by Claude Salhani
By pulling out US troops prematurely from Syria — and without consultation with friends and allies — US President Donald Trump signed death warrants for tens of thousands of Kurds who had been engaged in fighting the Islamic State alongside US forces. He also dealt a death blow to the reliability of having the United States as an ally.
The US decision is bad news for the Kurds as history seems to forget about them every time they prove themselves as loyal and reliable allies. The problem is that foreign powers, especially the countries that draw and redraw maps of the region, appear — once again — to have failed to include the Kurds in the final chapter.
Eternally hopeful, Kurdish forces continue to strive for a place they can call home. For decades, the Kurds have been trying to carve out a state of their own. The land they claim is where they have lived for generations, that is when they have not been deported to other parts of the region, as in Turkey and Iraq, or attacked with chemical weapons, as in Iraq.
Much of this land that straddles the borders of Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria may look rugged but beneath the surface lies a treasure that gives the land added value and for which Baghdad, Tehran, Damascus, Yerevan and Ankara will fight before making concessions. Call it a blessing or a curse, much of the historic land claimed by the Kurds sits on top of rich oil deposits.
Time and again, the Kurds have helped Western countries caught in the quagmire of this region’s complex politics. They were especially willing to assist in the numerous conflicts that have plagued the region.
Enemies the Kurds face today, latest being the Islamic State, are also the nemeses of the West. This has made the Kurds natural allies of the West. In fact, Kurds could be the poster child of what the United States and its European allies have been looking for in the region.
The Kurds are a mountainous people stuck in a geographic purgatory, caught between Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Syria. Talk about a bad neighbourhood.
Time and time and again, the Kurds have been shortchanged despite helping the winning side in conflicts since World War I. The Kurds were promised a state when the Ottoman Empire was broken up after the first world war by the victors of the conflict in the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 but when the allied powers redrew the outline of the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the limits of modern day Turkey with the Treaty of Lausanne three years later, there was nary a mention of the Kurds nor was there any discussion of the need for a Kurdish state.
The Kurds are the West’s natural ally in a treacherous region. They are largely Sunni Muslim, though they have a small Shia minority but they are predominantly secular.
In the post-US invasion of Iraq period, they developed the Kurdish autonomous region into a haven of calm and prosperity and foreign investors flocked to Kurdish-controlled cities. This was when bombs were going off daily in Baghdad, when the Iraqi capital and other cities were struggling and unsafe, especially for Westerners. Meanwhile five-star hotels were popping up in the Kurdish-controlled region.
With the departure of US forces from Syria, the threat to the Kurds comes from Turkey and Syria. Turkey has committed troops and has more standing by to cross into Syria once the Americans are gone. Syrian President Bashar Assad will move against the Kurds to punish them for siding with anti-government forces in the civil war unless they can provide him with a new expedient role, against Turkey, for example.
The Turks have long considered Kurdish groups as terrorists. With the departure of US forces from the region, Ankara apparently sees a green light to move against the Kurds. Even without such a perceived green light, however, Turkey did not spare the Kurds.
Those who stand to benefit from the US withdrawal from Syria, beside Ankara and Damascus, are undoubtedly the Russians and the Iranians who used to see the US presence in Syria as an obstacle to their expansion in the area.
With the United States out of the way, the hunt for the Kurdish peshmerga will begin. There is no shortage of hunters.