US Policy towards the Kurds
In a federal, pluralistic and democratic Iraq
The Kurdistan Region has been successful with regard to core principles it firmly believes in: federalism, equal rights for women, freedom of individual conscience, and justice for the victims of the Baath regime. The Iraqi constitution allows for Kurdistan, its regional and federal authorities and the use of Arabic and Kurdish as official languages in the region.
US policy towards the Iraqi Kurds has been inconsistent and used Kurdish issues as a policy tool. Additionally, regional powers have unfairly manipulated the future of the Kurds. In view of the challenges of a federal, pluralistic, and democratic Iraq and the possible secession of Kurdistan from Iraq, history and current events should provide US policymakers with some insights into their future policy in relation to Iraq.
There is a consensus that successful federalism requires a highly functional judicial system and democratic institutions, integrated national political parties and appropriate electoral incentives created by democratic political competition.
The constitution states, too, that Iraq will be a federal, parliamentary democracy. Can Iraq unite with a power-sharing agreement among Arab Shiites, Arab Sunnis, and Kurds? If Iraq cannot unite, can a peaceful separation be achieved that will maintain stability in the region? How should US foreign policy proceed? The recent referendum on the Iraqi constitution established regional control for the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The passing of the Iraqi constitution also established that oil and gas belong to all of the people of Iraq and revenues would be equally shared by regions. continuing territorial dispute between Iraqi Kurdistan and Arab Iraq over the area in and around the oil rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq may be at the crux of a stable Iraq.
Historical, the Kurds are an ancient Middle Eastern tribal community, and the Kurdistan region was the site of many clashes between the Ottomans and Persian rulers, with Kurdish princes siding with one side and then the other in order to maintain their autonomy. Without their own state, the Kurds have struggled to maintain their identity.
The status of Kirkuk as either a part of Iraqi Kurdistan or Arab Iraq will be decided by a referendum. The outcome of this referendum could have a major impact on the unity of Iraq, on neighboring countries and on an exit strategy for the United States. The Kurds are ripe for exploitation by the powers interested in the region and dispensable pawns in world politics.
The Kurds have a history of being alienated by the societies surrounding them and this has manifested itself in resistance to assimilation and a struggle to gain autonomy in a hostile environment. Kurdistan lies in the area where Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran converge. The Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslim and speak an Indo-European language. They are ethnically distinct from Turks and Arabs. As an ethnic group, the Kurds are seen by Iranians as outsiders.