Kurdish Scholar’s Book Asserts No Change in US Foreign Policy Towards the Iraqi Kurds

By Aras Ahmed Mhamad:photo

The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 has undoubtedly brought huge political and economic upheaval to the Middle East – toIraq in particular. This is apparent to anyone who follows and understands world events. The Iraqi Kurds supported the US and its allies throughout, testimony to this is that not one soldier was killed in the territories controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

“The United States, Iraq and the Kurds: Shock, Awe and Aftermath” by Mohammed Shareef discusses US relations with the Kurds thoughtfully and carefully, and argues that USpolicy is one of consistency rather than change, and that the lack of an independent Kurdish state has not been an obstacletowards improving US-Kurdish relations.

There is a common belief that the US alliance with the Iraqi Kurds is because of signing oil contracts with US companies in the region and not to protect the Kurds from the dangers of neighbouring countries, as Kurdistan has been divided between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Shareef studies US policy towards the Kurdish nationalist movement in Iraq, and America’s interests – at times avoiding and at other times engaging in this relationship. This book contends that while the US does have an Iraqi policy, it also has a de facto policy towards Iraq’s Kurds.

Successive Arab, Turkish, and Iranian leaders oppressed the Kurds and the international community turned a blind eye to the Kurdish question until the US invasion of Iraq opened doors for foreign companies to come to Iraqi Kurdistan and search for oil and other natural resources.

With regard to this, Shareef’s book is something of a landmark as it deals with and explores the nature of engagement between the US (the sole superpower) and a weaker non-state political entity. US foreign policy towards the Kurds is a fascinating subject for two reasons. It shows that a superpower needs other agents to advance its interests. In addition, it shatters the Realist notion that the international system is state-centric and that international relations are largely restricted to state actors. Shareef also criticises the current deficiency in contemporary scholarship towards political non-state entities, an area he argues should be addressed. Kurds were once largely neglected in International Relations scholarship, nevertheless their increasing pro-activity and presence in the international relations of the Middle East makes this no longer a viable option.

The book also attempts to raise awareness among the Kurdish public on US objectives and strategies in the Middle East and its attitude towards the Kurds in particular and clarifies some misconceptions as to whether the US denies Kurdish independence or not. Shareef illustrates at great length the complex nature of US foreign policy towards Iraqi Kurdistan, which he eloquently describes as “US Iraq policy at the sub-national level.”

The issue between Iraq and Kurdistan has historical roots. To put this into context, we have seen displacement and ethnic cleansing of Kurdish people in Kirkuk under the rule and command of Sadam Hussein. The regime encouraged people to name their children Arabic names in order to change their Kurdish identity. The Baath regime, also, Arabized the heart of Kurdistan, Kirkuk, by bringing in the Arabs and expelling the Kurds from the city.

Likewise, 182,000 thousand Kurdish people were exposed to genocide in the Anfal campaign in Garmyan, 8000 thousand Barzanis in 1982 were murdered ruthlessly, the city of Halabja was levelled to the ground and 5000 thousand innocent children, women and men were brutally murdered withinternationally outlawed chemical weapons, and the Kurdish language was officially banned in Iran and Turkey until recently – they have been oppressed since 1920. The Baath’s regime destroyed 4500 villages and 50 towns. It imposed its chauvinistic ideology by withdrawing and preventing valuable Kurdish printed books from libraries, bookshops, and schools.

This background information reveals the long unresolved issues of the conquerors of Kurdistan and has left its impact on the nature of communication between the Kurds, Arabs, Persian and Turks. These totalitarian regimes exposed the Kurds to division and have turned Kurdistan into a theatre of war for their selfish interests.

In the past, the Kurdish question had a national dimension. After the 1991 uprising which brought about a semi-autonomous region for the Iraqi Kurds, and in particular sincethe removal of Sadam Hussain in 2003, the issue has tookgreater economic precedence. Kurdistan’s oil-rich land has drawn the attention of the biggest companies to explore and extract oil, including ExxonMobil and Chevron. The economy, commercial ties and the increase of foreigninvestment are on the rise in the region.

With respect to US-Kurdish relations, Dr Shareef takes as his focus the years from 1961 to 2014. He persuasively demonstrates that US policy towards the Kurds, though consistent, has evolved through four distinct phases during this period. The final stage of which is an overt and official policy towards the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq. Starting initially with ‘contacts’ (1961-1971) evolving to a ‘covert relationship’ (1972-1975), then to an ‘overt relationship’ (1991-2004) and finally evolving into an overt ‘institutionalised relationship’ (2005-present) embodied in an official but undeclared US Kurdish policy. This demonstratesthe gradual and increasing sophistication of US foreign policy, and illustrates crucially a gradual evolution in US foreign policy towards Kurdistan.

The conquerors have always tried their utmost to keep the Kurds backward economically, agriculturally, socially and culturally. They deprived the Kurds from basic human rights and basic services for a long time, such as the right to study in Kurdish.

Kurdistan is the homeland of the Kurds since its existence and Kurds have never occupied others’ lands as Arabs, Turks, Persians have done. Kurds have their own unique way of life, distinctive costumes, language, traditions, and cultural heritage. Kurdistan has a strong global economic status. Kurdish oil is now under Kurdish control despite external obstacles. All these characteristics are the evident traits of anation, which the world’s major powers are turning a blind eye to.

Arab, Persian and Turkish historians, and other occupiers,distorted the reality and the accuracy of the history of the Kurdish people. They never acknowledged or appreciated the social and political nature of Kurdistan, its Kurdish intellectuals and leaders, the life of ordinary people, the structure of the families and local agriculture.

Shareef’s book is unique in that it portrays the reality of theKurdish question from a US perspective through an objective,descriptive and analytical narrative. Enhancing the quality of the book is the writer’s distinctive position having spent timeboth in Washington, D.C. and also his experience first-hand ofthe brutality of the Baath regime in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a freelancer. He is the Founder and Deputy Editor of SMART magazine, an independent English magazine that focuses on ‘Literature, Language, Society’. He is the Top Student of College of Languages at the Department of English/ University of Human Development, 2012. He is a columnist for the Kurdistan Tribune and a contributing writer for the ekurd.net and doznews.com. He is the Cultural Analyst at the Kurdish Review Newspaper, the only Kurdish-American newspaper in print.

Author Biography:

Dr Mohammed Shareef is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society (London). He has worked for the UN and is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sulaimani in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Mohammed completed his PhD in International Relations at the University of Durham and has an MSc in International Relations from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. His research interests range from US foreign policy towards Iraq and the Kurds to US policy towards the Middle East in general. He is the author of the book “The United States, Iraq and the Kurds: Shock, Awe and Aftermath” which was published by Routledge on 12 March 2014.


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