By Iran Review
By Mohammad Ali Dastmali*
To understand the details of the United States’ relations with Kurds, we need a flashback to remember that in the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century Kurdish groups in the region were mostly related to Britain and, in some cases, Russia. However, after such important developments as the World War II, independence of Syria, developments in Iraq as well as other important events in the world and the region, the United States turned into the most important foreign power having relations with regional Kurdish groups.
During developments, which unraveled after Kuwait was invaded by former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, the United States came to realize that compared to Shia and Sunni groups in Iraq, Kurdish political groups were more ready for political and military coordination and interaction, and it was during the same period that a serious relationship was established between the two sides. That relationship has been profitable for both sides and has become more profound and meaningful on a daily basis.
Following the breakout of the ongoing crisis in Syria, especially after all countries in the region and world realized the importance of the rise of the most dangerous terrorist group in the world, that is Daesh, relations between Kurds and the United States developed into other dimensions. If up to 20-30 years ago, only two Kurdish groups, that is, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Jalal Talabani, were in the focus of Washington’s attention, this is not the case anymore during new times.
As a result, not only these two Kurdish politicians and their respective parties, but also other Kurdish groups in Syria and Turkey have been receiving serious attention from the United States. Available evidence shows that Americans have once more reached the conclusion in their think tanks that in the fight against Daesh and other extremist groups, there is no other group readier and more consolidated than Kurds across Syria and Iraq. They have a long record in guerilla warfare, enjoy good organization, have goal and motivation, and also have an eye on further interaction with the United States. In addition, complex geographical conditions have taught them how and with what powers to interact at special historical junctures.
The interesting point is that this time, one can see important paradoxes in interactions and relations between the United States and Kurds. For example, Turkey is a strategy ally of the United States and this Islamic member of NATO is of vital importance to Washington. Therefore, on the basis of the classic and traditional rules of diplomacy, the United States should not consider the enemy of Turkey as its friend, but we have seen that the United States has established serious relations in northern Syria with satellite groups affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered as the archenemy of the Turkish government. This paradox also shows itself when we remember that the same pro-Ocalan Kurds, who are considered as allies of the United States in northern Syria, are also allies of the Syrian President Bashar Assad and, at the same time, cooperate with Russia and maybe Iran as well. Washington has announced time and again that it considers the PKK as a terrorist group. This position has been taken by the United States at a time that both in Syria and in the case of such Kurdish towns as Kobani, Tell Abyad, and Manbij, the United States has been at the height of cooperation with armed Kurdish groups affiliated with the PKK.
Simultaneously, the United States is working with two more Kurdish groups in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, both of which are among age-old adversaries of the PKK. One of them is the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Masoud Barzani, with the other one being the Syrian Kurds Patriotic Council, which is an umbrella group for a number of Syrian Kurdish parties that are being supported by Barzani. These are Kurdish groups, which are not allowed by the PKK to be active in northern Syria, as a result of which, they have had to flee to the city of Erbil in northern Iraq and even Europe.
The support offered Kurds by the United States includes all kinds of military aid, such as equipment and weapons, in addition to political, diplomatic and economic support and this issue has been one of the reasons why Kurds and Peshmerga forces have been so successful in cases of the Iraqi city of Mosul and also in Syria.
In conclusion, the necessary point, which must be mentioned here is that the United States’ cooperation with and support for Kurds in Iraq and Syria is not unbridled and without any redlines and there are conditions and unwritten agreements in this regard. As a result, the available evidence shows that Kurds cannot act opposite to early agreements reached between the two sides. For example, despite insistence of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region on establishing an independent Kurdish government, the United States has not supported them in this regard yet and has been putting emphasis on the need to maintain territorial integrity of Iraq.
As for the ongoing developments in northern Syria, despite all benefits that Kurds have had for the United States, Washington has not been willing to act in a way that would give any concessions to the PKK, because Turkey’s consent is of special importance to the United States in this regard. At any rate, interaction and cooperation between Kurdish political groups in Iraq and Syria, on the one hand, and the United States, on the other, is a very serious issue whose various dimensions can directly affect the role and share of Kurds in the political future of the entire region.
*Mohammad Ali Dastmali
Expert on Turkey Affairs