Post From KTFA By walkingstick » February 22nd, 2014,
US foreign policy towards Kurdistan
22.02.2014 Sofia Barbarani BasNews, Erbil
In the wake of this month’s diplomatic faux pas between Washington and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), US-Kurdish relations have come under scrutiny.
While the Kurdish enclave has undoubtedly served as a strategic ally for the US, Washington’s tardiness in addressing the dubious reasoning behind Kurdistan’s leading parties still being on the US terror list has pushed many to question the solidity and endurance of this bond.
For better or for worst, dynamics between the KRG and Washington are changing as a result of Kurdistan’s increasing influence in the region and the KRG’s growing confidence.
Read More Link On Right
In his forthcoming book ‘The United States, Iraq and the Kurds: Shock, Awe and Aftermath’ Dr. Mohammed Shareef, a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society in London, explores the complex bond between the US and the KRG and Iraq proper by addressing the continuity and change in this lasting alliance.
Dr. Shareef spoke to BasNews about US foreign policy towards Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
Q: American has yet to remove the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party from their terror list: do you think the KRG demands enough respect from America?
A: President Barzani’s recent refusal to accept the invitation to visit Washington is a clear diplomatic statement to register protest. It is also a show of newfound confidence and strength.
It demonstrates that Barzani feels more established as a regional leader, in other words more powerful and independent internally with no major rivals inside Kurdistan.
It also shows a lack of confidence in the Obama administration’s ability and determination to help resolve the KRG’s outstanding issues with Baghdad
In the past, however, the Kurdish leadership was not so assertive in their diplomatic interactions with the United States.
Q: Will this diplomatic dispute be settled?
A: The visit will definitely be rescheduled. I do not think it will lead to a souring of US-KRG relations. The US sees the KRG as a valuable asset in the Middle East and cannot afford to lose an ally in such a hostile region.
Also, during a recent testimony at a Congressional Committee hearing, Brett McGurk, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran, acknowledged that the two parties [PUK and KDP] should be removed from the blacklist as soon as possible.
On 5 February 2014, McGurk told the hearing on behalf of the administration that he thought it was an imperative to do so
Q: It is often said that the success story that is Kurdistan has American fingerprints on it – would you agree with this statement?
A: The American contribution though instrumental was accidental. The US helped create the Kurdish autonomous entity inadvertently after Saddam’s defeat in Kuwait in 1991.
After the UN Security Council passed resolution 688 on 5 April 1991 demanding an immediate end to the repression of the civilian Kurdish population, Operation Provide Comfort was launched the following day to deal with the humanitarian crisis, ensuing from the mass exodus of the Kurds stranded on the borders of Turkey.
What later happened in terms of an emerging Kurdish entity was never planned nor envisaged in Washington. The whole operation was a humanitarian one and nothing more.
It was a reluctant intervention; nobody in the decision-making process in the US during 1991–1992, which set up Operation Provide Comfort, the Safe Haven, and eventually the No-fly zone, thought that this US-led intervention would create what exists today in Kurdistan.
Q: Why was Iraq not an American success story?
A: Actually, the United States placed greater priority in a successful Arab Iraq over the KRG. One of the major objectives of Saddam’s overthrow in the US led Operation Iraqi Freedom was to create out of Iraq a model for the rest of the Middle East.
The reason this did not happen was the unexpected aftermath of the war. A sustained insurgency was not anticipated.
The Baathists, in coordination with the jihadists, had managed to launch a damaging military campaign in Iraq. Moreover, the mishandling in the transfer of authority to the Iraqis after Saddam’s overthrow was a mistake, based on unfounded and unrealistic assumptions of a post-Saddam Iraq.
It opened up the perception that the US was not a liberator, but an occupier in the eyes of the average Iraqi.
It offended the personal dignity and national pride of many Iraqis, creating opportunities exploitable by hard-core Baathists, sectarian extremists, foreign jihadists, Iraqi nationalists, tribal members and Iraq’s ill-intentioned neighbors, severely destabilizing Iraq from which it has not yet recovered.
Q: Despite US support for the KRG, Washington’s approach to the Iraq-Kurdistan problem is often considered biased: What message does the selling of weaponry to Baghdad but not KRG send?
A: Based on the Strategic Framework Agreement signed in the last days of the Bush administration in November 2008, one of the major articles of the agreement was 'Defense and Security Cooperation'; this includes US assistance at various levels including military equipment.
When Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki met President Obama during a visit to Washington on 1 November 2013, the main purpose of the visit was to request US support amid escalating security concerns in Iraq.
The US was simultaneously concerned with the rising terrorist activities of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and to this end agreed to consider Iraqi requests for intelligence assistance, training and weaponry. The US wants a stable, strong and unified Iraq and if this requires US military hardware it will show no reluctance to oblige.
Q: Why has the US not established a military base in the Kurdistan Region?
A: The US knows establishing a military base in the Kurdistan Region would send the wrong messages. The Kurds would use the opportunity to declare independence, which it does not support.
The United States does not want to encourage Kurdish independence nor does it want to be drawn into defending its existence if and when it is declared.
With a US military on Kurdish territory it knows upon the declaration of Kurdish independence it may be forced to intervene militarily against hostile regional states.
The United States is unwilling to be involved in protecting a Kurdish entity, as the Kurdistan Region has no strategic importance in US foreign policy calculations nor will there be any public support for such an enterprise inside America. Its policy towards the Kurds was always one in which the Kurds were part of a greater Arab Iraq, with Baghdad as its capital.
Q: Today, a unified Iraq seems impossible. Why does the US continue to push for unity?
A: The United States wants to maintain stability in Iraq and the Middle East. And the unity of Iraq is perceived to serve this purpose. America believes that an independent Kurdistan will become a source of instability in the region.
The reason the US does not support Kurdish independence is that it supports Turkish integrity and believes that a Kurdish declaration of independence will cause a war in the region.
Furthermore, with Kurdish independence, there would be blowback in Turkey among its large Kurdish population, leading to the destabilization of the country.
The US government is very attuned to Turkish sensitivities, and that will always be an inhibiting factor – that is the main reason US policy will aim to keep Iraq one country.
For this reason, Kurdistan cannot achieve independence right now, as there is no support for such a move in Washington, but the ground has been prepared. The United States used to be against Kurdish independence. But the reasons for this US opposition no longer remain. ‘
Washington now understands this is what Iraqi Kurdistan really wants. Given previous American thinking that an independent Kurdistan is impossible, that barrier has been crossed and this is a huge step forward.
Many prerequisites for Kurdistan’s independence already exist although the Kurdish leadership has wisely chosen not to pursue it right now. The Kurdish leadership, however, must be clear in Washington about the Kurdish people’s desire for independence. ‘
They should also state clearly that as pragmatic leaders they have no intention of declaring independence right now, but as democratic leaders this is inevitable since this is what Kurdish people really want.
Q: Your book talks about the continuity/change of US Iraq policy. How does Obama’s approach to the Middle East and Iraq/KRG in particular differ from his predecessors?
A: My book argues that US-Iraq policy is one of continuity rather than one of change. The book argues that US policy towards both Arab Iraq and Kurdistan is far more consistent than is often assumed.
The only difference with the Obama presidency is his style of leadership and the importance he personally placed in the various issues on the US foreign policy agenda. When President Obama came to office an already identified foreign policy objective was to wind down the war in Iraq and to distance his administration from the Middle East.
A policy is a vision, a view and a goal. US foreign policy towards Iraq, however, has been for the most part consistent in its goals. What has happened is that different issues have gained heightened attention at different times.’
American goals in Iraq have been amplified or reduced in relative importance based on the geopolitical context of the era. What could also be argued is that different strategies have been pursued, adopted and then adjusted to achieve these goals. ‘
In essence what has changed are the strategies (what to do?) and tactics (how to do it?) when it has come to issues of US foreign policy relating to Iraq, and not US policy per se.
Q: How has the KRG handled American concerns over PUK ties with Tehran?
A: The US is not happy with PUK-KDP-Iran relations. There is discomfort and even distrust in Washington with the KRG’s close relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. There seems to be a perception in Washington that the KRG cannot be trusted when it comes to Tehran.
Iran, known for its diplomatic shrewdness was the first to open a consulate in the capital city Erbil – it now has two consulates in Kurdistan, the second is in the city of Sulaimani.
For a small federal region like Kurdistan it is important to have good relations with everybody. It would be completely unwise for the KRG to tilt in favor of one group over the other, for Western powers over regional countries or vice versa.
Q: What is likely to happen to US-Iraq relations if the KRG gains complete autonomy?
A: US-Iraq relations will continue as normal. The US would not want to alienate nor antagonize Arab Iraq.
However, what will happen inside Iraq is likely to cause American concern. The secession of Kurdistan will most probably lead to greater unrest among the Arab Sunni population, increase Sunni-Shiite tension, and amplify influence of the Shiite political groups and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
US Iraq policy is primarily one of continuity than one of change, as US interests regarding Iraq are defined by the same fundamental concerns. As the same fundamental questions, the same fundamental issues almost always lead to the same fundamental answers.
With regards to US interests in Iraq, there are five major areas of concern that have dominated US–Iraq relations since 1979 and beyond: a secure supply of oil, concerns about Iraqi sponsorship of terrorism, the proliferation of WMD, the containment of Iran and Iraq’s role in the Arab-Israeli dispute.
Q: Iraq has the potential of breaking up; what do you envision future US policy towards the country will be like?
A: The US still wants a united Iraq with a strong Baghdad as its capital. However, America knows Iraq is in crisis. Washington is now psychologically accepting that Iraq has the potential of breaking up.
Also, the old order in the Middle East is quickly disappearing and the Arab Spring is evolving at considerable speed. The transition is still in its early phases, and what will follow (and when) is uncertain. Some borders, however, are likely to be redrawn, and some new states may even emerge as a result.
Right now, however, the international environment is not suitable for Kurdistan’s independence.
The Kurdish leadership has wisely chosen not to declare independence right now as the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has almost all the trappings and privileges of an independent state without the burdens and disadvantages of a sovereign state.
On the other hand, externally, the KRG must guarantee that regional stability will be maintained and that an independent entity will not upset regional US allies and threaten their territorial integrity.
This can be achieved through mutual security treaties and the establishment of excellent trade and diplomatic relations with regional states. Regional stability and the stability of America’s NATO ally Turkey are major considerations in Washington when it comes to the Kurdish issue.
Peter Galbraith once told me: 'Turkey is the only reason there is no independent Kurdistan'.
Dr Mohammed Shareef is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society (London). He has worked for the UN and is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sulaimani in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Mohammed completed his PhD in International Relations at the University of Durham and has an MSc in International Relations from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.
'The United States, Iraq and the Kurds: Shock, Awe and Aftermath' will be published by Routledge on 12 March 2014.