Kurds, Palestinians and Double Standards

Joseph Puder//The Washington Post headline on June, 2, 2015, read: “Obama Makes an Impassioned Case for a Palestinian State.” While President Obama and his administration are eager for the establishment of another unstable and likely terrorist Arab (there are 21 Arab states, and Palestine is the 22nd) state called Palestine, they have largely ignored if not betrayed the Kurds in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey. The Kurds are one of the largest national groups globally without a state of their own, and they are yearning for one independent Kurdish state. Justice for the Kurds, it seems, is subjected to the whims of Shiite-Muslim Iran, Sunni-Muslim Turkey, and the Iraqi Shiite-Arab government in Baghdad. The Obama administration, it appears, will not act on its own to correct an injustice done to the Kurdish people 92 years ago at the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. The administration has cast a blind eye on the oppression the Kurdish people have endured under the regimes in Tehran, Ankara, Baghdad, and Damascus.

U.S. policy has handed over veto power on economic and military aid for the Kurds to the Shiite prime ministers of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki and Haider al-Abadi. Baghdad appears to be the clearing house for weapons shipments to the Kurds who have gallantly stopped the Islamic State (IS) onslaught throughout northern Iraq. The Kurds, equipped with defensive arms were able to defeat IS, yet, the well-equipped, predominantly Shiite Iraqi army shamelessly retreated from the advancing IS forces that reached as far as the Baghdad suburbs. In the process, the Iraqi army abandoned its U.S. supplied arms that now make up a large part of the IS arsenal.

Considering that the Islamic Republic of Iran has the overriding influence in Baghdad, not the U.S., it begs the question as to why the U.S. won’t arm the peshmerga Kurdish forces directly with modern and offensive arms, to enable them to defeat IS. Currently, the Kurdish forces lack heavy arms such as tanks and artillery, not to mention air power. Since the Kurds have proved themselves in fighting IS, they deserve U.S. support much more than the hapless Iraqi army.

A significant political issue has loomed large in the relationship between Baghdad and Erbil. It is Article-140 of the Iraqi constitution, and it has to do with rights to Kirkuk, historically a Kurdish city. Saddam Hussein expelled more than 37,726 Kurdish families from Kirkuk and replaced them with Arabs. The Obama administration has sided with Baghdad on this issue. Article-140 lays down a clear road map to define the final boundaries of the territory to be administered by the KRG. The excessive delay in implementing this article is the primary cause of tension and administrative problems in the so-called disputed areas. These are areas that suffered severely from ethnic cleansing and community destruction under the former (Saddam Hussein) regime.

Failure to implement Article-140 is also in violation of the policy the Iraqi government announced in June, 2006. The Iraqi Prime Minister then stated that “the government will be committed to implement Article-140 of the Constitution which is based on Article-58 of the ‘Law of Administration for the State of Iraq’, also known as the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL).”

The Article specifies three phases for implementation that includes normalization, a census, and a referendum on Kirkuk and other disputed areas. “The government was to start by taking appropriate steps for the normalization phase, including rejoining detached districts and sub-districts to Kirkuk governorate, and completing this phase no later than 29 March 2007. The census phase was to be completed by 31 July 2007, and the referendum phase by 15 November 2007. The overall question is, thus, why hasn’t the Iraqi federal government met its commitments? Since 2003, successive Iraqi governments have failed to implement this constitutional article.”

The Obama administration has sent Brett McGurk, (deputy special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIL) to “arbitrate” the issue of Kirkuk and the adjunct areas, but the U.S., wary of upsetting the Shiite-led Iraqi government, and more importantly, their Iranian overlords (lest they turn away from negotiations on the nuclear issue) has been decidedly pro-Baghdad. This may be one of the reasons why the Administration has failed to provide arms to the pro-American Kurds.

Last August, IS shifted the brunt of its firepower against Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The reluctant President Obama inexplicably wavered a while before approving airstrikes against IS. Still it was the heroic stand of the Kurdish peshmerga forces that halted the IS advance with the help of U.S. air power.

Ankara, much like Baghdad and Tehran is concerned with Kurdish self-determination. Turkey is worried about the rise of a strong Kurdish entity in Syria under the leadership of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which seeks to do in Syria what the KRG has done in northern Iraq, namely becoming an internationally recognized autonomous region. Ankara fears that its own discriminated and abused Kurdish minority might seek detachment from Turkey and join southeastern Turkey with the other autonomous Kurdish regions. It is for this reason that Turkey’s President Erdogan allowed the Kurds in Kobani to bleed while Turkish tanks stood by. The Kurds of Kobani, helped by U.S. airpower, ultimately triumphed over the IS barbarians.

Sherkoh Abbas, President of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KNA-S), in a conversation with this reporter, addressed the following message to Washington. “The Kurds are the natural allies of the U.S. and western democracies.  Moreover, they are the boots on the ground. We are fighting in Syria and Iraq on behalf of humanity against the evil force known as IS (or ISIL). The U.S. administration needs to support us by providing the Kurds political recognition and military aid.  U.S. aid, however, should be direct, and not via hostile entities such as Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.  The U.S. should extend the No-Fly Zone to the Kurdish regions of Syria and Iraq; this would allow the Kurds to protect all the minorities and refugees from throughout war-torn Syria. It would also deny ISIL re-supply lines from Turkey.”

Abbas added, “The P5+1, providing Iran with sanctions relief, would enable the Ayatollahs to increase their support for the Assad regime and Hezbollah in Syria.  By supporting the Kurds the U.S. will thus reduce the influence of Iran in Iraq and Syria.  In fact, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) has taken over the Kamishly International airport in northeastern Syria to be used as a base for the Iranian al-Quds forces, and for Hezbollah’s direct flights from Lebanon. At the same time, chemical weapons have been deployed by ISIL against Syrian Kurds. The growing influence of Iran in Syria, and the spread of ISIL terror and brutality run counter to the interests of the Kurds, the U.S. and the west, as well as Israel.”

It has become an Obama administration’s imperative to keep Iraq and Syria as undivided unitary states, despite the fact that these states are artificial creations of the colonial powers. Yet, this policy is inconsistent with its efforts to force Israel to vacate the strategic defenses of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) to create a Palestinian State. If indeed the privileged (the Palestinians have had multiple opportunities to create a state but chose war and terror against Israel) Palestinians should have a state, the Kurds certainly deserve statehood much more.