It is no secret that the united $tates has been warming up to the possibility of a Kurdish state, primarily in Iraq and Syria (and depending how far the relationship with Turkey deteriorates, perhaps in that country as well), and has been working alongside Kurdish nationalists in Iran for decades now. Until recently they have remained conveniently aloof when faced with the question of setting up an independent Kurdish state in any of the four countries that contain a large native Kurdish population: Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. With the prominence of Kurdish forces in both Iraq and Syria in combating the Islamic State and proving themselves vital allies to western interests, united $tates is solidifying its position on the Kurdish question. This has only been intensified by the announcement that, in October of this year, the Iraqi Kurdish government will be hosting a referendum for the independence of Kurdish territory located in the Republic of Iraq’s borders. The united $tates Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has stated that, at this point, the reality of a Kurdish state is inevitable and that if no agreement can be met between the Kurdish people and Baghdad, turmoil will certainly follow.
The united $tates intelligence workers do not, of course, make policy, but simply provide raw data with their own insights as they see fit, so it would be silly to say that the u.$. stance on Kurdish sovereignty is simply that of the DIA. However, this comes at the high tide of a long history of cooperation and changing attitudes which are now putting the idea of a more stable and pro-western Kurdish government in favor with amerikan defense agencies over the unstable and corrupt puppet regime they have set up in Baghdad. This has been signaled by the recent cooling of relations with Turkey, which is home to a large swath of traditionally Kurdish territory and roughly 15 million Kurdish people who have been subjected to brutal repression since the founding of that republic. Although it is too early to say what relationship the west will continue to hold with Turkey, it is clear that there is a very deep and serious crisis of confidence in Turkey’s role in the future of NATO and especially their relationship to the european union with germany having voted to remove all aircraft from Turkish installations and relocating them to Jordan instead. Nonetheless, Kurdish forces have played an increasingly active and cooperative role to the west in most all regards in holding back the Islamic State, something which the west has found deeply helpful and promising.
This trend did not begin today, or even this year, but has been an ongoing and transforming relationship since as early as 2003 with the invasion of Iraq (and perhaps even earlier, when the PKK lost foreign support after the cold War and turned increasingly to flattering western democracies) when the u.$. set up a quasi-autonomous state for Kurds. The Kurdish government raised an army, the Peshmerga, and participated in exercises and operations with the united $tates military during the anti-insurgency campaign in Iraq. More recently, they have been the major combatant force in the siege of Mosul and the direct link between smaller pro-western militia groupings and the united $tates.
This is not exclusive to the Peshmerga, as the PYD of Syria has also become closer to the united $tates through the campaign against the IS, whose YPG/YPJ forces made headlines in 2015-2016 for their openness to western volunteers and their cooperation with NATO forces. This was epitomized with their transfer of a captured air-base to the united $tates for the purposes of launching continuous strikes on IS locations in early 2016. And after the fall of Raqqa, the IS capital in Syria, it is clear that the YPG/YPJ and Syrian Arab Army will battle for control of the city with u.$. intervention on the side of the Kurdish forces, who have been generously armed at u.$. expense. Rojava officials had released a statement previously endorsing federation as the “ideal form of governance for Syria” and that they would not allow “for Syria to be divided.” The post-Raqqa situation may change this uneasy arrangement, spurred on by an as yet unannounced deal tabled by the amerikans, possibly related to the “safe zone” idea pushed by the Trump regime, wherein the u.$. would administer carved up portions of Syria for the purposes of countering the Russian and Iranian beachheads in the region.
The amerikans, seeing the great promise in the cooperation and (very organized and stable) support for the PYD and Kurdish government in Iraq, has coaxed many of the imperialist mouthpieces into classic “free Tibet”-style remarks and think-pieces issued on the Kurdish question. From the Foreign Policy Group, infamous pro-imperialist and neoliberal mouthpiece, there was an article as early as March of 2016 which denounced Washington’s current and prior policy toward the Iraqi Kurdish aspirations for statehood and demanded on the basis of a mutual interest in the fight against the Islamic State to join in their pursuit of statehood. This has been reiterated by the rightwing neocon National Review in an article boldly titled “Support our Kurdish Allies in the Middle East” in a very overt attempt to channel a kind of long-standing relationship with Kurdish fighters in the region as a justification for an amerikan foreign policy pivot which seems already in the making. These genocidal cheerleaders may not be the state, but they certainly both have the ear of the state as well as the many managerial functionaries of the various institutions operating in and around the state. Further, they represent a clear and very powerful bloc within the neoliberal establishment which, in the absence of the “moderate rebels” which they had promised, is now looking for something old-but-new to latch onto.
It is clear that this pivot is going to happen, and we have seen this in the works for years now, and with all of the recent developments it has only excited the process of reconciliation. Despite the independent interests of groups like the PYD in Syria, which has declared itself nominally interested in socialism and equality, the united $tates is now forcing them to knuckle under and accept the terms of the “freedom” they are going to get under this new arrangement. This was clearly demonstrated after the attack on Syria ordered by Trump wherein he launched more than 50 cruise missiles at an air-base occupied by the Syrian Arab Army and their Russian advisors. After the attack, the PYD commanders who were interviewed by western media and even by alternative news sources were, at best, avoidant when pressed on the topic of the amerikan intervention. There were many other commanders who celebrated the attack as a righteous statement against the atrocities of the Assad government. This is obviously a political matter, which is being handled by the command structure of the PYD in favor of amerikan aggression, and they are now being forced, for the sake of a material relationship with the west, to accept the terms of that relationship to the benefit of amerikan imperialism.
All this, however, begs the question of what can be done about the situation or who it is we should support in this developing struggle. At this point, it appears that preserving the Iraqi state may be an impossible task, and we should not be so quick to shrug off the affirmations of the intelligence community in the united $tates of the “inevitability” of an independent Kurdish state. Given the significant amerikan interest in such a thing, and the growing legislative and executive support for their independence and further relationship with NATO and the west, there is a high probability that it truly is, at this point, inevitable. A reversal on such a decision would not really resolve the original contradiction which has driven them to this point, which is principally that between the Kurdish and Iraqi Arab populations over a history of violent struggle. This historical struggle has been egged on and co-opted by the united $tates, but nevertheless it is not a contradiction entirely of their making. It seems if independence were to be achieved, it would be no more a solution to revoke their independence as it would be to do the same in Bosnia with regards to Serbia.
That said, we must not mistake the Peshmerga or, indeed, even the PYD as being real forces for anti-imperialism and world progress. Certainly while the united $tates is wholly responsible for the contradictions which drove the initiation of their struggles (though the u.$. did arm and support the Saddam regime, as well as the various Turkish military dictatorships that murdered and suppressed scores of Kurds), they are certainly hard at work suppressing and subjugating any independent interests they may have and squashing any real independence they may gain in favor of turning any post-independence statelet into a buffer-zone and military installation to further isolate and intimidate Russia, Iran and Syria. The united $tates and its allies, from the perspective of western communists, must be frustrated at every turn. Their involvement in propping up the PYD as, now, a third alternative in the war in Syria has not had anymore significant a positive outcome than their previous interventions. Their ambition in Syrian Kurdistan is precisely to occupy the northern half of Syria and guarantee a pseudo-independence for the Kurdish state while extending military presence in the Syrian state. They have attempted to turn the pseudo-left forces in Syrian Kurdistan into the shock-troops of imperialism—another montagnard group in the service of the west—in exchange for the heavy weaponry necessary to set up a Kurdish state and defeat the Islamic State.
So far, the lack of attention paid to this relationship has only demonstrated the fantasy being lived out by western leftists in the hope that Rojava, now possessing amerikan air-power and a significant stockpile of heavy weaponry from Washington, will lead us into a new revolutionary period. Unfortunately, it is clear that ship has sailed (if ever it was seaworthy at all) and much of the left are now carelessly supporting the united $tates’ intervention, as regards Kurdistan at least, as being a humanitarian exception to their usual role in the middle east, rather than being an extension and affirmation of that role. There is no such thing as vicarious revolution, nor a revolution brought about by the imperialists.
Certainly, the Kurdish forces in Turkey, along with the Communists who have involved themselves in the struggle in Rojava as a way to work against the Turkish regional hegemony, have gained significantly and perhaps will continue to gain as a peripheral factor in the amerikan intervention, however this is not the primary result and should be recognized as a circumstantial and pragmatic plus for the revolutionary forces in Turkey. The primary result has been the effective dominance of the united $tates over the future of Kurdistan in Syria. Whatever the outcome, our role should be to unequivocally reject amerikan involvement in any and all conflicts and to criticize those sections of the left who have carelessly lined themselves up behind the amerikan intervention as a way of living an opportunist fantasy.
2. “CIA World Factbook Entry: Turkey” (CIA)
4. “US ‘takes control’ of Rmeilan airfield in Syria” (Al-Jazeera)
5. “‘We will not allow the division of Syria’, Kurdish official says” (Ekurd Daily)
6. “The Time for an Independent Kurdistan Is Now” (Foreign Policy)
7. “Support Our Kurdish Allies in the Middle East” (National Review)