An inevitable result of the tumult of the past decade in the Middle East is that the Kurds, previously a minority in several countries, are moving steadily toward establishing their own nation.
The Kurds are 30 million largely Sunni Muslims, with their own language, living mostly in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The governments of these countries have sometimes found them troublesome as a minority, with irredentist tendencies and a persistent desire for their own state.
They remained under control in these places until the first and second American invasions of Iraq, in 1991 and 2003, when the United States took the Kurds under its wing. For instance, the U.S. Air Force maintained an expensive “no fly” zone over the Kurds’ region after the first Gulf War.
The U.S. breakup of the Saddam Hussein government in Baghdad, coupled with the Kurds’ speedy moves to cooperate with the occupying Americans, quickly put Iraq’s Kurdish northern region on the road to autonomy.
In Syria, the substantial weakening of the Bashar Assad government provided Kurds there with a fine opportunity to establish increasing independence. A desire by the Turkish government to soften its sensitive relationship with the Kurds in Turkey, plus Turkey’s need for oil and gas, which Iraqi Kurdistan is eager to export, have combined to produce what is a potentially viable Kurdistan in the Middle East.
The relatively peaceful, slow evolution of a Kurdish national homeland is probably a natural development in the Middle East which no one — including America — should obstruct.
The United States is opposed to the creation of an independent Kurdistan for varied reasons. The first is paternalism toward the Kurds that comes from having protected them for 22 years. The second is that an independent Kurdistan would come at the expense of Iraq and be an embarrassing result of the eight-year U.S. occupation.
The third is that U.S. oil companies have established a presence in Kurdistan, and it is easier to watch over them as part of Iraq. The fourth is that Kurdistan would be one more country to play on the troubled field of the Middle East, with its irredentism and tribal divisions.
The creation of a separate Kurdistan appears to be inevitable, however, and the United States should get used to it rather than maintain a policy of opposition.