Protecting the US interest: Alienate the Kurds to appease the Turks

Protecting the US interest: Alienate the Kurds to appease the Turks

By: Professor Dlawer Ala’Aldeen

Kurdish Aspects: 27 February, 2008

Turkey’s habitual incursions of the only stable part of Iraq, Kurdistan Region, continue, while the middle and southern parts of the country are still dangerous war zones. Struggling to make further progress in the rest of Iraq, the United States (US) is now running the risk of loosing the hearts and minds of her only allies in the country.

Prominent US "Think Tank" members have written to influence the American establishment against the Kurds' aspiration for increased economic and political self-reliance. They offer pragmatic reasons for the US to adopt realpolitik, support Turkish invasion of Iraq and deny the Kurds their long violated human rights. Under the pretext of preserving Iraq's integrity and keeping its neighbours happy, the lobbyists are asking the Kurds to stop digging oil in their own backyard, give up their historic claim over the oil-rich Kirkuk and begin to act Iraqis more than they really are. These unrealistic demands are not bearing any fruits because they are in no one’s interest.

First: Iraq by default is, and will remain, a non-functioning state. Despite sincere efforts by the US and others, sectarian divide is now deep-rooted within the Government and its institutions. The deeply corrupt Government of Baghdad is struggling to focus on the country's security priorities, let alone functioning as a Government, or acting as a reliable US Allie. Short of dividing Iraq into economically and politically semi-independent Federal entities, little else will make this artificial country stable, prosperous and in peace with itself and its neighbours.

Second: the Arab, Turkish and Iranian denial of Kurdish right of self-determination proved to be the major destabilising factor in the Middle East. The US betrayed the Kurds too often in the past, but now has secured their good will by removing Saddam from power. The Kurds’ significant gains in the recent past were despite, not because of, the US administration’s policy. Without the Kurd’s full cooperation, the US would have lost Iraq to Iran and terrorism. Importantly, without them, the US is unlikely to win the war, stabilise Iraq and bring the troops home. The US policy makers are clearly growing over-confident in the face of increased Arab Sunni cooperation and improved security in Iraq. However, these gains are yet to be consolidated and unclear if they would be sustained after the US troops’ (and/or money) withdrawal.

The US interest so far has been in promoting a unified and centralised Iraq. However, the US long term interest, and that of the world market, is in stabilising this oil-rich country. Clearly, this is no longer achievable via Saddam-style dictatorship; therefore, further democratisation of the Iraq is the only way forward. Forcing unwilling and uncompromising people to co-exist will not create the necessary harmony, unless every vulnerable minority is reassured. Without enjoying their full human rights, including that of self-determination, the Kurds will not become loyal Iraqis or accept Baghdad’s dominance.

Third: Despite decades of US support to Iraq's Arab and Turkish neighbours, none are showing any sign of gratitude to the superpower, or proved sufficiently reliable at the time of need. On the contrary, the anti-American sentiments are growing exponentially, subtly promoted by the so called US “allies”. Five years after regime change in Iraq, the military-dominated Turkish rulers have done little to amend fences with the US, to make up for the historic let down which cost American lives. Yet, they succeeded in extracting substantial concessions from the superpower. The Turkish military dictators are now enjoying the US administration’s support for invading Iraq in pursuit of the human-right-seeking Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK). The latter has been labelled a “terrorist” organisation by the US administration for no reason other than to appease Turkey.

Turkey's internal instability has kept the country’s politicians ill-focused, ill-tempered and unreliable. Turkey's state machinery is violently suppressive of the Kurds and has (by Turk's own admission) committed crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, pro-Turkish lobbyists in the US encourage Iraqi Kurds to join forces with the Turkish military against the PKK. Confused and violent PKK may be, but every Kurd (including those of Iraq) considers the organisation the representative of the Kurdish movement inside Turkey. By supporting Turkey against PKK, the US has disappointed the Kurds and is best advised to take a fresh look at this conflict. The US must help establish peace in the war-torn Turkey with the full participation of all stakeholders. Attacks on PKK have not only strengthened the organisation’s position, but are beginning to alienate the Kurds in both Iraq and Turkey. The question is: can the US afford to lose the goodwill of the Iraqi Kurds at this time, in order to keep Turkey happy?

Fourth: the US administration has supported the Kurdish leaders and been successful so far in keeping them on board. However, the largely corrupt and dictatorial Kurdish political parties (Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) are struggling to keep their independence-seeking people under control. In keeping with the damning, internationally publicised, criticisms; the Kurds in Iraq are openly criticising their incompetent and undemocratic rulers, expressing strong sense of dislike for the leaders’ behaviour. The widespread corruption, lack of rule-of-law and heavy-handed suppressive machineries of Iraqi Kurdistan’s two dominant political parties have widened the gap between the people and politicians. These facts have been exploited by pro-Turkish lobbyists to justify Turkish aggression. However, the potentially explosive situation in Kurdistan is now closer to a critical point than ever. Further Turkish insults, combined with denying the Kurds their Kirkuk, oil revenue and right of self-determination will spiral events out of every one’s control.

The way forward: The people of Kurdistan need the US to protect them from external and internal aggression. They expect the superpower to:

  • help the Turkish elected Government establish peace and full democracy in Turkey and engage in a dialogue with the PKK (like they did in Ireland).

  • put pressure on the Turkish Generals to abide by democratic norms in Turkey and refrain from further complicating the Middle East quagmire.

  • put pressure on the Kurdish leaders to initiate political reform and establish social justice and the rule-of-law.

The Kurds have voted with their blood to become strategic allies of the US. Instead, their hopes and dreams are all but shattered by the US administration’s recent behaviour in Iraq and support to Turkish insult. If not helped or handled tactfully, their disappointment can turn into anger. While peace, stability and security remain fragile in Iraq, it would be a historic mistake for the US to lose sight of the future by focussing on short-term gains.