Radical Islamist action rekindles possibility of Kurdish independence

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Kurdistan’s long-smoldering dream of a free and independent homeland might soon become a reality, thanks in part to a weakened Iraq brought on by the stunning success of a radical Islamic army known as ISIS.

Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, stand guard near Mosul Dam at the town of Chamibarakat outside Mosul, Iraq, on Aug. 17. Kurdish forces took over parts of the largest dam in Iraq less than two weeks after it was captured by the Islamic State extremist group, Kurdish security officials said, as U.S. and Iraqi planes aided their advance.  KHALID MOHAMMED/ASSOCIATED PRESS
KHALID MOHAMMED/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, stand guard near Mosul Dam at the town of Chamibarakat outside Mosul, Iraq, on Aug. 17. Kurdish forces took over parts of the largest dam in Iraq less than two weeks after it was captured by the Islamic State extremist group, Kurdish security officials said, as U.S. and Iraqi planes aided their advance.

For decades, the people of this semi-autonomous region bordering the wild and rugged Zagros Mountains have sought to create their own independent state, linking portions of northern Iraq, western Iran, southern Turkey and a sliver of eastern Syria.

MANY FACTORS have stood in the way, not the least of which has been fierce resistance by governments in Ankara and Baghdad. So desperate was Turkey’s opposition to an independent Kurdistan, it was even once illegal for the Kurdish language to be used or taught in Turkish classrooms.

But the recent onslaught of ISIS militants over large regions of Syria and northern Iraq has resurrected fresh conversations about Kurdish independence. Ironically, it stems from ISIS’s success against the Iraqi military and Baghdad’s growing reliance on Kurdish peshmerga forces in the fight to help stem the invasion.

One might say the whole thing started with President Obama’s pledge to withdraw American forces from Iraq. That process, which ended in late 2012, resulted in the violent eruption of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, a ragtag but highly trained army of jihadists and militants with an avowed goal of overthrowing established governments in the region and replacing them with a new caliphate.

When he was elected in 2008, one of Obama’s first promises was to end American military involvement in that war-torn nation. At the same time he made it clear that U.S. troops soon would be leaving Afghanistan.

He made good on his first promise.

EXCEPT FOR A handful of forces guarding the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and a band of advisors now assisting the Iraqi army, there are no more American fighting men and women in Iraq. Military action continues in Afghanistan, but there, too, action is being scaled back rapidly as U.S. soldiers are phased out of that country.

Obama’s hasty proclamation to yank American forces out of Iraq complicated the festering problems under now-deposed Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s embattled government in Baghdad. All the enemies of the Iraqi state had to do was bide their time, and wait for the last American brigade to leave before making their move.

The rest was fairly easy. Almost overnight ISIS-led militants launched a massive ground invasion of Iraq, sweeping over vast portions of the north, from the dusty plains of Syria down to the gates of Baghdad. Iraqi forces melted under the withering assault, but – thanks to American air support – the courageous peshmerga have temporarily slowed the ISIS advance along the mountainous border with Kurdistan.

How long the peshmerga can hold off their fanatical attackers is anybody’s guess. Without substantially increased military aid from the United States – air strikes, logistics and shared intelligence – the fate of Kurdistan hangs in the balance.

THIS CALAMITY probably could have been avoided had Obama not been so bent on completely ending the U.S. presence in Iraq. He should have listened to his military advisers, who quietly and publicly predicted the consequences of a premature withdrawal.

But he didn’t. And the rest, as they say, is history.

In the Middle East, it’s often difficult to predict with certainty what will happen, even under the most measured circumstances. But it’s safe to say that had at least a small contingent of American soldiers been left behind – say, 10,000 – to continue to help shore up the new Iraqi government, none of this would be happening right now.

The softened regime in Baghdad suddenly was left helpless to deal with a brand of barbaric invader perhaps not seen in those parts since the time of the Assyrian King Sennacherib. The beheadings, mass executions, religious and sectarian strife and other turmoil has undone what the United States spent billions trying to fix.

The end of the Iraqi war left that nation divided between notoriously bitter religious and political factions. Ancient tribal
hatreds collided with modern aspirations to guarantee the bloodbath would continue without some form of American intervention and leadership.

Until recently, the safest and most progressive region of the country remained Kurdistan – often regarded as the “other Iraq.” Vast oil deposits and western investments fed Kurdistan’s great wealth – along with its smoldering desire for independence.

IRONICALLY, NOW that Iraq seems on the verge of collapse, that Kurdish dream of independence beats even stronger in the hearts of young men and women from Dohuk to Sulemani. Victory against the ISIS invaders would certainly intensify their demands for a new Baghdad-free Kurdish state that would include parts of western Iran, northern Iraq, southern Turkey and eastern Syria.

In the end, the crisis in Iraq, though not entirely President Obama’s fault, is where it is today because of his overly eager obsession to fulfill his campaign pledge to end American involvement there. Had he given them a little more time, perhaps a new generation of Iraqis would have emerged that could have better dealt with aggressors such as ISIS and other political, religious and economic concerns.

The fate of Baghdad and the rest of Iraq remains unknown. But, ironically, if the city of Irbil survives ISIS, it might someday thank the president of the United States for creating conditions that led to a free and independent Kurdistan.

(The writer, the author of several books, recently served on the faculty of the American University of Iraq in Sulaimania. He teaches history at Georgia Regents University.)

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Riverman1
94312
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Riverman1 08/24/14 - 05:16 am
9
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Opportunity Of A Lifetime

The situation in Iraq and Kurdistan is an opportunity for America to create another pro-American state in the Mideast on a par with Israel. It could be carved out of Iraq and Syria. Possibly Kurds in Iran and Turkey would relocate in the new country. What a deterrent to ISIS, Al Qaeda and Iran a strong Kurdistan would be.

Proud2Serve
466
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Proud2Serve 08/24/14 - 06:54 am
9
0
I fought with Kurds

I fought alongside Kurds in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. They are moderate people with strong values. Kurdistan is beautiful country rich with history and resources. They were abandoned by the US after the First Gulf War and massacred by the thousands; yet they still assisted us during Iraqi Freedom.

I personally agree with the view of this article and Riverman. They have been there for us every time we called on them; even after our betrayal. Good sense aside, honor alone dictates we should be there for them.

deestafford
32248
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deestafford 08/24/14 - 07:15 am
4
0
Strongly agree with the column....

Strongly agree with the column. From what I understand the Kurds have been big allies with the US for decades and we have not supported them mainly because of our relationship with Turkey who does not want an independent Kurdistan.

One reason I think Obama has been hesitant to strongly support the Kurds is his cozy relationship with the leader of Turkey who is rapidly trying to take Turkey Islamist which seems to please Obama.

Right now I think we have lost Turkey to the Muslims. That's a shame because they have been such a proud country. When I was a student at the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS in 1979 I had a Turkish officer in my section and he would tell you at the drop of a hat how proud the Turkish people were of being a democratic country.

deestafford
32248
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deestafford 08/24/14 - 07:19 am
3
0
I wonder what the Middle East would have...

I wonder what the Middle East would have looked like if the West had not drawn the boundary lines of the countries as they did following the war.

I doubt if it would have been much better because everything in the area was decided by tribal considerations and the geographically controlled areas were fluid based on which tribe controlled what area this week.

I guess this is one of those areas where there is no right answer. Just do the best you can with what you've got.

hoptoad
21854
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hoptoad 08/24/14 - 08:46 am
4
0
Not much to add except I

Not much to add except I agree with the writer and posters.

A history professor seemingly fair and balanced is a welcome surprise. However, I'm afraid it will take a conservative president to create an atmosphere and conditions that will lead to freedom and independence for which the Kurdish people would be thankful.

Bodhisattva
7332
Points
Bodhisattva 08/24/14 - 09:38 am
2
7
A free and independent

A free and independent Kurdish state should have been set up after Desert Storm, when Obama was 30 years old. I would remind Dr. Floyd that the US pulled out of Iraq under the Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq On the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq also known as The U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed December 14, 2008, by President George W. Bush. To have not done so would have broken an international treaty, something this administration has yet to do, but was commonplace under the previous administration, from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Convention on Biological and Toxin Weapons, the Geneva Convention, and others.

hoptoad
21854
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hoptoad 08/24/14 - 11:14 am
4
2
Bod, Funny how you defend

Bod,
Funny how you defend prez O for honoring a treaty but I've yet to see you condemning his many unconstitutional and illegal actions. I'm sure he could have worked out a new treaty or ignored the treaty altogether like he's ignored the constitution.

And as for the treaties you claim were broken, you provide no evidence or plausible reason these may have been broken.

Darby
29505
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Darby 08/24/14 - 11:53 am
6
2
There goes Bod again....

"It's all George Bush's fault."

And for the record, treaties have been amended and adjusted since the dawn of time, Bod, in case you aren't aware of that.

Cutting and running in 2011 using George Bush as cover was a cowardly and costly mistake.

But at least, Bin Ladin is STILL DEAD. And things are SO MUCH better.

cush1944
14874
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cush1944 08/24/14 - 01:34 pm
4
1
"Good sense aside, honor

"Good sense aside, honor alone dictates we should be there for them."
Proud2Serve, thank you for your service to our great country. But the current administration has no good sense and no honor to this country. Obama will throw the Kurds under the bus just as he has Israel.

cush1944
14874
Points
cush1944 08/24/14 - 01:39 pm
4
1
"Funny how you defend prez

"Funny how you defend prez O"
hoptoad, I believe bod will defend the incompetent community organizer no matter how many stupid mistakes he makes. I believe bod agrees with Obama on this country and white men.

stuaby
4919
Points
stuaby 08/24/14 - 04:52 pm
5
0
The more time that goes by,

The more time that goes by, the more problematic it will be to get rid of these people.

As we type, they are steadily on the move, consolidating gains and taking additional territory.

One analyst I saw said that they are stretched really thin right now. Now is probably the best time to do something. Of course, the POTUS' track record on timely decisiveness is not a positive indicator.

Look for these people (ISIL) to continue to consolidate gains, attract more supporters and gain unexpected allies while we dawdle.

stuaby
4919
Points
stuaby 08/24/14 - 07:44 pm
3
0
I am drooling over the Dodge

I am drooling over the Dodge Challenger 'Shaker' edition in the ad attached to this article.

Oh, if I were independently wealthy.

deestafford
32248
Points
deestafford 08/24/14 - 10:45 pm
1
0
bod, you are a little off base on the SOFA...

Bod, you are a little off base on the SOFA. Bush had worked on a framework of a SOFA part of which was a 10,000 man residual force to be left behind to assist the Iraqi government and military.

When Obama came in the Iraqis agreed with the proposed SOFA and then Obama started making change after change trying his best to make it unacceptable to the Iraqis.

Finally, he put on the stipulation that it would have to have be approved by a certain percentage of the majority of the Iraqi Parliament and there was no way it could reach that threshold.

Obama finally found a SOFA the Iraqis turned down and he could now blame it on Bush.

So, the Iraqis were agreeable to a SOFA proposed by Bush. Just not the one Obama kept modifying until it was unacceptable. Keep in mind his biggest promise, and the only one he has kept, was to get America out of Iraq. He did and now look at the results of his handiwork...thousands dead and the ISIS in control of much of the country, some oil fields and refineries.

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