Analysis & Opinions - Bloomberg Opinion

How the U.S. Can Quell the Kurdish Crisis

| Oct. 04, 2017

There is still time to keep Iraq from breaking apart, but Washington cannot wait to be asked to mediate.

More than 90 percent of Iraq's Kurds voted to declare independence last week, bringing tensions to an even higher boil across the Middle East. The regional governments that opposed the referendum -- Turkey, Iran and the Iraqi government in Baghdad -- are intent on punishing the Kurds, already beginning economic measures and even threatening a military response.

The U.S., which also vigorously opposed the referendum, must resist the urge to pile on. Rather, Washington should shift its policy away from combating a Kurdish challenge to the unity of Iraq to a more neutral, less outcome-oriented stance.

The U.S. is understandably frustrated that the Kurdistan Regional Government went ahead with the vote at this precarious time, with a fragile and fractious central government and the ongoing need to battle the Islamic State. But now Washington must be prepared to do more than simply indicate that, "if asked," it will facilitate dialogue between the Kurds and Baghdad. Instead, it needs to ramp up intensive efforts to reconcile the Iraqi factions and moderate the actions of Turkey, in particular, as regional actors work to coordinate their strategy and intensify economic pressure on the KRG.

Several factors suggest the need for a more active stance than the one Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert have articulated in the last few days. While it's true that the referendum is a major distraction from more pressing goals in Iraq and the region, the U.S., Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors could well be blowing the vote out of proportion. The referendum, while audacious on the part of the KRG, did not tell the world anything it did not already know. Even a casual observer could predict that the results would be overwhelming in favor for independence.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: O'Sullivan, Meghan.“How the U.S. Can Quell the Kurdish Crisis.” Bloomberg Opinion, October 4, 2017.

The Author

Meghan O'Sullivan