Although the United States’ war against ISIS draws all the headlines, there is a much more significant development underway. The Kurdish people who have successfully forced ISIS out of northern Iraq are now in the process of declaring their independence from the Iraqi government that has failed them for the last time.
The Kurdish parliament recently passed a measure that calls for an independence referendum to take place in the region. The regional government has an elected body of 111 representatives, of which 65 voted for the referendum. The vote will take place on September 25th across northern Iraq.
Unfortunately, the United States has remained committed to its failed policy of supporting a single Iraq. The government has not learned its lesson after fourteen years of sectarian violence and an outright civil war instigated by ISIS. Nor have they accepted the fact that Iraq has never been a united country, even under Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule. Western lines in the sand have never effectively bound the three separate regions.
It’s high time that the United States reversed their failed policy and supported the Kurdish people’s right to declare independence. Being a country that had to fight a bloody war for our own independence, the U.S. should always support peaceful declarations of independence. The Kurdish people’s claim is stronger than almost any other’s.
The Kurdish people have been repeatedly robbed of a homeland
The Kurdish people have lived in the northern region of Iraq for thousands of years. Their ancestry can be traced all the way back to the third millennium B.C.E. Despite that, they have been ruled by a variety of empires ever since. The latest rulers, and perhaps the most agreeable, were the Ottomans.
The Ottoman Empire was able to correctly determine the natural regions of the Middle East and divided present day Iraq into three “vilayets”. These provinces were given a high degree of autonomy and were never joined as one country.
That fatal flaw was made after World War 1 when the British and French divided the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately, unlike the Ottomans, these western powers did not have the same understanding of the region. They made decisions arbitrarily and without consulting the native population.
Western ignorance invented and maintained the hodgepodge state of Iraq
It was officially a League of Nations mandate to create the state of Iraq by drawing lines in the sand of France and Britain’s choosing. Those borders were drawn with little knowledge of the land, the people, their religions, or histories. The new borders joined three independent groups and created the sectarian violence in Iraq.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 formalized the borders of what is now Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The lines they drew trisected the Kurdish people and forced them into minority status in foreign countries. Had the British and French learned the first thing about the land they were dividing, they would have been able to create a contiguous Kurdish state with ease.
Despite President Bush declaring “Mission Accomplished” in 2003, and President Obama re-declaring it in 2011, there was never any real sense of victory. Iraq had been cracked and all the kings horses and all the kings men could never put it together again.
A country as diverse and divided as Iraq had little chance of survival after Saddam’s removal from power. Saddam Hussein was a brutal murderous dictator, but only a dictator could hope to control a country with so many different sects trying to break free. Even then it was a challenge.
Without that iron rule forcing everything together Iraq has been de facto redivided into its natural historically defined regions, including Kurdistan. The sheer will of the United States has held the country together but even that is faltering as of late.
The Iraqi government has failed the Kurds
Despite being given a large amount of autonomy under the Iraqi constitution, the Kurdish people have been repeatedly let down by the Shia dominated government in Baghdad. There is no more shameful example than the outright failure of the Iraqi army to protect the Kurds from ISIS. The terrorist group swept across northern Iraq with ease as the army abandoned their posts and weapons without a second thought.
The Iraqi Army has received tens of billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment from the United States and has more than a quarter million troops. Nonetheless, this U.S. trained fighting force ran with their tails between their legs from a force less than a tenth their size.
But why? Why would the larger army with advanced training and weapons flee from a band of terrorists? Primarily because of the notorious corruption that plagues the Shia dominated Iraqi government.
Sectarian politics has resulted in a government dominated by one religious sect that doles out favors only to members of their tribe. As a result, the army is entirely dominated by Shia Muslims from the south east of Iraq. They feel no sense of loyalty to to the north, nor any responsibility to defend it – as is evident in their hasty retreat.
The United States should support Kurdish independence
All this points to an obvious conclusion. The Kurdish people have good cause to want a nation of their own. The failure of the Iraqi government to properly care for them is only the icing on the cake. The recent vote to hold an independence referendum is a move that is decades overdue and no foreign power should attempt to stop it – including the Iraqi government.
Drawing lines in the sand, and then fighting a war to keep those same lines, hasn’t erased thousands of years of history, religion, and culture. The Kurdish people have patiently fought for their independence and their deserve the right to declare it should that be necessary.
With that said, the corrupt government of Iraq will never allow Kurdish self-determination. Therefore, it falls the United States to support Kurdish independence and further self-governance and human freedom by doing so.
(Photo of a Kurdish flag waving from a peshmerga position near a road to Mosul by Carl Court/Getty Images)