Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Syria, Iraq, and the Kurds - Correcting their destiny

It's times like now that I think we really feel the sting of not having General Petraeus around anymore. Say what you want about the man's extracurricular activities, he knew how to deal with an insurgency. He knew how to deal with the various clans and tribes in Syria/Iraq. My guess is that he would see exactly what I'm seeing right now, and that is the Kurds are at a major turning point in their existence.

The Kurds in Syria are in the North East of the country. The very top corner. They are represented by the DBK (Kurdish Supreme Committee). The Kurds in Iraq are in the North and Northeast and are represented by the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government).
Kurdish organizations get confusing and it's easy to get lost in the sea of acronyms. Just know that the DBK govern the Kurds in Syria and the KRG govern the Kurds in Iraq. The YPG (People's Protection Units) are the soldiers of the DBK and the Peshmerga are the soldiers for the KRG. Whew!

The border between Iraq and Syria has already dissolved. We don't even have legitimate governments in Syria and Iraq anymore. The Levant and Mesopotamia are governed more on the clan and tribal level now. It's time to forget the Sykes-Picot governments of Syria and Iraq and deal with the clans/tribes that will rule this region going forward.

As of now we have Kurds in the north battling the Islamic State and Arabs in the west and south battling the Islamic State. What's the common denominator? They all have a common enemy in the Islamic State.
If the United States truly wants to get involved and see true positive change they need to enable/encourage Arab tribes to unite versus the Islamic State in the west and south (like the Anbar Awakening). They also need to arm and build the Kurds. Relations between the DBK and the KRG are crucial. If they're united under the banner of a Kurdistan that spans from Northeastern Syria to Northeastern Iraq they would be a formidable force.

The famous diplomat Robert Strausz Hupe said that geopolitics is about space and peoples struggle for influence over that space.
The struggle for Syria and Iraq is about geopolitically dominated space. The struggle we're seeing now would've happened after the fall of the Ottoman Empire if the UK and French hadn't intervened. The Turks, Kurds, and Arabs all would have sought to dominate the space that is currently called Iraq and Syria (and Lebanon). European and Western influence stunted the transformation.

I see 3 things that need to happen:

1. Arab tribes in Syria and Iraq need work together to encourage the formal dissolution of the Syrian Iraqi border. It's already dissolved informally. The "governments" of Baghdad and Damascus need to be seen as separate tribes or warlord factions. All part of greater Syria.

2. The DBK and KRG need to unite and establish their borders within Syria and Iraq. The United States and the West need to make this their number one priority going forward. Arming and training a professional Kurdish fighting force should happen immediately.

3. The United States would increase military assistance and be the guarantee that Kurdish forces would defeat the Islamic State only if Damascus and Baghdad agree to accept Independent Kurdistan.

Two players (beyond Baghdad and Damascus) would have issues with this. Those being Turkey and Iran. Strengthening the Kurds could endanger them both. But there are levers to be pulled that may be able to see this through.
The Turks are looking to become a major regional player with influence. To do that they need to fix their domestic Kurd problem. This could be the solution they're looking for.
The Iranians are on the verge of having their oil/gas stockpiles unleashed on the world market. To do that they need a reliable and safe pipeline to Western Europe. Through independent Kurdistan sounds like an enticing proposition.

The rebellion of the Assad regime in Syria, the Kurdish awakening, and the tribal rejection of the Iraqi government are all part of a natural progression that was going to happen eventually. It should have been a prophetic fact when the Ottomans fell. Regardless of which outside entity attempts to hold them together the blunt fact is that these map lines don't belong there. We can either continue the madness of trying to patch things up a little while longer, or we can push for an actual solution.