The Kurds have recently reclaimed the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, the claimed “Kurdish Jerusalem,” and are now ousting hundreds of Iraqi Arabs from the area. This places the U.S. in a very sticky situation, or maybe better stated in between a rock and a hard place.
The rock is the Kurds, an ethnic group with their own language inhabiting the mostly mountainous area where the borders of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria converge. There are approximately 25 million Kurds in that area and they have been promised their own state since the World War I. But since last week, when the Kurds took control of Kirkuk, they have been evacuating Iraqis. Now, thousands of displaced Kurds from refugee camps from all over could return to northern Iraq.
The hard place is the other countries that have a stake in the Kurds having their own state, namely Turkey. The Turks have already promised to invade an Iraqi Kurdistan if one comes to exist and there is no question on how strongly the Turkish government feels about sharing a border with an autonomous Kurdish state.
The problem is that Turkey has not been much of a help through the war in Iraq, especially to the U.S. And the Kurds have been the only indigenous Iraqi force fighting on the U.S.’s side in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
So, there are two ways of approaching this problem. Either allow the Kurds to stay, and tell the Turks the U.S. is going back on its word to not allow the Kurds to control Kirkuk and screw an important NATO ally, or tell the Kurds to leave and seriously sell them out by denying them the only reward they ever wanted.
Punishing Turkey for being such stubborn bastards and not helping the U.S. isn’t such a bad idea, and it wouldn’t be the first time American foreign policy screwed someone over. However, the Kurds could enjoy a Saddam Hussein-free Iraq and still reap the benefits of the oil-rich city Kirkuk without exclusively occupying it.
The U.S. needs to get its priorities straight, and it needs to do it quickly. If they want to give the Kurds what they have so desperately been fighting for, their own state, there needs to be a plan of action on how to deal with Turkey’s reaction. I assume it won’t be pretty.
On the other hand, if the U.S. decides it will not allow the Kurds to keep control of Kirkuk, the Kurds need reassuring that the new Iraqi government will not prove to be more oppressive than what Hussein did to the minority group.
Consistency will be the key when this war is over.