Time to give Kurds in Iraq and Syria their due

As the struggle against the Islamic State (IS) dominates international attention, Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria find themselves at the forefront of the battle.

Although, the Kurds have proven to be the most effective forces on the ground, their rightful role in the negotiating table as regional players is often overlooked.

At the same time, the key US allies have not always been provided with the arms and firepower needed to match their strategic importance.

The White House has looked to the Peshmerga forces as key players in defeating IS, yet its stance towards the Kurds is typified by tip-toeing around Baghdad and the obsession of promoting a “unified” Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds have not been invited to participate in the Vienna peace process that aim to provide political settlement to the crippling Syrian civil war as the U.S. deemed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as the “representative” for Iraq at the conference.

This ironic position is a continuation of past policy when the Kurds were omitted from key international security conferences.

This creates somewhat of a contrary approach to the Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan is all but independent with very limited influence from Baghdad. Baghdad has not paid the regional budget for several months nor has it truly supported the Peshmerga forces.

The recent bill passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee that would authorize the U.S. to directly arm and train the Kurdish Peshmerga is a welcome move, even if it will not be received warmly by Washington or Baghdad.

The notion of an effective central government or a unified Iraq has long evaporated. U.S. will only alienate the Kurds the more it insists on any rational that Baghdad still represents the Kurds.

At the same time, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), have been the most effective military force against IS in Syria. They are essentially key U.S. allies that Washington is too hesitant to showcase in public.

Whilst a myriad of Syrian opposition parties were invited to a recent conference in Saudi Arabia that sought to unify opposition ranks ahead of proposed negotiations with the Bashar al-Assad regime, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the YPG were notable absentees.

How can the U.S. and regional powers expect the Syrian Kurds to carry the fight to IS and yet it discards them for vital talks that directly implicate their future?

U.S. policy towards both Kurds in Syria and Iraq is dominated by political sensitivities and the need to appease Ankara, Baghdad and other regional voices, and is tarnished by double standards.

The Syrian National Council stated that the Kurds were not invited as they were too focused on fighting IS than Assad. The Kurds don’t have endless arms or manpower and they can hardly ignore IS on their doorstep as witnessed in Kobane, when they received little help from the same Arab opposition forces.

Then there is Turkish anxiety of Kurdish nationalism that leads to a narrow and unrealistic foreign policy. For example, are all Syrian Kurds simply affiliated to the PKK? It is unlikely that Syrian Kurds would back down from their hard fought autonomy which they have maintained at great cost in recent years.

Without a broad solution in Syria that covers every angle, true peace will never be achieved.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

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