Will the United States Sell Out the Kurds Again and Forfeit a Loyal Ally?
Will the United States Sell Out the Kurds Again and Forfeit a Loyal Ally?
By Dr. Saman Shali:
The history of contact between the United States and the Kurds goes way back to President Woodrow Wilson. In January 1918, for the first time the US supported the Kurds’ rights within the Ottoman Empire in the 14 points by President Wilson. But because the US did not have an important role in the area, they did not give any weight to the US declaration in support of the Kurds.
The Kurds have been sold out at least three times during this century and these betrayals still burn vividly in the mind of the Kurds. In 1946 the Republic of Mahabad was sacrificed for the Shah of Iran with US blessing; in 1975 the Kurdish Revaluation was sacrificed for the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein with US support; and in February 1991, the US president asked the Kurds and the Shiites to rise up and rebel against the Iraqi government. In response to this request, they did so. At the time, most politicians in the U.S. said that this request did not signal a change in US policy towards the Kurds, but was rather an attempt to weaken the Iraqi government. After the uprising and the victory of the US army, the United States washed their hands of the Kurds, leaving them to face their fate alone.
When Saddam attacked the Kurds, the Kurds were forced to flee their homes and make a mass exodus from the Kurdistan region – from Iraq to Iran and Turkey. It was only under huge international pressure that the US was left with no choice but to protect the Kurds. Though there was no new policy on the Kurdish issue, it opened a new page in the relations between the Kurds and the US. Between 1991 and 2003 this relationship was limited to protection and humanitarian support.
On March 6, 2003, I was included in the Iraqi opposition delegation to the White House to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in support to overthrow the Saddam Hussein Government. When I shook hands with Dr. Rice, I told her, “Please do not sell out the Kurds again.” She replied, “I promise we will not.” This promise has been kept by the United States until now. But, frankly, I am wondering how long we can count on the United States to continue to keep its word.
In 2003 under President George Bush, a new level of diplomacy between the US and the Kurds began. The Kurds supported the US in its move to overthrow the Iraqi Government in 2003. In so doing, the Kurds have proven to be the United States’ only true partner in Iraq. And up to this point, the Kurds still are the only true partner on the ground in Iraq. The cooperation between the U.S. and the Kurds in the last decade has raised the level of trust in the Kurdish-US relationship to the highest level it has ever been. For the first time Kurdish delegations are welcomed officially and publicly to the White House.
But an interesting thing happened after Obama become President: he started to give more weight to the central government in Baghdad. Under President Obama, the Iraqi government returned to its policy of ignoring the Kurds and the Sunni element, while the role of Iran increased in importance. Even now, the US policy is to support the unity of Iraq, while in reality, the three regions: Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish, are concerned with their own interests and pretty much operate separately.
Based on the news coming out of Washington, D.C., there is division among US policy makers as to how they should treat the Kurds in Iraq and what US foreign policy toward the Kurds should be. There are two major powers in the Middle East, Turkey and Iran. Each has desires and plans to dominate the Middle East, the Turkish leader wants to re-establish the Ottoman Empire and be its Sultan. Iran wants to turn all the Middle East as a Shiite domain, while ISIS is spreading havoc in all.
Let’s look at the biggest threat in the Middle East today: the intrusion of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria the Kurds have proven themselves once again to be the true allies of the West in its fight against terrorism. The Kurds have given their best men and women to fight ISIS, and they have been on the front lines of the battle, ahead of the Iraqi Army, the Turkish Army, or any other army. In laying their lives down for the cause, the Kurds have proven to be the only force able to stand up to ISIS and push them back, while facilitated by international air support led by the US. Meanwhile, Turkey as a member of NATO remained on the sidelines, turning blind eyes to the border crossings of ISIS fighters in its territory, while preventing the US—until only very recently—to use its bases to help out the Kurds in their fight against ISIS.
On June 7, 2015 Turkey had its election in which the Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority to form the government by itself. The AKP went from 327 seats to 258 seats, while the pro-Kurdish party HDP took 80 seats (13% of the total votes). This was interpreted as a big slap on the face of the AKP party and its policy in the region. The lack of consideration given to the Kurds can no longer be sustained and Turkey is going to have to deal with its Kurds as legitimate players on the political scene for the first time. The failing polices of the AKP (Zero Policy) within Turkey and its neighbors and the region clearly reflect in the last election. The Kurds want to be a true partner for peace, democracy and human rights in Turkey and in the region.
The AKP is now looking for a way out of the mandate given it to consider the Kurds as legitimate players in the political realm. In its attempt to protect itself and retain full power, Turkey’s options include the following:
- To consider the PKK and the YGP as terrorists and treat them as such.
- To show itself as the leading force in the fight against ISIS.
- To establish a buffer zone in Syria; to separate the Kurdish area.
- To call for an early election, set for November 1st, 2015.
- To punish the HDP pro-Kurdish party, for their victory in the last election.
- To remove the Assad regime and, with it, the Iranian influence on its border.
- To open its Air bases to the US and the coalitions’ fight against ISIS; to buy their support.
To get NATO’s support and approval for its fight against ISIS and the Kurds as one package.
The Kurds in Turkey want to fight ISIS but Turkey does not only prevent them from doing so but they bomb them, wanting to eliminate them. Yet Turkey is part of NATO. On July 28, 2015 NATO supported Turkey in its fight against ISIS. But in doing so, it opposed Turkey’s request to establish a buffer zone in Syria and its fight against the Kurds in Syria unless the Kurds attacked Turkey. Only if the Kurds attacked Turkey would NATO support Turkey’s retaliation. Of course, Turkey will do everything in its power to provoke the Kurds to attack them so that they can get NATO support to retaliate.
It has been reported that a US delegation led by retired Gen. John Allen, President Barack Obama’s envoy for dealing with IS, held critical talks in Ankara on July 7-8. The discussions concluded with what US officials called a “game changer” — a joint action plan involving Turkey, the United States and the US-led coalition against IS. The core of the plan calls for Turkey to become an active partner in the anti-ISIS coalition of about 60 countries.
The explosion in Suruc (Syria) on July 20 by ISIS resulted in killing 32 citizens of Turkey. It created a window of opportunity for the AKP to make a public announcement, and the Turkish government made a statement on July 24 promising to actively participate in aerial attacks against ISIS and to allow the US to use the Incirlik Air Base in their fight against ISIS. This decision coincided with a massive Turkish air campaign (over 400 sorties, 400 PKK positions and over 300 smart bombs) against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, while it conducted only three sorties against ISIS in Syria.
This ‘change’ in Turkish Government policy was welcomed by the Obama administration, which supported Turkey and its fight against the PKK and ISIS as terrorist groups. The Obama administration stopped just short of supporting Turkey’s fight against the PYD & YGP in Syria, those with the only actual boots on the ground fighting ISIS to stop them.
The US should remember how Turkey refused, in the last war against Saddam Hussein in the recent Iraq war, to let US Troops go through Turkey. It was US, the Iraqi Kurds, who liberated North Iraq without the loss of a single American soldier. As for the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 states led by the US: the agreement gave Iran more power in the area despite US claims. It does not make Iran a good partner in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria’ and it depends less on the Kurdish Peshmarga. It does make the central Government in Iraq stronger as it waits for the first opportunity to turn against the Kurds. Turkey views this agreement in two ways: (1) this will lead to increased economic cooperation between Turkey and Iran; (2) but in the political arena this agreement means that the Assad regime will stay in power and Iran’s authority will increase in Iraq and Lebanon too. That is why Turkey moved fast to open its Air bases to the US. It wants to be part of the international coalition to fight ISIS in order to balance Iran in the region and to stop the Kurds in Rojava. Turkey wants the credit in leading the fight against ISIS instead of the Kurds. If Turkey gets its way, the Kurds will once again be marginalized with blessing of the US.
Terrorism is spread throughout the Middle East. Sponsored by Iran, supported by Turkey but the Kurdish people, whether in Iraq, Iran, Syria or Turkey, don’t allow terrorists in their midst. The PKK is not a terrorist organization and should be removed from that list because listing them as such gives Turkey the freedom to kill them; they must be accepted us partner for peace in Turkey.
There seems to be a willingness to sacrifice the Kurds, just as Czechoslovakia was sacrificed to appease the Nazis. We are not willing to be the scapegoat. The US should also remember that they have sold the Iraqi Kurds to Saddam Hussein before and he ended up gassing us. Now they want to sell the Kurds in Iraq, Syria and Turkey to Iran and Turkey. God knows what will happen next to the Kurds. This would be sad because it will be the fourth time that the US sells out the Kurds. Is this is the price to be a true ally and fight terrorism and to be a guardian of democracy and peace in the region?
Dr. Saman Shali – Former President of the Kurdish National Congress of the North America (KNC)