An inevitable result of the tumult of the past decade in the Middle East is that Kurds, previously a minority in several countries, are moving steadily toward establishing their own nation.
Some 30 million Kurds, largely Sunni Muslims, with their own language, live mostly in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The governments of these countries have sometimes found them a troublesome minority, with irredentist tendencies and a persistent desire for their own state.
Kurds remained under control in these places until the first and second American invasions of Iraq, in 1991 and 2003, when the United States took the Kurds under its wing. The U.S. Air Force maintained an expensive no-fly zone over the Kurds’ region after the first Gulf war.
The U.S. breakup of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship in Baghdad, coupled with Kurds’ speedy moves to cooperate with the occupying Americans, quickly put Iraq’s Kurdish northern region on the road to autonomy.
In Syria, the substantial weakening of the Bashar Assad government has provided Kurds an opportunity to assert increasing independence. A desire by the Turkish government to soften its sensitive relationship with the Kurds in Turkey — along with Turkey’s need for oil and gas, which Iraqi Kurdistan is eager to export — have combined to produce a potentially viable Kurdistan in the Middle East.
The relatively peaceful, slow evolution of a Kurdish national homeland is probably a natural development in the Middle East, which no one — including America — should obstruct. Yet the United States is opposed to the creation of an independent Kurdistan.
One factor is paternalism toward the Kurds that comes from having protected them for 22 years. An independent Kurdistan also would come at the expense of Iraq, an embarrassing result of the eight-year U.S. occupation.
U.S. oil companies have established a presence in Kurdistan, and it is easier to watch over them as part of Iraq. And Kurdistan would be one more country to deal with in the troubled Middle East.
Still, a separate Kurdistan appears to be inevitable. The United States should get used to it, rather than maintain a policy of opposition.