Kurdistan: a new state in the Middle East?

August 25, 2014 

  • Robert Olson, a Middle East analyst in Lexington, is author of The Kurdish Nationalist Movements in Turkey: 1980-2011.

  • At issue: Aug. 10 Washington Post article, "U.S., Iraqi Kurds have long, winding relationship"

Kurdistan: a new state in the Middle East?

It is possible. The emergence of a new state anywhere on the planet is usually a long, drawn-out affair.

The last state to be created in the Mideast was Israel in 1948. Jewish nationalists commenced in earnest their nationalist struggle against Arabs, Palestinian Arabs and the British Empire in 1917 taking 31 years to achieve their objectives.

The Zionists were benefited by the British who strongly favored their movement, although they did not favor Jewish independence. But the cataclysm of WWII, the Holocaust and the collapse of the British Empire in India aided the Zionist struggle and independence was declared in May 1948.

Like in India and Pakistan, achieving a new state was a very bloody affair in which as many as one million people died. In Palestine, many fewer were killed, but 750,000 were forced to flee and were ethnically cleansed.

But in 66 years since the establishment of Israel, no other state, with the exception of Yemen, has emerged.

The circumstances currently existing in the central Middle East suggest the possibility of the creation of another state. If it were to be established, it would be called Kurdistan or, perhaps, Republic of Kurdistan. Such a potential state is emerging in northern Iraq in the areas now controlled by the Kurdistan Region Government (KRG).

There are several developments in the past 23 years leading to the possible emergence of a Republic of Kurdistan. The first was the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 1991, leading to the political autonomy of three Kurdish provinces. The second was the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which lead to the destruction of the Iraq's institutions. A third is the civil, ethnic, sectarian and religious wars that have gripped Iran and the region since.

Compared to Arab Iraq and wars between Sunnis and Shi'a, the region of Kurdistan has been largely unscathed. That is. until June 10, when forces of the Islamic State (or ISIS) compelled the entire forces of Iraq's government to flee. This resulted in Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, to increase by 40 percent territories now under their control, some 13 percent of Iraq's total land mass.

It has allowed Kurds to take over oil fields with the potential of expanding production. This, of course depends on further developments.

The possibility of independence depends on Kurds 'ability to develop further the oil and gas deposits in territories they now hold. It is thought that Kurds would need around $15 billion a year to replace the current revenues they now receive from Baghdad.

A declaration of independence now would cause serious financial straits. Plus, the U.S., in spite of strong alliances with Kurds in 1991 and 2003 and since, is not supportive of Kurds' desire for independence. As a superpower, conservative and status-quo state, the U.S. favors sovereignty of states. In addition, the U.S. is largely responsible for the disintegration of Iraq's institutions and does not want the moral responsibility — not to mention the outrage of Arabs, states and peoples — for the destruction of Iraq.

One thing Kurdistan Iraq has going for it is that during the past several years Turkey, its large neighbor to the north, because of its need for energy, seems to be acquiescing to the logic of an independent Kurdish state in Iraq.

Ankara's reasoning is that an independent or fully autonomous state would aid it in managing the Kurdish nationalists' movement in Turkey. The KRG wants a close relationship with Turkey in order to sell its oil via Turkish pipelines to world markets. Turkey, in turn, wants the KRG not to support nationalist movements of Kurds in Syria and in Turkey.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service