The U.S. relations with the Iraqi Kurds have historically been characterized by ebbs and flows. The U.S. and Iran under the Shah supported Mustafa Barzani, a Kurdish nationalist leader, who led a rebellion against the Iraqi central government in the 1960s and 1970s. The withdrawal of the U.S. support (Links to an external site.) from the Kurdish rebellion in 1975, however, contributed to its collapse. More recently, the Iraqi Kurds rebelled against the Saddam regime in March 1991 following the failed occupation of Kuwait by the Iraqi army. While a large military coalition led by the U.S. forced the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, it did not pursue the end of the Saddam regime. Fearing Saddam’s ferocious attacks, many Iraqi Kurds fled (Links to an external site.) to neighboring Iran and Turkey. In response, the U.S. and other Western countries imposed a no-fly zone over northern Iraq allowing the formation of a de facto autonomous Kurdish enclave. The U.S. invasion in 2003 led to the consolidation of the Kurdish self-rule that was also enshrined in the Iraqi constitution.
On September 25, 2017, the Kurdistan Region in Iraq held an independence referendum with 93.25% voting in favor of independence. Although the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had been a most supportive partner on the ground in the fight against terrorism, the United States rejected the referendum’s legality (Links to an external site.), supporting instead “a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq.” A few weeks later, Iraqi forces staged a military operation and wrestled the control of large territories, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, from the Kurdish forces. While the KRG survives, its clout is significantly more limited (Links to an external site.).
The U.S. started to provide direct military assistance to the Syrian Kurds (PYD) in fall 2014. That assistance was crucial in the ability of the Syrian Kurds to rollback gains of the self-styled Islamic State (IS) and brought an end to its self-declared caliphate in Syrian by 2019. However, the U.S. relationship with the PYD angered Turkey that perceive the PYD as an offshoot of the PKK, an insurgency fighting the Turkish state since 1984. In response to Turkish complaints, President Trump decided to withdrew all U.S. troops from Northern Syria (Links to an external site.)in October 2019. This decision enabled a Turkish incursion into the Kurdish controlled part of northeastern Syria. While some call it a betrayal of an old ally, (Links to an external site.) the administration called it necessary to avoid a rupture between the Turkish-US/ NATO alliance (Links to
Given these recent decisions, how do you evaluate the U.S.-Kurdish relations? How can the shifting U.S. foreign policy towards the Kurds be effectively explained? Is it in best interest of the U.S. to pursue a more strategic alliances with the Kurdish forces?
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