The Future of Iraqi Kurdistan

The future of Iraqi Kurdistan is likely to be written from pages of the past. It has been the same story for the past century as Iraqi Kurdistan continues to seek independence. Iraqi Kurdistan actually has a long history of looking around for an ally, only to find no one. That trend dates all the way back to post-World War I when the Kurds were promised their own country by the Ottoman Empire, France, Great Britain and Italy. That promise dissipated three years later when those Allied nations recognized Turkey instead. And so began a century-long search for support for support, statehood and independence. Now, the search goes on.

The latest attempt for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan has occurred through the Kurds efforts in the current battle of Mosul. Kurdish forces have joined Iraqi forces and made an immediate impact trying to push ISIS out of its stronghold in Mosul. However, it is not a battle that will conclude overnight. And when the dust settles, Iraqi Kurdistan is likely to be overlooked once more. That is not based on pure speculation as the first stage of fighting over the last two weeks have shown the Iraqi Kurds to be somewhat forgotten already. A Kurdish security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the air support from the U.S. was “very limited” and that Kurdish forces had taken heavy casualties as a result (Morris and Gibbons-Neff, 2016). The U.S. initially promised heavy air support for the attack on Mosul. The fact that the Kurds have been looking around for that air support is just a continuation of an ongoing trend.

The Iraqi Kurds can look back to the 1970s as a reminder. It was then that the U.S. was ready to arm the Kurds with the intention of fighting Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. However, that notion quickly dissipated and the U.S. withdrew support. A little more than ten years after that, the Kurds watched the U.S. support Baghdad during a time of conflict within the region. That would eventually lead to Hussein’s use of chemical weapons on the Kurds, resulting fatalities that numbered tens of thousands. And this was the same Hussein that would later be hunted down by American military forces. However, that occurred when it was convenient for America and not Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraqi Kurdistan has controlled its region in the north since 2003 and has been successful in combatting ISIS with its peshmerga fighters, probably more so than any other militant group in Iraq. It might seem that the U.S. would take notice and offer up some support to Iraqi Kurdistan. However, that has not been the case. Current U.S. President Barack Obama appears to be supporting the assault on Mosul as a final attempt to bolster his own legacy before leaving office. Regardless of the political agendas involved, Iraqi Kurdistan will be left right where it is when the fighting finally ends in Mosul. A defeat of the Islamic State will prompt various leaders to take credit for the victory without a mention of all the blood that was shed by Iraqi Kurds.

Nevertheless, the United States has reason to be wary of backing Iraqi Kurdistan. It is a region without significant political divisions. It is also a region that is home to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, an organization which has prompted U.S. reluctance to provide arms to Iraqi Kurdistan in the past. However, the Kurds have suddenly become of service in the Mosul conflict. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton even mentioned the Kurds during her September debate with Donald Trump saying “We also have to intensify our air strikes against ISIS and eventually support our Arab and Kurdish partners to be able to actually take out ISIS in Raqqa, end their claim” (Van Wilgenberg, 2016). The common target is ISIS and it would seem that the Kurds are suddenly a common ally. However, without its military services, there is not a whole lot of reasons for world powers like the U.S. to concern itself with Iraqi Kurdistan. Its oil exports are not generating as much revenue and without any ports, the region is not a hotbed for any kind of trade. Never before has a landlocked region stood so much on its own. More important than a geography lesson, is a history lesson. And if history has taught the world anything, it is that it will always repeat itself. The Iraqi Kurds should know that all too well that once the fighting stops in Mosul, Iraqi Kurdistan will once again be looking around for an ally. And once again, there will be none in sight.




Morris, L. and Gibbons-Neff, T. (2016, October 21). Iraqi, Kurdish forces say they feel let down

by level of U.S.-led air support. The Washington Post.

Van Wilgenberg, W. (2016, October 12). Kurds could inflict a real defeat on ISIS: Clinton’s plan

for Syria and Iraq.

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