How US Can Do the Right Thing By the Kurds, While Avoiding Crisis
Irina Tsukerman, VOKRadio, Los Angeles, California   

How US Can Do the Right Thing By the Kurds, While Avoiding Crisis

The US at this juncture has significant leverage over Baghdad.


By: Irina Tsukerman

 October 8, 2017

New Yourk,

Staying out of the issue and refusing to back Kurds in times of need will not win US friends or allies in the Middle East, a region that values strength, loyalty, and strategic consistence over quibbling, appeasement, and insecurity. 

President Trump can exercise that leverage effectively by having the airport ban lifted, not with loud proclamations that can only create indignation with the Iraqi government, but with nuanced behind the scenes diplomacy.

The ban is not going to change anyone's mind about independence, only gets people more intent to move forward as soon as possible unilaterally and with no negotiations.

At the same time, it's causing damage to Kurdish economy, creates undue suffering for civilians, and causing problems for US investors working on oil projects in the region.

The US has invested untold amount of money into Iraqi government - just so they could repay us by creating a de facto blockade against our allies, and preventing us from getting in and out?

It serves no legitimate purpose and actually causes the US to look weak - weaker than the Iraqi government, and unable to defend our own interests.

Weighing in on this issue will allow the US to retain credibility with the Kurds while also pushing both sides towards a negotiated solution to the current face-off.

Second, the US should play a role in negotiations over Kirkuk and oil, which are central to any successful bilateral discussion.

Kurds, Iraq, and even Turkey are all making a play for that crucial territory. While many can argue about what legitimacy any one of these sides has towards a territory that has at one point been woefully allocated to the fictional country of Iraq by the British,  from US perspective, there is a simple, straightforward answer to the dilemma. It's not in the US interests to have the Iran-backed Baghdad have complete access to the oil, and there are few things more alarming than seeing the increasingly unfriendly Turkey with an independent revenue inside what is essentially Kurdish territory. While Turkey is making plans to invade the Kurdish region of Iraq, even if that means having to overcome peshmerga guarding all current routes, and dealing with PKK, which finally found a bit of a safe harbor with the KRG,  the US is interested in avoiding additional protracted regional conflicts, and keeping oil out of the hands of the increasingly dictatorial Erdogan.

US has credibility, because ultimately it doesn't need Kirkuk oil. US is growing independent of foreign oil through increased development of its own resources and research into alternative sources of energy. Some businesses still benefit from investment into oil extraction in that area, but ultimately, US has other sources of revenue, and for that reason would make for a fair and acceptable arbiter. US, for instance, can reasonably ask Kurds to compensate Iraq for the perceived loss of oil-related revenue, or to negotiate a rental or sharing agreement of some sort, as a precondition for a peaceful parting of ways.  US involvement is infinitely preferable to Russia's, which may be looking to gain leverage over Iran and Turkey, via its backing of KRG, but is also a largely self-interested actor, whose involvement in Syria has been anything but stabilizing and peaceful, and the expansion of whose role throughout the region is not something the US or anyone else ultimately would want to see.

The alternative to US involvement is either a very high likelihood of an international conflict between several allies and an adversary thrown in, or a significant empowerment of Russia in the role of an international broker. These are the scenarios best avoided.

Finally, US can ensure a peaceful transition by continuing being perceived as a strong, well-meaning ally, whose perspective deserves consideration - both by the Kurds and by Iraq. To do so with the Kurds, US should immediately renew the payment of stipends to peshmerga, initiated last year by the Obama administration. The Trump administration ceased payment as soon as the year-long agreement expired, and so far, has not renegotiated the continuation of the agreement, due to perceived uncertainty over the referendum.

Now, however, is not the time for Swiss neutrality, but rather for an active role in supporting one ally and reassuring the other one, while showing strength and resolution in the face of enemies and frienemies, who are all too ready to exploit the vacuum.  We are much more likely to resolve tensions and avoid conflict by keeping to our alliances and showing our worth as a dependable and respectable friend, than by fleeing at the first sign of trouble, and leaving those who have served our purposes by bravely fighting ISIS out to dry.

Staying out of the issue and refusing to back Kurds in times of need will not win us friends or allies in the Middle East, a region that values strength, loyalty, and strategic consistence over quibbling, appeasement, and insecurity. And US has much to be secure about. It has strength, moral clarity, and a set of values that have made it a desirable harbor for aspiring immigrants and refugees from around the world. It can play an important in diplomatic role in preventing conflicts before they begin, not just having to resolve them once the die is cast. I suggest we do so, before the chaos and disputes plaguing the region engulf even the places that are currently enjoying relative stability and can serve as exemplars for peace and prosperity if we play our cards right.




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