Amid America’s Negligence: Preparations For A “Kurdish Spring”

The Kurds are at the forefront of those who understand the American political game.

New York – There are increasingly clear signs that US President Barack Obama absolutely refuses to direct a military strike against nuclear sites in Iran, regardless of how much Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flames up with rage and threatens with an Israeli strike which he knows full well his country does not have the capability to carry out on its own. Obama is wagering on time running out for Netanyahu to draw the United States into getting implicated in a military operation against Iranian sites, on the eve of the American presidential election. Netanyahu feels that in case Obama is reelected for a second term, he will find himself faced with a pacifist who will evade with all his strength fulfilling the promises of abandoning the policy of “containment” of Iran, and will elude in every way he can his public pledge not to allow Iran to become a nuclear power.

Yet the question that imposes itself on the US President is this: Does he have a strategy to rein in the Iranian regime other than sanctions? This is while Iran leadership continues to develop its capability to obtain nuclear weapons, continues to have ambitions of regional hegemony, and continues to violate the Security Council resolution barring it from exporting weapons to anyone in Syria and in Lebanon. Is Barack Obama determined in his second term to adopt the wishes of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of breaking the back of Tehran’s mullahs in the battle over Syria? This would force Iran to return to its natural size and cease its arrogance, both in terms of the nuclear issue and of the region. Or will the President in his second term – if he is reelected – head towards further enticement and appeasement, in the hope of convincing Iran’s leadership to stop enriching uranium and smuggling weapons to the regime in Damascus so that it may eradicate the Syrian opposition?

These questions are no pressing matters for American voters, at this stage of the countdown to the elections, which will take place within two months – especially as the majority of Americans do not wish to get dragged into the battles and wars of others. Nevertheless, these are questions that are pushing many to lose sleep, in the different capitals of the Middle East, because the answers to them will determine the futures of countries and people in the region. Among those who find themselves worried about the ambiguity surrounding post-elections American policy is a large part of Arab, Iranian, Turkish and Israeli societies – particularly secularists, moderates, humanists and liberals. The latter are suspicious of the purpose behind the United States embracing and encouraging religious monopoly of power, on both the Shiite and Sunni sides equally, in such a way as to purposely neutralize the forces of moderation. Indeed, the United States has brought back memories in the Middle East regarding plans of partitioning states on the basis of confessions and ethnic groups – as it seems to be encouraging extremism under a fake cloak of respecting democracy. Some minorities in the region have begun to take action with government and intellectual leaders in Washington, to convince them of adopting a strategy in support of moderation and democracy, sincerely and in effect, instead of delving deeper in their support for sectarian and confessional extremism, and in enabling dictatorship.

The Kurds are at the forefront of those who understand the American political game. This is why they made sure to head to Washington two months before the elections, to put forward their worries and concerns, and advance clear proposals to the Democratic Administration and to decision-makers in the Republican Party, in Congress and in intellectual forums. At the Iraqi level, the Kurdish message was meant to warn against the consequences of the American-Iranian understanding over maintaining Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki in power. The language spoken by the Kurdish delegation opted to “reject Maliki’s dictatorship as much as that of Saddam Hussein”. Yet most important in this issue are the indications and the significance carried by the American-Iranian understanding to keep Nouri Al-Maliki in power. The American justification is that, in the absence of an alternative to Maliki, there can only be political vacuum – and that vacuum is worse. This makes sense, at least at first glance, as there are in fact those who object to characterizing Maliki as “dictatorial”, as well as those who oppose the notion that Maliki is in Tehran’s pocket. This does not, in any case, negate the fact that the US Administration has kept suspiciously silent about Iran’s double-sided violation: its violation of Iraqi airspace and sovereignty to supply military aid to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus, whom the US President has called on to step down; and its violation of a binding Security Council resolution barring Iran from exporting weapons.

Indeed, Iranian military aid is ongoing to the regime in Damascus to repress the opposition, without the US Administration clearly raising its voice to demand that it be held accountable for such violations – even if the American move at the Security Council would be expected to be met with Russian objections. The other message carried by the Kurdish delegation to Washington concerns Syria, in both the aspects of Iranian support for the regime and American-Arab support for the Muslim Brotherhood. To be sure, hidden between the folds of such support, is the fact that the role played by secularists, moderates, humanists and liberals in drafting the future of Syria is waning. The worst part is that strengthening the two camps is taking place on a sectarian basis and encouraging civil war and division – both of which are now in sight, with in fact one of them already taking place.

The conclusion reached by the Kurds, as it seems, is that ideological alliances have found their way into Syria, and that overthrowing the regime through military means is an unlikely option in anyone’s mind – be it the United States or Turkey, without cover from the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO). This is why the Kurds have begun preparing for what some of them are calling the “Kurdish Spring”, in the sense of a de facto uprising as had prevailed in the past, and of beginning to prepare for an exceptional and prosperous position for Kurdistan beyond the context of Iraq. This is the first time the Kurds openly organize themselves inside of Syria, openly talk about their rights and take measures to protect themselves in the face of what they consider to be indications of de facto partitioning in Syria. One of the means of defending against the monopoly of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists on the Syrian opposition, in the opinion of the Kurds, is that of informing all those concerned that it is out of the question for the Kurds to remain within the ranks of the opposition, as long as its funding and support is being restricted to Islamists at the expense of liberals, secularists and minorities in Syria – Christians, Druze and others.

What the Kurds are suggesting to Washington is the necessity of building a democratic alternative, a front of moderation, and a non-religious framework in Syria before it is too late. The core of their suggestion is the necessity of establishing an umbrella – a broad umbrella within a structure that would include the Muslim Brotherhood but would not be subjected to it, the umbrella of an alliance that would receive support from Europe and the United States for the sake of a Syria not subjected to extremism and sectarianism, and an umbrella that would spare Syria division. The core of their message to Washington is that it is also in the interest of the United States not to delve once again into fostering fundamentalism, feeding extremism and reinforcing the impression that has begun to take shape that the United States is purposely creating sectarian, confessional and ethnic wars with the aim of fragmenting and dividing Arab countries. The message of the Kurds is essentially based on Kurdish interests, but it is in reality equally in the interest of the Arabs, as it is in the interest of the future of US relations in the Arab region and the Middle East as a whole.

It is striking at this juncture of history that the relationship between the Turks and the Kurds, which has historically been characterized by enmity and suspicion, has lately taken a direction that almost resembles an alliance. The reason for this is growing tension in the relationship between Erbil and Baghdad of late and what this entails for the relationship between the Kurds and Iran – and also the fact that the Kurds have entered as party to overthrowing the regime in Damascus. Also striking is what is happening within the context of the relations of Iraqis with their neighborhood – in the sense of the relationship held by the majority of Iraq’s Shiites with neighboring Iran, the transformation in Syria which links Iraq’s Sunnis to their immediate neighborhood in the Levant, and the development of the relationship of the Kurds to Turkey, which borders Kurdistan.

Turkey seems to be in need of a truce with the Kurds, and vice versa, each for their own particular reasons. This, in the opinion of the Kurds, represents an important foundation stone, alongside what is being produced by the events in Syria, towards a better future for Kurdish ambitions. And this is what the Kurds are working towards achieving through a coherent strategy and by working in advance with major decision-makers, instead of hiding in a corner waiting for changes to unfold in Syria or in the Arab region, as other minorities are doing.

There remains that President Barack Obama – who seems likely at this juncture to enjoy a second term – might decide to listen to the message about the necessity of realizing the perils of encouraging religious extremism, which extends from the Salafists to the mullahs in Tehran. If only he would!

He is perhaps right to resist having the United States drawn by Benjamin Netanyahu into taking military action inside Iran, but he would be terribly wrong to adopt a policy of absolving Iran of what it is doing in Syria. He must choose between incapacitating Iran militarily though American action that would meet Israel’s desire, and reining it in strategically through means available to him in Syria. But he cannot continue to hide behind the finger of enticing Tehran, while Iran’s leadership promises to slap him in the face with all five fingers.

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