The West Must Back the Kurds
Kobane: The West can still save this Kurdish border town (image: Karl Ludwig Poggeman)
As Mesopotamia's boundaries are being redrawn in a bloody turmoil that is changing the regional balance of power, there is one obvious thing that Western nations should do to preserve their interests. They should play midwife to the birth of Kurdistan, by giving Kurdish forces the qualitative edge needed to defeat the barbarians of Islamic State.
In the savage quagmire of Iraq, the Kurdish autonomous enclave is a state in all but name — and one that displays those same traits of decency, religious tolerance, freedom, stability and economic prosperity that Western governments wish to foster as a counterbalance to extremism.
The United States should make supporting beleaguered Kurdish forces a priority — especially in Kobane, the Kurdish town on the Syrian-Turkish border that has been under siege by Islamic State since August. Instead, the Obama Administration is equivocating. Though it has dropped supplies to Kurdish defenders it sees unequivocal support for the Kurds as undermining its commitment to a unified, inclusive, federal Iraq and to a political solution to Syria's civil war that keeps Syria together.
In Syria, where the Kurds are locked in a life-or-death struggle against IS in Kobane, supporting the Kurds would lead to a de facto endorsement of that country's break-up too. Worse, from an American perspective, it would require backing an enemy of their Nato ally, Turkey — the terrorist-listed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). And it might eventually lead to the US directly confronting the remnants of the Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad — something that would please Ankara but infuriate Iran, with whose leaders President Obama has been seeking a thaw in relations since he took office in January 2009.
Ankara has feared the pull of a prosperous and independent Kurdish enclave around Erbil over its 30 per cent Kurdish minority ever since 2003, when America's invasion of Iraq planted the seeds of an independent Kurdish state. But sitting idly by, as a complicit bystander in the slow death of a city, while from afar the Obama administration, almost two months into its air campaign against IS, remains unwilling to achieve its stated goals of "degrading and destroying" it, are decisions that will come back to haunt both Ankara and Washington.