Peshmerga. They are either veterans of the Kurdish struggle against Saddam’s regime or new recruits who have to go through an intensive training that lasts around 50 days. While they are officially under the command of Iraqi Kurdistan’s president, Masoud Barzani, in practice they answer to leaders aligned with the competing Kurdish political factions, the Barzani-led Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. But when it comes to protecting Kurdish territory, those divisions are meaningless. Nearly 40,000 of the Peshmerga forces divided into 16 battalions are united under the KRG’s Peshmerga Ministry. The rest have yet to be unified. All Peshmerga are now mobilized in the fight against ISIS.
Update from a reader:
I’m an American doctor who has visited Iraqi Kurdistan several times since 2006. One of our projects was the first medical paper looking at the long-term psychological impact of the chemical weapons attacks launched by the Iraqi government on Kurdish civilians in Halabja. The argument we are having in America about who “lost” Iraq completely misses the point, because in truth there never has been one Iraq to lose. The American elite’s obsession with a multiethnic Iraq is something that’s not shared by any of the people who actually live in that country.
For Kurds the whole concept is ridiculous. They survived an attempted genocide at the hand of Sunni Arabs just 25 years ago. For the past decade they have cooperated with the American unity policy in Iraq, only to become targets of Al Qaeda inspired bombings, kidnappings, and ritual beheadings. Now they find themselves in the surreal position of having to protect thousands of these same good neighbors from their own home grown terrorist movement. If you were a Kurd, what would you think of a State Department hack telling you that you lack sufficient commitment to Iraq’s unity?
Kurds are right to reject any self-serving advise coming from the American government to cooperate with Maliki. A more creative American policy would acknowledge the reality of what the Kurds have built, which is a prosperous and peaceful nation state in the mountains of Northern Iraq. It’s a nation whose soldiers and diplomats worked amicably alongside Americans through all the darkest episodes of the Iraq wars. It’s a nation where not a single American soldier died during ten years of bloody military involvement in Iraq.
An ally that we don’t have to constantly sustain with billions of dollars of bribes would be a refreshing turn in our Middle East policy. We should embrace that opportunity.
(Photo: Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters stand to attention in the grounds of their camp in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq on June 14, 2014. By Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)