The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The Kurds Are Being Used ... and They’re Not Getting Independence

Oct 2, 2017

A referendum on Iraqi Kurdish independence was due to go to a vote on September 25. But the Iraqi Supreme Court called off the vote. While Iraqi Kurdistan has had autonomy since 2005, the Iraqi courts claim the referendum would be unconstitutional. But that’s not the real reason they nixed this vote!

It’s not only the Iraqis and their prime minister Haider Al-Abadi, who don’t want to see Kurdish independence. The imperialist powers, especially the United States, along with regional powers including Turkey and Iran, are all opposed to this move.

In 1991, at the end of the first Gulf War, the U.S. leaders supported the Iraqi Kurds against the Saddam Hussein regime. They made a deal that turned the Kurdish part of Iraq into an autonomous region. And in 2005, two years after the fall of Hussein and the start of the second Iraq war, this autonomy became official.

The Kurdish region was relatively prosperous, thanks to oil resources and trade with nearby Turkey. It was also relatively peaceful in contrast with the other regions of Iraq that were ruined by the imperialist war. This reinforced the Kurds’ relative power and enriched the Kurdish ruling class. But making Kurdish independence official would create insoluble problems for the imperialist leaders.

As soon as Kurdish president Massoud Barzani announced the plan for a referendum on independence, the U.S., Britain, and the U.N. sent a delegation to try and talk him out of it. The regional powers including Turkey and Iran also voiced their opposition to Kurdish independence. Turkey feared that a declaration of independence by Kurds in Iraq would encourage independence movements among Kurdish people in Syria on the Turkish border, or even Kurds living in Turkey itself. Iran, with a population of 80 million, has 8 or 9 million Kurds who might want to speak up for the same thing.

The Americans sent an envoy, Brett McGurk, to try to deal with this problem for these U.S. allies, who make up the international coalition involved in the Syrian and Iraqi wars. He tried to convince the different Kurdish groups to postpone a referendum on independence until the war with ISIS is over.

The problem for the U.S. is that it needs Iraqi Kurdish troops in its war against ISIS. In fact, since ISIS launched its offensive into Iraq in 2014, the Kurds are the only troops who have consistently mounted resistance, while Iraqi troops have often fled. More recently, Kurdish troops participated in the first phase of the recent U.S.-led offensive to re-take the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS, because they consider that city to be part of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The imperialist leaders are only interested in what the Kurds can do to serve imperialism’s aims, especially as cannon fodder against ISIS. But the Kurds have their own aims, which are not at all the same.