U.S Withdrawal from Afghanistan Raises Fears Among Kurds

Jwan Dibo
Jwan Dibo

The abrupt US pullout from Afghanistan has raised fears among the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Syrian Kurdistan that the same scenario could be repeated in their areas, which could have catastrophic repercussions.

The two questions that come to mind, in this context, are: First, what are the reasons behind the Kurds’ panic over a potential US departure from Iraq and Syria? Second, what are possible outcomes of the US exit from Iraq and Syria on the Kurds?

The ability of the Kurds to obtain some of their rights in Iraq and Syria has historically been linked to the US presence in both countries. The Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan were able to establish their own autonomous region after the second Gulf War in 1991. This happened when the US and its Western allies established a humanitarian no-fly zone in Iraqi Kurdistan under UN Resolution 688 issued in 1991.

This posture developed in 2003 when the US overthrew the Baathist regime in Baghdad and the Kurdistan region became an official federation under the new Iraqi constitution in 2005. The US-Kurdish relations boosted in Iraqi Kurdistan in conjunction with the emergence of ISIS/ISIL in 2014. The Kurdish fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan, i.e. Peshmerga, were considered one of the most relied upon by Washington to defeat ISIS.

US-Kurdish cooperation has also included Kurdish fighters in Syria known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), who were spearheading the fighting against ISIS in Syria. This, in turn, enabled the Kurds in Syria to establish a self-proclaimed administration since 2014 in Syrian Kurdistan.

The distinguished US-Kurdish ties throughout the ISIS crisis made the countries that divide Kurdistan accuse Washington of adopting an agenda aimed at dividing the region and forming a Kurdish state whose borders extend to the Mediterranean. This is what made these countries, especially, Turkey and Iran, to embrace pre-emptive policies to confront Kurdish aspirations for getting rights including independence.

On this basis, Turkey occupied the cities of Afrin in 2018, and Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Ain) and Gire Spi (Tell Abyad) in 2019 in Syrian Kurdistan. Also, Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara together aborted the results of the independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan in September 2017, which were overwhelmingly in favour of the independence of Kurdistan. In both cases, the US abandoned the Kurds, who were Washington’s close partners.

The Kurds are concerned that any US withdrawal from Iraq and Syria will encourage the governments of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria to undermine the Kurdish gains in Iraqi Kurdistan and Syrian Kurdistan. Consequently, the Kurds will return to zero and square one. Additionally, the Kurds are worried that the quadripartite revenge by the governments of these countries will not only eliminate their tangible gains on the ground, but will, also, affect their existence as a nation.

The governments of these countries have acted aggressively with the Kurds at the height of the American presence in Iraq and Syria, so, how will they deal with them if the US withdraws from both countries?

Undoubtedly, the Kurds in Iraq and Syria are the only losers from any possible US withdrawal from both countries. The reason is that the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Syrian Kurdistan were historically able to obtain some of their rights in conjunction with the American presence in both countries. This is after the refusal of all the successive regimes in Baghdad and Damascus, since the middle of the last century until the present, to give the Kurds their rights voluntarily and democratically.

Thus, any random and disorderly US withdrawal from Iraq and Syria would have disastrous consequences for the Kurds. The reason is that this time, local and regional retaliation against them would not only destroy their present gains but might also threaten their existence as a people and a nation.

by: Jwan Dibo

Jwan Dibo