The referendum among Iraqi Kurds is non-binding, and it doesn’t mandate any action–like withdrawing from Iraq. So why is everyone (except Israel) so upset? I discussed this a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh.
The vehement opposition to the referendum is absurd, but it says a lot about the way the world views the Middle East. Absurd because the vote changes nothing. The Kurdish area of Iraq has been autonomous since 1991. Kurds have demanded independence for decades. The vote won’t bring independence–all it does is restate the well-known facts.
So what’s the problem here? Let’s start with the US, where officials are worried that the referendum might make waves that would disrupt the fight against ISIS. As I’ve written before–there’s more to the Mideast than ISIS, but the Trump administration doesn’t seem to realize that.
Others, like the UN, Europe, and Arab countries, worry that the vote could lead to instability in the region. Really? As if there’s stability now?
These arguments point to a conservative view of the region, according to the definition of the word, not the political context it usually receives. “Conservative” as in conserving the status quo. Six years after Arab Spring begin, it should be obvious to even the most casual observer that the Mideast is in a period of transition. There is no status quo. A complete realignment is in progress, erasing the old 1920s borders–in fact or in practice–and redrawing the region into spheres of influence. Iran leads the Shiite Muslim faction, Saudi Arabia leads the Sunnis–and what about the Kurds?
Here’s the thing. The Kurds are a separate ethnic group. They are Muslims, but they’re not Arabs. The Kurdish people are divided among several countries, including Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria, but the territory where they live
is contiguous. That’s to say, you could draw a border around it and have a majority-Kurdish entity.
And that’s what’s troubling the people in the region. If Iraq’s Kurds, about 5 million people, move toward independence–could the others be far behind? There are 30 million Kurds altogether, including 14 million in Turkey, which
labels a main Kurdish group there, PKK, as terrorists for carrying out attacks to back their demands for independence.
But bucking the new order is a policy of reactionary failure. As part of the regional realignment, one day there will be an independent Kurdistan. A more logical approach would be to work for a peaceful transition to that, instead of threatening all kinds of mayhem against people just because they express their will at the ballot box.
Also–the world is caught in a bald contradiction here. The UN and most of its members insist on the right of the Palestinians to an independent state. Even Israel has reluctantly come on board with that. Yet the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza number fewer than 4 million people are not a distinct ethnic group. They are a distinct national group, but they are Arabs like most everyone else in the Middle East, except the Jews, the Kurds and some smaller groups. So it’s hypocritical to demand a state for the Palestinians while denying it to the Kurds.
That helps explain why Israel is the only nation openly favoring Kurdish independence. Israel and Iraqi Kurdistan have relatively warm if quiet relations, and there are persistent reports that Israel gets much of its oil from there. Iraqi Kurdistan controls about 20 percent of Iraq’s oil reserves–another reason Baghdad opposes such moves toward independence.
Irony of ironies–among those opposing the Kurdish independence vote are–the Palestinians. They have two reasons–Arab nations oppose it, but much more important to the Palestinians–Israel favors it. How sad.