An Emerging Kurdistan
A briefing by Ofra Bengio
August 3, 2015
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Ofra Bengio, Senior Research Associate at the Moshe Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University, is the author, most recently, of Kurdish Awakening: Nation Building in a Fragmented Homeland. Professor Bengio briefed the Middle East Forum in a conference call on July 23, 2015.
The Arab upheavals have enabled a Greater Kurdistan to emerge as a major regional player by blurring geographical barriers and strengthening cross-border nationalism among the disparate Kurdish communities in Turkey (15 million), Iran (8 million), Iraq (6-7 million), and Syria (2.5 million). At the same time, with most of these groups mired in fights with their own governments and/or the nascent Islamic State and expanding into areas rich in oil reserves and water resources, conflicting interests and competition for control of these strategic assets have exacerbated rivalries and tensions among them.
Iraq's Kurds have made the greatest strides toward statehood. Since their 2003 delivery from Saddam Hussein's despotic regime they have enjoyed effective autonomy, and their geostrategic significance has greatly increased as they became the main bulwark to the Islamic State following the Iraqi army's repeated defeats at the hands of the Islamist group.
Unlike Italy and France, Washington insists on channeling all military support for the Kurds through the Iraqi government.
Seeking to capitalize on these developments, Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani has been pushing toward independence, only to be undermined by opposition Kurdish factions, on the one hand, and Baghdad's foot-dragging in delivering the necessary development funding and war material, on the other. To this must be added Washington's adamant insistence on a unified Iraq and the attendant channeling of military support for the Kurds via the Iraqi government - unlike some of the European powers, notably Italy, France, and Hungary, which directly arm the Kurds and support their independence.
It may well be that Baghdad's short-sighted policy will eventually hasten the country's breakup by widening the breach with the Kurdish Region beyond repair and driving its leadership to proclaim independence. Should this happen, the nascent Kurdish state will likely face formidable challenges - from unifying its fighting forces and aligning the goals of its diverse communities, to securing its oil resources and gaining new oil deals, to coping with a resurgent (and probably nuclear) Iran.
Summary account by Marilyn Stern, Middle East Forum Board of Governors
Related Topics: Iraq, Kurds, US policy | Ofra Bengio
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