The death of Iranian Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani placed the entire Middle East, if not the world, on edge. Iran’s recently growing stronghold only demonstrates that it is time for the United States to support an option that will counter Iranian power and chaos: an independent Kurdistan.
In the past, the U.S. relied on its allies to help balance power in the Middle East. Israel remains a strong American ally but needs our help to deter Iran’s blatant power grabs.
Previously, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon acted as buffers between Iran and Israel. But Iran has actively sought control in each of these three countries in order to create a land bridge between itself and Israel. Today, Iran controls Lebanon’s Hezbollah and props up Syria’s brutal dictator, Bashar Assad, using him as a puppet.
Despite America’s history and presence in Iraq, Iran’s influence there, too, is undeniable. Iran was behind the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Iran orchestrated the Iraqi parliament's vote to expel U.S. troops. And Iran is responsible for the attacks on American service members in Iraq at the al Asad air base and in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region in Iraq.
America can’t rely on Turkey, a dysfunctional NATO ally. The Turkish government is no longer pro-American and works against NATO’s mission. Turkey is aggressive toward its other NATO allies and is now stridently anti-Israel. With President Recep Erdogan at its head, Turkey’s democracy has regressed, now holding more in common with Iran, Russia, and China than with the West. Additionally, our alliance with the Saudis has not deterred Iran whatsoever.
A fully independent Kurdistan located in what is currently northern Iraq would, however, significantly counter Iranian influence and balance power in the Middle East.
An independent Kurdistan would be pro-American and pro-Israel, and it would be a thorn in Iran’s side. The U.S. could provide security in partnership with Kurdish forces while the Kurds advance their economy, infrastructure, and education system. This would allow Kurds the time to put in place a new federal constitution with checks and balances, strengthen local and regional governments, and hold free and fair elections.
Iran has already gone to great lengths in order to deny Kurds their independence. In 2017, Kurds held an independence referendum, and Israel was the only other government to support it. Shortly after, Iraqi forces responded by seizing Kirkuk. Soleimani threatened Kurdish factions prior to the invasion, forcing Kurdish Peshmerga fighters out, removing Kurdish flags from the city, and inviting in Shiite militias who were using American arms.
Over 5 million Kurds who are eager for independence live in Iraq. The resource-rich land in northern Iraq contains oil, gas, and agricultural abundance. The land where an independent Kurdistan would be created is a strategic military location in the center of the Middle East. The U.S. already protected Iraqi Kurds through semi-autonomy in 1991 against former dictator Saddam Hussein. Twelve million Kurds live in northwestern Iran. Over 3 million Kurds are in northeast Syria. Twenty million Kurds live in Turkey, especially in the southeastern areas. In all four countries, Kurds have striven for democracy and self-rule.
An independent Kurdistan certainly would be pro-American. It would want guarantees of American support, and it would provide the U.S. with a further strategic military advantage in the Middle East. Kurdistan could block Iran’s land bridge to Israel. As Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, tweeted on Jan. 5, “Maybe it’s time for a fully independent Kurdistan in what is currently Northern Iraq?”
Ali Khedery, a former senior adviser on Iraq policy in both the Bush and Obama administrations, once said, “We have undermined our secular, moderate, Western-leaning Kurdish allies in the Middle East.” Qanta Ahmed, a Muslim scholar, stated on Fox News, “A sovereign Kurdistan in northern Iraq, that would be Iran’s nightmare scenario. Kurdistan could be a pro-U.S., pro-Israel, Sunni, pluralistic ally, and that’s what we need.”
Under America’s watch, Kurdistan would be an island of prosperity and a force for freedom and security in the Middle East. It’s time for a fully independent Kurdistan.