When the Islamic State rose suddenly, the Iraqi Army suffered defeat after defeat. They fled back to Baghdad, abandoning both their equipment and the people they were sworn to defend. In Syria, the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad had far less success against the Islamic State than against unarmed protesters, as terrorists captured Raqqa, Palymra, and most of Western Syria. In both cases, the governments of these countries failed to protect the Kurds from a massive emerging threat.
Abandoned by their government, the people of the semi-autonomous province of Iraqi Kurdistan defended themselves as they have done for decades. Repeatedly denied self-determination in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, the Kurds have suffered genocide and gas attacks in Iraq, as well as persecution in all four countries. Now the Kurds, to a greater extent than any other ally, are responsible for halting the advance of the Islamic State, liberating many towns in Iraq and Syria. As a reward, they have been bombed by the Turks in Syria while their friends, including the United States, turned a blind eye, until now.
Recently, President Trump announced that the United States will supply arms to Kurdish groups fighting against the Islamic State in Syria. The United States has agreed to an arms deal of almost $300 million with Iraqi Kurdistan, while the U.S. has also provided assistance to Kurdish groups in Syria in the past. The Kurds have managed to capture territory only a few miles north of Raqqa, but lobbying from Turkey, Assad, Putin, and Iraq has frequently served to sway the United States from assisting the Kurds’ efforts. President Erdogan of Turkey has already harshly condemned Trump’s decision. All four nations which contain large Kurdish populations greatly fear any move in U.S. Foreign Policy towards greater support for or recognition of Kurdish groups, or an independent Kurdistan.
While the region is currently under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga and the regional government of Iraqi Kurditan, President Barzani of Iraqi Kurdistan has voiced the concerns of many Kurds concerning a return to Iraqi control of Erbil, Kirkuk and the rest of Iraqi Kurdistan. In response, the regional government is currently planning a referendum on independence for the region and took the bold step of raising the flag of Kurdistan over the buildings of the regional government. The government of Iraq condemned this act, but was not capable of taking punitive measures in response.
Kurdistan as an American Ally
President Trump should embrace their aspirations and continue to provide the Kurds with military support. To date, we have no better ally, no more successful partner, in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The military success of the Kurds in both countries and the economic success of Iraqi Kurdistan compared to the rest of Iraq prove the durability of this people, while their immense gratitude for our interventions under President George Bush and his father promises a fruitful alliance. Even liberal outlets have acknowledged that the vast majority of the Kurds remain grateful for George Bush’s role in toppling Saddam.
In addition, Iraqi Kurdistan and the Syrian Kurdish enclaves have demonstrated a unique respect for women’s rights and liberal democracy, which is not the dominant view in the current nations that have divided historic Kurdistan. While ISIS enslaves women, the Kurdish Peshmerga is full of women fighting to defend Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurds have established militarily successful, economically reliable societies which love our country and share our values. If President Trump wishes to follow this initial arms shipment with additional cooperation with Iraqi Kurdistan and the Syrian Kurdish enclaves, America will have made an incredible moral and strategic choice. Trump has demonstrated his willingness to stand with the defenseless despite the international cost. He now has another opportunity.