As a variety of Kurdish forces continue containing the Islamic State’s (ISIS/ISIL/IS) advance in Syria and Iraq, leaders are becoming increasingly vocal about the establishment of an independent Kurdistan, with some sources close to the ground telling Fox News that Kurds are dedicated to the formation of a new state–“whether the U.S. likes it or not.”
Security sources speaking to Fox News note that the Kurdish forces–the YPG/YPJ in Syria and the Peshmerga in Iraq–have made significant advances in the past months, keeping ISIS from recapturing the Turkish border town of Kobani and even making inroads in Raqqa province, home to the Islamic State’s “capital” city. They have been significantly more successful against the Sunni jihadist group than the official Iraqi army or the vestiges of what was once Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military, and authorities suggest they are now intent on capturing the Iraqi city of Kirkuk and beginning to establish a state.
“They are pushing hard in Kirkuk to hold Kirkuk and keep ISIS out and once that is done, they will move forward with plans for their country,” said a source described as an “operator on the ground with direct connections to Kurdish leaders, adding, “They have only one goal, whether the U.S. likes it or not.”
Fox’s report notes that the Obama administration has been adamantly opposed to the creation of an independent Kurdistan, citing a State Department spokesman telling the news outlet that America is “very supportive” of the Kurds while being “clear and consistent in support of a unified Iraq.”
Kurdish leaders seem skeptical that a state can both support the Shiite-run government in Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdish forces, based in Erbil. One leader–Lahur Talabani of the Kurdistan Intelligence Agency–tells Fox News that Kurdistan is like Israel: “We have suffered for years. Gassed by Saddam. Mass Graves. We have suffered like the Jews at the hands of these surrounding countries, and we are very pro-West. You don’t find any other countries like that in this region.”
Masrour Barzani, head of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) intelligence forces and son of KRG President Masoud Barzani, is openly advocating for a Kurdish state. In an interview with Al Monitor, he describes the repeated support of a united Iraq after multiple failures as “insanity” and Iraq itself as “not a feasible project”:
How many times have we tried to support a united, strong central government in Baghdad? It didn’t work. Kurdistan is controlled by the Kurds, the Sunni areas are controlled by [IS] and the Shiite areas are controlled by Shiite forces and the Popular Mobilization Units. Prime Minister [Haider al-] Abadi has been making a big effort to fix things. But the Iraqi government must accept this reality and look for other solutions. We are not pushing for forced separation. We are talking about an amicable divorce.
Barzani is equally stern in asserting that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist terrorist group also seeking an independent Kurdistan but based in Turkey, has “no role to play” in protecting Kurdish territories in Iraq, particularly Sinjar, where the nation’s Yazidi population has been under attack by the Islamic State. “They should pull out and they must because the people of Sinjar will determine their own future and this is Iraqi Kurdistan. Would the PKK be happy if a Kurdish political party inside Iraq meddled in the affairs of Diyarbakir or Mardin?” he asks.
Despite disagreements among Kurdish leaders, Barzani notes that the fight against the Islamic State is serving to unite Kurds against a common enemy. Further evidence of that is in reports from Kurdish news outlet Rudaw, which suggests that Iraq’s Kurdish Peshmerga are considering traveling to Rojava–Syrian Kurdistan–and helping the YPG/YPJ eradicate ISIS terrorists from the region. The elder Barzani has promised to lend the region Iraqi troops should it be necessary to keep ISIS from expanding.
In addition to frustrations with the American government’s support of Baghdad, Kurdish independence faces a strong opponent in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey’s animosity towards Kurdish independence– fueled by the PKK’s history of violence in Turkey– is such that reports have surfaced of Erdogan plotting an invasion of Syria not to curb ISIS expansion, but to keep the Kurds at bay.
Erdogan’s opposition to the Kurdish cause has done little to hamper its popularity internationally, particularly among Americans and American veterans who have chosen to aid Kurdistan where their government has refused. American and Canadian veterans are using social media to gather funds to fly to Kurdistan and join the YPG/YPJ; those already there tell media they are welcomed as heroes. “I have been shown nothing but love by Kurds everywhere and I am very grateful for the opportunity to help,” says 28-year-old Jordan Matson, a U.S. Army veteran fighting ISIS in Syria.