On Sept. 25, Kurdistan will hold a referendum for independence. For a number of reasons, the United States should welcome this development and support the referendum.
For starters, an independent Kurdistan is a good opportunity to advance women’s rights, minority rights and democracy in the Middle East region. In Iraqi Kurdistan, there is no difference between the genders and the various religious and ethnic groups. Everyone is equal under the law.
Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has given all of the religious minorities the right to have a representative in the Cabinet. Eleven chairs in the Kurdish Parliament are reserved for minorities. In addition, Iraqi Kurdistan has a Religious Affairs Ministry, but each faith has its own department. This enables all of the religious minority groups in Iraqi Kurdistan to advance their own interests. Secondly, under Mr. Barzani, 25 percent of the Parliament must be female, and Kurdish law makes it easier for women to get elected to public office. Also, the female Peshmergas who have been fighting against ISIS have captured the hearts of the international community with their brave stance in favor of gender equality. An independent Kurdistan will be a beacon for democracy in the Middle East very much like the state of Israel.
Another reason why the United States should support an independent Kurdistan is that it will help to roll back the Shia Crescent. It is critical to note that the United States does not need to place boots on the grounds in order to confront Iranian aggression in the Middle East. Since a good portion of the population in the Islamic Republic of Iran consists of minorities like the Azeris, Balochis, Kurds and Ahwazi Arabs, these groups can merely conduct an uprising and enable the Iranian regime to collapse from within as the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds unite in order to form their own independent state, which is ready to be an American base in the Middle East and to be of utmost assistance in America’s struggle against international terrorism. Such a strategy can shrink Iran in half and significantly reduce Iranian hegemonic influence in the Middle East without putting the life of a single American soldier in jeopardy.
While it is true that Turkey might remain opposed to Kurdish independence, it can be argued that an independent Kurdish state headed by Mr. Barzani that is created with the vow not to seek Turkish territory poses less of a threat to Turkey than ISIS on its border does.
In addition, Mr. Barzani has developed a positive business relationship with Turkey. In fact, as a sign that relations between the two were improving, Turkey even recognized Kurdistan as a region and waved the Kurdish flag during Mr. Barzani’s visit. Through trade and oil deals, Mr. Barzani made previous enemies into business partners.
It is critical to note that Mr. Barzani took a backward region of Iraq and literally transformed the place. Before him, there were no jobs in the area. Now, Iraqi Kurdistan has an independent economy. In fact, the oil trade potential in Kurdistan is so great that it can provide natural gas to the EU instead of Russia. However, instead of pocketing the profits like a Middle Eastern dictator would, Mr. Barzani invested the money in rebuilding Kurdish villages that were destroyed and creating facts on the ground that would lead to an independent state. It would behoove the world to support him because it is an American interest that the Kurds, rather than the Russians and Iranians, supply the world with oil.
Finally, America should support an independent Kurdistan as the right thing to do after the Baathists and then the Shia militias alongside ISIS terrorized the Kurdish population. Since 2014, the Iraqi central government cut the budget at the same time that the Kurds faced ISIS, and the Kurdistan regional government absorbed 2 million refugees. However, to Barzani’s credit, the regional government did not collapse. The Kurdish prime minister started reforms in order to increase income and fought against the financial crisis.
To this day, he is trying to find new partners and to bring new companies into Kurdistan in order to build the foundations of a Kurdish state. He is a true leader who should inspire everyone as he is fighting to build a pro-Western country willing to help the United States in its struggle against terrorism. He is doing this under less than optimal conditions while facing unsupportive neighbors. And America should support him in this just struggle as the Kurds deserve to have what every other nation on earth has. They have had their own unique language, culture and national history. There is no reason why they should not have a state in the future.
• Rachel Avraham is a media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent at the Israel Resource News Agency. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media” (Gefen Publishing House, 2016).