The Kurdish Regional Government is only weeks away from holding a referendum on whether to declare sovereignty for the Kurdish people in northern Iraq.
Here’s why supporting the potential referendum on Sept. 25 should be a no-brainer for the Trump administration — and everyone else who supports the advancement of American interests abroad.
1. They are our partners in the war against global jihad
The Iraqi and Syrian Kurds are recognized as our most effective allies in the fight against the Islamic State. Not only have they bravely defended their lands against ISIS, the Peshmerga fighters — unlike the untrustworthy “moderate” Sunni and Shiite rebel factions that the U.S. has partnered with in Syria and Iraq — are devoted to the U.S.-formed international coalition.
The United States has spent countless billions arming and training “moderate” Syrian Arab rebels, only to see a great many of them join the ranks of ISIS and al-Qaeda. The same cannot be said of the Kurds, who have served as trustworthy ground forces in the campaign against ISIS.
2. An ally in a region with too few U.S. allies
An independent Kurdistan would make for a stalwart U.S. ally in a region of the world where partnerships come with a massive amount of baggage for America.
The U.S. alliance with Lebanon could mean we are indirectly shipping weapons and aid to Hezbollah. Linking up with Qatar means also enabling the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Allying with Turkey means endorsing an authoritarian strongman who provides cover for ISIS.
Kurdish leadership has already given signs it is committed to being close friends with the state of Israel, America’s most valued Middle East ally.
A Kurdish-U.S. alliance would undoubtedly bolster America’s ability to partner with allies to wipe out terrorist threats before they become insurgencies and/or topple entire nations.
3. No radical Islam problem
The Kurdish people mostly identify as Muslim, but unlike much of the Islamic world, they do not have widespread issues with extremism, practicing a much more tolerant version of the religion. The Kurds, like all peoples, do have radical break-off elements, such as the communist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but they hardly pose an international threat in the way that the global jihadist movement does.
4. A more stable, less threatening environment
Though the political elites in Washington, D.C., consider sovereignty for Iraqi Kurdistan a threat to the stability of the government in Baghdad (and to the United States, by extension), the exact opposite is true.
Since its founding, the modern state of Iraq has been a nation rife with extreme sectarian violence. And the sectarianism has only accelerated in recent decades. From Saddam Hussein’s genocide of the Kurds, to ISIS’ butchering of the country’s Shiite population, to Shiite strongmen creating conditions for further strife, Iraq has an awful record when it comes to peaceful coexistence.
A decentralized approach — one that protects the sovereignty and stability of the major sects of Iraq — can best preserve order in the country.
What’s stopping them?
The referendum for independence is scheduled for Sept. 25, but it’s still unclear whether the Kurdistan Regional Government will indeed go forward with the vote, after years of setbacks and delays.
Pentagon chief James Mattis and other Cabinet members are seeking to delay the vote in a bid to uphold the integrity of the central government in Baghdad, which would thwart the statehood movement (as history has shown). The U.S. is also facing pressure from Turkey to block the referendum. To leverage their position, the Mattis’ Pentagon appears to be delaying a crucial $300 million military aid package to the Peshmerga.
Should the Kurds go through with declaring sovereignty and statehood (that includes forming a government that protects the rights of minority groups like the Assyrians, Yazidis, and Chaldeans), the Trump administration would be wise to fully support the aspirations of a people who would make for a great U.S. regional ally.