For all the misgivings Americans may have about the Iraq War -- its rationale, its execution, and its aftermath -- there is at least one thing of which to be proud: our support of a free, autonomous, and democratic Kurdistan.
The story of the Kurds and their steadfast support of an Iraq free from fascism of either the Baathist or Islamist type is one worth telling and retelling. It’s one of uncommon moral clarity.
The Kurds are not a monolithic people; there are very real cultural and political differences between Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. Nonetheless, they share a common history of misfortune: subjugated by competing empires since antiquity, denied self-determination after World War I, and nearly destroyed by industrialized ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Despite the grueling procession of injustices, fatalism is conspicuously absent from the culture. In its place is a proud tradition of militant resistance to oppression in whatever form: the prescribed ethno-nationalism of the Turkish state, the gangsterism of the Assad and Hussein crime families in Syria and Iraq, and Iran’s theocratic goons.
Under the annihilating totalitarianism of Saddam Hussein, Kurds were systematically oppressed and massacred during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s and following the 1991 international intervention against Hussein’s bloody annexation of Kuwait. Hussein’s genocidal campaign, conducted by weapons provided by the United States, was halted by the brave resistance of peshmerga (Kurdish guerrilla military) fighters and the protection afforded by a U.S. no-fly zone.
The Bush administration’s hubristic prediction of dancing in the streets of Baghdad did not come to fruition, but that is exactly what Kurds did when the U.S. airmen began their bombing campaign in March 2003.
For once in their sordid history, the CIA found themselves aligned with a moral and strategic superior: the peshmerga linked up with U.S. special forces ahead of the ground invasion and, by sabotage and guerrilla tactics, prevented Saddam from massing all of his forces in the south where the brunt of the coalition was staged to enter the country. Their actions likely saved the lives of hundreds if not thousands of military and civilian lives.
Not a single U.S. soldier would be killed in Kurdish-controlled territory for the duration of the war.
In a region characterized by ambiguity and fickle allegiances, the United States has never had a better friend than the Iraqi Kurds. We are partly responsible for the horror incurred by the Hussein regime and for that alone we owe them respect and permanent support.
While the government in Baghdad no longer poses a physical threat, Islamofascism does in the form of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslim, but religious sectarianism finds no quarter among Kurds who are more divided by political affiliation (PUK and KDP are the major factions) than religion.
Their constitution guarantees protection for religious minorities and mentions Islam only in passing -- in stark contrast to the Iraqi constitution that establishes Islam as the official religion of the state. Their rejection and hostility toward religious extremists has made them a prime target for holy war. ISIS has made it clear that they intend to create a theocratic state and annihilate any who resist.
In its initial assault on Iraq, ISIS forces made short work of Iraqi Army units -- many of whom retreated into Kurdistan -- leaving behind their U.S.-made weaponry, including guns and armored vehicles, for ISIS to use. However, ISIS was mostly reluctant to engage peshmerga in the hope that the Kurds, who are openly seeking independence from Iraq, would not intervene and remain inside their borders.
When ISIS advances toward Baghdad were stalled in early August, they suddenly turned north and attacked Mosul, a major city just outside Kurdistan’s borders, and peshmerga outposts, which were manned by mostly young, inexperienced fighters. Peshmerga, outgunned and taken by surprise, fled back into Kurdistan.
This was the situation the United States faced: a heavily-armed, well-financed Islamist military determined to destroy the Iraqi project, deprive the Kurds of their first real chance at a homeland, and by way of that, annihilate the religious minorities living under the protection of the Kurdish Regional Government.
When the U.S. military and intelligence services announced airstrikes and direct transfer of weapons, Kurds once again celebrated. Today, peshmerga, reinforced by grizzled, hardened veterans from as far away as Turkey, are reversing ISIS gains and liberating Mosul. This is the second time Kurds have fought on Iraq and America’s behalf.
The Iraqi government’s failure to prevent the violation of its sovereignty and protect its citizens already has consequences. Longtime Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has resigned, which may weaken the government in the short-term but opens the possibility of a more robust democracy by peacefully transferring power to a new government.
Kurdistan, now more than ever, has the opportunity to declare itself independent from Iraq.
An American high schooler, Jonathan Schwoerer, launched a White House petition on July 23 asking the U.S. government to recognize a free and independent Kurdistan. It has garnered over 100,000 signatures which means the White House must provide an official response.
Even the Turkish government, long opposed to any semblance of Kurdish autonomy, has signaled it would be prepared for a Kurdish state.
Some writers have pointed to American oil interests in the region as the real cause for American intervention. However, Kurdistan is not the Gulf, run by thuggish sheikhs, bratty princes, and amoral American businesspeople.
A major political issue in Kurdistan is the redistribution of oil wealth and there’s a political movement calling for profit-sharing. Oil does not necessarily beget evil and if there was ever a people more deserving of oil wealth, it’s the Kurds.
The Kurds are our friends. We should do as they have done for us and support them through thick and thin.
Photo retrieved from Nationalinterest.org. No photo credit attributed.