U.S. must not abandon the Kurds

U.S. must not abandon the Kurds

Jan. 22 (UPI) — In the battle against the Islamic State, among the most deadly have been the Kurdish formations.

Fighters from this ethnic group have played a considerable role in the shrinking of IS, both in Syria as
well as in Iraq. In the latter, the only reasonably secure zone is the territory that Kurds effectively control, but which is under blockade by the Arab central government in Baghdad.

That Washington has given the green light to such an unjustified action on the part of the Haidar al Abadi government in Baghdad can only add force to the widespread view across the Mideast that the United States is a fair weather friend. who for even a fleeting advantage will turn even against those who have helped it enormously in the past.

Given the flood of Arab cash going to think tanks and universities across the United States, it is no surprise that several analysts (and the policymakers listening to them) constantly warn against
assisting the Kurds to get their due.The latest in this sorry procession has been Secretary of State
Rex Tillerson, who has publicly taken the side of Turkey’s quasi-dictator Recip Tayyip Erdogan
against the Kurds.

This when Erdogan has for six years been funding and otherwise assisting Wahabbi extremists, several of whom have by now sneaked into Europe and are busy forming sleeper cells in large cities across the continent. Erdogan, with his visceral ethnic bias against the Kurds, would like to once again drive them into a subordinate status through creating a Turkish-controlled zone along the
border with Syria that would deprive the Kurdish population of even the basic right to use their own

Clearly Tillerson has not checked with Mike Pompeo of the CIA, who must certainly have voluminous records of Erdogan’s deceit. Of course,the disgraced Gen. Michael Flynn is not the only Beltway resident to have been the recipient of Erdogan’s generosity. Under the Clintons, various segments
of U.S. foreign policy were being auctioned the way it has long been for domestic policy in the swarm of D.C.-based lobbyists.

Tillerson’s geopolitically unwise put-down of the legitimate right of the Kurds to their own defense and culture indicates that at least some of those advising the secretary may be in the same trough that Flynn fed from until that was discovered.

The Kurds have suffered for decades the effects of successive U.S. administrations extracting advantage from them before tossing them aside the way a banana skin gets thrown away once the fruit inside gets consumed, including when President George H.W. Bush watched in silence
when Saddam Hussein used his air force to massacre Kurds in the villages and towns in post-Desert Storm Iraq, where this ethnic group is in a majority, including by bombing them with chemical toxins.

However, after the brief conventional part of the 2003 war between the U .S.-led alliance and Hussein’s hopelessly outgunned army, President George W. Bush refused to trod on the path of his father. Instead of abandoning the Kurds once the conflict was over, Bush Jr. helped stabilize and protect a Kurdish safe zone in the north of Iraq, which has remained to the present, despite the recent loss of Kirkuk as a consequence of divisions within the Kurdish leadership.

Should the Bagdad government not bow to the requirements of justice and common sense and respect the autonomy of the Kurd Autonomous Region of Iraq, it will ultimately be the loser, as tensions between Irbil and Bagdad will grow to the detriment of stability and an eventual settlement
between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in Iraq.

Unfortunately for the Kurds, the United States since President Barack Obama appears to be returning to the George H.W. Bush policies, in that it is starving the Kurdish territory of weapons and thereby leaving it to its fate in its eagerness to placate certain Shia and Sunni groups in Iraq, neither of whom wish to respect the autonomy of the Kurds. Not to mention the fact that the Sunnis (who are largely led by the Wahabbi element within them) and the Shiites are not very deep down unfriendly to the United States both as a country and as a culture.

In contrast, the Kurds are overall not merely moderate but modern and would be an excellent ally in a region where Wahabbism needs to be fought and put down before its cancerous IS-style cells
proliferate across the globe. Unless Washington returns to the policy of the son (George
W. Bush) rather than the father, the United States will lose an essential ally in the war against both armed extremism as well as the ideological and theological matrix that breeds such fanaticism.

Fortunately, this seems to be President Donald Trump’s policy in Syria, despite the Erdogan-friendly noises of his secretary of state. In that tortured republic, the Trump administration is (as yet) backing a Kurdish Autonomous Region on the lines of the Kurdish Autonomous Region in Iraq.

Despite opposition from both Bashar al-Assad and Erdogan, the U.S. Departments of State and Defense should go ahead with ensuring the safety and longevity of a KAR (S for Syria) on the lines of the KAR (I for Iraq). The Syrian Kurds have been front-line fighters against the IS and form the only armed group backed by NATO that is free from infestation by terrorist elements temporarily masquerading as “freedom fighters” (i.e., freedom to set up the same kind of rule as al-Baghdadi did in those parts of Syria and Iraq once controlled by him).

Assad needs to accept that Syria will in effect be governed as two zones, the first controlled largely
by him and another comprising the Kurdish zone, which will take in between a third and a fourth of the area of the Syrian Arab Republic.

If Assad were to fight the Kurds (the way Erdogan wants), he would be placing at risk his control of the non-Kurdish segments of Syria, thereby losing far more territory in the longer term than any
temporary gain he may get from attaching parts of the Kurdish zone. Only Turkey under Erdogan has a genuine interest in preventing KAR(S) from being formed, as that would lead to calls for setting up KAR (T for Turkey).

The Kurds are treated far worse in Turkey than they are in Syria and almost as bad as they were in Saddamite Iraq, and it is likely that in the period ahead, members of this ethnicity in Turkey will be more vociferous and more physically demonstrative in demanding justice and fair play, something that Erdogan will never concede peacefully to them.

Just as KAR(I) led to KAR(S), so will the latter provide the impulse for the formation of KAR(T). Given the fact that every three Kurds form at least four groups, it is unlikely that these regions will come together as a single entity. However, they may cooperate in some matters while not in others.

However, all three are certain to be among the most loyal partners of the United States in the region, especially if the Trump administration recognizes their value and gives them the weapons they require for self-defense against both extremists, as well as paranoidal dictators.

Rather than oppose the historically justified demands of the Kurds for full autonomy, Baghdad, Damascus and Ankara should be nudged by Washington to show statesmanship anda agree to Kurdish zones so as to keep their countries united rather than once again lapse into civil war. As for the Trump administration, it should understand that the Kurds are the most reliable allies of
Washington in the region outside Israel, and follow through with the administrations’s steps
toward assisting in the setting up of a Kurdish safe zone in Syria on the lines of that already functioning in Iraq, which will be a precursor to a similar zone in Turkey over the course of coming years.

Several of the bigger states of the Mideast need to escape the shackles of Sykes-Picot and
reform into smaller entities, for only then will stability return to a region that is still core to global security.

Madhav Das Nalapat is a professor and the director of the Department of Geopolitics & International Relations at Manipal University, UNESCO peace chair and the editorial director of The Sunday Guardian-India and NewsX channel.


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