With a population of over 25 million, the Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East.
The Kurds live in a mountainous region straddling the borders of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and Iran. The Kurds have long fought for autonomy, but have never managed to secure a nation of their own.
On September 25th, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will hold a referendum on Kurdish independence in northeast Iraq.
Turkey opposes the referendum because it worries the vote could increase separatism among its Kurdish population of 15 million. Turkey has already spent more than 30 years fighting an insurgency led by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group that has been deemed a “terrorist organization” by the United States. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
“A position must be taken to the end against…an independence referendum which incorporates Turkmen cities,” said Devlet Bahceli, leader of Turkey’s nationalist opposition party (MHP). “This is a rehearsal for Kurdistan. If necessary Turkey should deem this referendum as a reason for war.”
Iraq, Syria, and Iran also oppose the idea of Iraqi Kurdish independence.
A Kurdish move towards independence would cause further instability in the Middle East, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has already asked Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani to postpone the referendum.
“The vote, expected to endorse a separate state, would be a mistake, increasing turmoil in a part of the world roiled by the fight against the Islamic State and further threatening Iraq’s territorial integrity,” reports The New York Times. “Postponement makes better sense.” This is the same argument that has persisted for the past 100 years.
From the Kurdish perspective, a time of flux is the perfect chance to make their move.
In my opinion, the United States should endorse Kurdistan independence. And here’s why:
There are roughly 5 million Kurds living in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. This population follows a variety of religions, with the most prominent being Sunni Islam.
Kurdistan has operated as an independent, self-governing political entity for the past 25 years. The region has remained at peace despite other conflicts in the Middle East and has welcomed nearly 2 million refugees who fled from ISIS.
The Kurds have been faithful allies of the US in the fight against ISIS, with the YPG and Peshmerga forces proving extremely capable and loyal on the battlefield. An independent Kurdistan could prove to be an important US ally, but the US is too scared that September’s referendum will incite conflict with Baghdad and other countries – which could distract from the all-important war on ISIS.