The West’s short-sighted policy of favouring the Kurds

Kurdish forces will not be welcomed as liberators in Sunni heartlands in Iraq or Syria.


2017/02/26 Issue: 95 Page: 2


The Arab Weekly
James Snell



For many years, Kurds in Iraq and across the Mid­dle East said they felt abandoned. Kurdish minorities were ill-treated in many countries, with their political ambitions repressed.

The government of Saddam Hussein committed horrific crimes against the Kurdish population. However, since 1991, most of Iraq’s Kurds have lived in a region outside Baghdad’s rule and, following the 2003 US removal of Saddam, Iraqi Kurdistan has looked much better.

After the dramatic emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS), a new war came to Iraq in 2014.

In Iraq, as indeed is the case in Syria, Kurdish forces have been effective fighting ISIS militants, thanks in part to strong Western backing. However, once these forces move beyond Kurdish-ma­jority regions, a new trouble takes form. The Kurdish militias began to eye and control many non-Kurdish towns and villages.

Kurdish politicians and leaders are using military success against ISIS as an opportunity to pursue claims to additional territory. They are consolidating their grip on disputed Iraqi areas.

Human Rights Watch reports that, in Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk, Arabs have been threatened with eviction and ejection. Some alleged to have links to ISIS have had their homes demolished.

ISIS has made extensive use of such acts to present itself as the de­fender of Sunni Arabs, even though no community is spared from the brutality of the militants. The group is using the global indiffer­ence to the persecution of Sunni Arabs to stir up ethnic and sectar­ian tension and gain more recruits.

There is a perception, especially among Sunni communities in Iraq, that the international coalition unduly favours the Kurds. Western politicians give both rhetorical and practical support to Kurdish pesh­merga forces.

Kurdish forces have indeed proven effective at displacing ISIS from their territories but this has been enabled in both Iraq and Syria by extensive external support.

After the defence of Syria’s Kob­ane, which was aided by a massive coalition air campaign, many in Western policy and media circles decided that defeating ISIS must mean backing the Kurds in all cases — often to the detriment of other groups.

Arab rebel groups in Syria often say that if they had the same Western backing as their Kurdish counterparts, they would have achieved greater success against ISIS. At times, the rebels complain the West abandons them to fight ISIS without air cover.

A patronising undercurrent has also come to the fore in Western media, which often depicts Kurd­istan as a fundamentally liberal project in the making, a haven amid the maelstrom of the wider Middle East, a vision in the West’s own image.

Even dogmatically anti-war writ­ers give conditional support to this utopian mirage. It is a fundamen­tally cheap and unchallenging posi­tion to hold, an easy but reductive point to make.

Much like all easy answers, this solution is both partial and myopic. Though this may lead, eventu­ally, to the defeat of ISIS, it could not guarantee long-term peace or stability.

Kurdish forces will not be welcomed as liberators in Sunni heartlands in Iraq or Syria. They could eventually be viewed less as liberators than conquerors, and possibly a worse option than remaining under ISIS rule.

In both Iraq and Syria, the search for easy solutions can only lead to an accumulation of problems. Supporting the Kurds in their own fight against ISIS is vital; expecting them to liberate the entire region is profoundly delusional.


James Snell is a British journalist.


MENA Now
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Dalal Saoud

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editors: Jonathan Hemming and Richard Pretorius

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

Opinion Section Editor: Claude Salhani

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Levant Section Editor: Jamal J. Halaby

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Senior Correspondents:

Mahmud el-Shafey (London)

Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Correspondents

Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobeidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Rasha Elass - Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

www.alarab.co.uk

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

66 Hammersmith Road

London W14 8UD, UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved