It would be unthinkable and terrible too, for the United States and Kurds to lose each other. Relations between the United States and Kurds are unique. They are built on the Kurds’ affinity with America. It is a human relationship more than just something between politicians. Contrary to the anger felt against America across the Middle East, the Kurds see America as a protector and a force for good. The Kurds have walked hand in hand with Washington in all of its projects in this region, most recently in the fight against ISIS. That relationship is now hanging in the balance.
Why should America lose the Kurds for the sake of Iraq? Washington spent billions of dollars in Iraq after 2003 and the situation there is only getting worse day after day. The only part that can pride itself in being a safe-haven and a place of coexistence is the Kurdistan Region. The situation now is almost as bad as it was before and during ISIS. Now that the war against ISIS is winding down, the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi are spreading across the region under a sectarian banner and are replacing Iraqi government authority. Even the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi himself, who is the commander-in-chief of the army, said this month that he’s unaware of the movements of the Hashd al-Shaabi. At least one doctor is killed every day in Baghdad these days, according to the health ministry, and civilians are systematically targeted across Iraq except in the Kurdistan Region. Members of the Hashd al-Shaabi are harassing truck drivers on the highways with taxes and shakedowns. Neither the truck drivers nor the prime minister dare to publicly raise this issue. Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric called for the disbanding of the Hashd al-Shaabi to preserve some form of democracy in Iraq. But Abadi soon responded to him and said that the Hashd were not going anywhere and were there to stay.
Now in Iraq Christians, Mandaeans and Yezidis are seen as apostates and are leaving Iraqi cities in droves. The Sunnis have become the most powerless group in Iraq under Hashd al-Shaabi. They report abuses as well as open and secret massacres committed by these forces. Baghdad, Samara and other Sunni cities have been subjected to a relentless campaign of Shiafication. The rate of Sunnis in Baghdad has dropped from 40 percent to only 10 percent. Sunni families are not allowed to move to Baghdad. Even the Sunni victims of ISIS were barred from seeking shelter in the capital. That’s why more than 1.5 million Sunnis have resorted to the Kurdistan Region and more than half a million went to Kirkuk.
From 2003 and until the day the Iraqi army melted away and abandoned their posts to ISIS in the summer of 2014 car bombs and violent attacks were a daily routine in Kirkuk, but the city and its various ethnic and religious groups have since been living in peace under Peshmerga protection. The Kurdistan Regional Government and Kirkuk authorities want to make this city a model of coexistence and partnership and make Kirkuk an autonomous region within Kurdistan without altering its demographics.
Iraq has now transitioned from a failed government to a failed state. The new Iraq of hope and peace has now turned into a large prison for its Sunni, Christian and Yezidi communities due to sectarian politics and rampant corruption. Kurds long feared Iraq becoming a place of recurring nightmares which eventually became. After the creation of the Hashd al-Shaabi which has sidelined the army, there is no guarantee that genocide will not be repeated against the people of Kurdistan. Anyone who may watch the threatening videos of Hashd al-Shaabi against the Kurds would understand that they are frighteningly serious and no less sinister than those of ISIS.
How could the Kurds be asked to stay part of Iraq when even the US embassy itself is confined to a barricaded area in the capital and cannot interact with the Iraqi society? Baghdad cannot tolerate a few thousand Faily Kurds and continues to expel them. How could Kurds live with a Baghdad that is not run by the rule of law but by force of arms?
The US says that the Kurds must talk to Baghdad, but the people of Kurdistan lost all faith in talks way before their politicians did. Kurds have negotiated with Iraq’s successive governments since 1921, yet none of those governments ever honored their agreements. Neither Iraq’s transitional law of 2003 nor its constitution of 2005 were implemented. Iraq deals with the Kurdistan Region like an oil field not as a State responsible to all its people. Abadi had told the latest Kurdish delegation that they could sell Kurdistan’s oil at the price of the day and send the money, not a penny more. Baghdad couldn't pay civil servant salaries, he had said. Of more than $80 billion saved of oil money not a penny has been given to the Kurdistan Region. Abadi’s government pays the commander of Iran’s Quds Forces Qasem Soleimani as an advisor to Iraq’s defence ministry, but not paying the Kurdish Peshmerga forces who according to the constitution are part of Iraq’s own defence system.
America and its soldiers have always been safe in Kurdistan and fought alongside the Peshmerga. Despite their outdated weapons the Peshmerga have managed to win the respect of the world. The arms the US supplied to the Iraqi army fell into the hands of ISIS and were used for attacks on the people of Kurdistan. Five divisions of the Iraqi army threw away their uniforms and ran away in the face of ISIS all against a backdrop of sectarian policies of the then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. America’s blood and sweat all went for nothing and the outcome was a gift to Iran.
And now, for the Shiite crescent not to become a serious threat to America in the region and in order for Turkey and Mosul not to be surrounded by the Shiite crescent and for the Sunni world not to be cut apart, there is only one way and it is to support the Peshmerga and stand by Kurdistan to become a state of its own as was promised to smaller nations in Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points.
Putting pressure on the Kurds to not hold an independence referendum is not the solution. In such a case the international community will have to bear the responsibility for predictable massacres, human rights abuses and further dragging of the Kurdistan Region into the bloodshed and violence of Iraq.
Kurdistan is not trying to create a state through violence. Kurdistan’s vote for independence on September 25 will put the international community through a major test of democracy. The people of Kurdistan no longer want to be part of an Iraq drowning in the blood of sectarian war, and for this they pin great hope on America which they see as a beacon of democracy.
* General Manger of Rudaw Media Network
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.