The Iraqi Kurds’ Independence Is Decades Overdue
There are seven million Iraqi Kurds (roughly 15 percent of the population) who have been the target of persecution from day one following the establishment of the state of Iraq in 1922. The Kurds were mercilessly victimized under Saddam Hussein’s regime, which killed at least 50,000 Kurds during the 1980s; more than 5,000 men, women, and children were gassed to death in 1988. Since 1991, they have consolidated autonomous rule under American protection, which gave the Kurds space to build an autonomous region which now enjoys all the markers of an emergent independent state.
Years of subjugation, mistreatment, discrimination, and brutal repression left the Iraqi Kurdish community determined to never again subject themselves to the whims of any Iraqi government. Kurdish nationalism is the real engine behind their drive toward statehood, and they will never compromise that regardless of the near-universal opposition to their political independence.
Every Kurdish political party, including President Barzani’s traditional rival the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and many other affiliates to the main parties, hold fast to the objective of an independent nation.
President Barzani rejected a warning from the US that pursuing independence at this juncture will further destabilize the region and irreparably divide Iraq. “When” he said, “have we ever had stability and security in this region that we should be concerned about losing it? When was Iraq so united that we should be worried about breaking its unity? Those who are saying these, they are just looking for excuses to stop us.”
The irony is that while the Iraqi, Iranian, and Turkish governments want their Kurdish communities to be loyal citizens, they never understood that the Kurds’ allegiance to their respective countries depends on the way they are treated, the freedoms they are granted, and the civility they are accorded. To demand from the Kurds unconditional loyalty while robbing them of their basic human rights is the height of hypocrisy and falsehood.
Moreover, the raging madness in the Middle East further strengthens the Kurds’ resolve to seek, fight, and die to establish autonomous rule, if not independence, as is the case in Iraq.
The Iraqi government will eventually resolve to negotiate with the Kurds with the objective of establishing an independent state, provided that Kirkuk is not included. Kirkuk is a contentious issue because of its huge reservoir of oil, and nearly half of its population are Arabs and Turkmen. Although Barzani insists that Kirkuk must be included in the referendum, he must abide by the results and work with the Iraqi government to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution.
The US and the EU must demonstrate that human rights, freedom, and democracy are the inherent rights of every ethnic group wherever they may reside, especially when they are grossly mistreated and their basic civil and human rights are systematically violated. Otherwise, preaching the gospel of human rights but denying it to the people who have been subjected to persecution and marginalization is hypocritical, deceitful, and sinister.
The US’ hypocrisy is particularly daunting because the Kurds have and continue to faithfully fight side-by-side the US and its allies against ISIS. Rejecting their quest for self-determination after years of suffering brutalization by successive Iraqi regimes, especially under Saddam Hussein, is unconscionable and shameful.
The US and EU must be in the forefront in supporting Iraqi Kurds to achieve independence, and bring an end to the historic travesty that has been inflicted on all 30 million Kurds.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for
Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and
Middle Eastern studies.