ERBIL — There is a sense of unity throughout Iraqi Kurdistan. The two political rivals, which have controlled Kurdistan’s politics for decades, appear to have «buried the hatchet» deep enough to withstand any continuing differences over policy and tribal interests. The Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP], which represents the Barzani Clan, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [PUK], which represents the Talabani Clan, remain well represented in the parliament with the KDP controlling 38 out of 111 seats and the PUK 18.[1]

The Kurdistan Regional Government parliament chamber in Erbil. (Image source: KRG)

There is little public mention of this past rivalry; here, clan-centered local politics seems to have been replaced by a grander vision of a future independent Republic of Kurdistan. The only major decision regarding this future development is the question of the proper timing for the declaration. There are, however, a few variables that may delay the birth of this new, non-Arab state in the Middle East.

One variable is the fate of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL]. The Kurds appear to have regained their self-confidence after a late-summer scare when ISIL forces inflicted a series of defeats on Kurdistan’s peshmerga troops. American bombing raids, Iranian Qods Force volunteers, and pro-Iranian Shia militia helped stabilize the military landscape even as Western investors fled the region.

Another variable is U.S. State Department pressure on the Kurds to remain within the Iraqi state. It appears that economic reality combined with American persuasion have succeeded in postponing the birth of the Kurdish nation-state.[2]

Still another variable is a political reality: it seems that none of Kurdistan’s neighbors wants to see an independent Republic of Kurdistan. This opposition is based on domestic and foreign policy realities. The regimes of Turkey, Iran, and Syria, for instance, which all have large Kurdish minorities,[3] apparently do not want Kurdish irredentists within their states to seek either autonomy or union within an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, and view an independent Kurdistan as both diluting regional powers and as a possible ally for Israel.[4]

As the former Minister for Human Rights of the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG], Mohammad Ihsan, declared in an interview, «One thing for certain is that the Kurds of Iraq will never again allow themselves to be ruled by Arabs, be they Sunni or Shia.»[5] A member of parliament from the Kurdish Governorate of Dohuk, Dr. Renaas, who has responsibility for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s relations with Turkey and the United States, asserted in another interview that «the Kurds are determined to avoid mistakes of the past, when they allowed themselves to be duped by the promises of great powers.» [6]

Kurds are conscious and proud of Kurdistan’s role in today’s Middle East — on the front line of civilization — in the battle against Islamist barbarism and chaos displayed by the ISIS juggernaut. Kurds also are embittered by Baghdad’s decision to block arms deliveries to Kurdistan during the height of the peshmerga‘s fight against ISIL this past summer.[7] Kurdish flags are omnipresent. Few Iraqi flags dot the cities and villages of Kurdistan; Kurdish is the public and private language of all. Arabic is rarely spoken. There will be no going back to Baghdad. Kurdistan is waiting to be born.

Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he served as a Military Attaché to Israel.

[1] These statistics are based on the most recent parliamentary election of 21 September 2013.

[2] The December 2 oil-and-finance understanding reached between Erbil and Baghdad stipulates that the central government will sell 550,000 barrels of oil per day, which will include 300,000 barrels from Kurdish-controlled oil wells. Baghdad also promised to grant the Kurdistan Regional Government 17% of the natural budget. See Michael Knights, «Making the Iraqi Revenue Sharing Deal Work«, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, December 3, 2014.

[3] About one-fifth of Turkey’s population is Kurd, perhaps as many as 25 million people. In Iran and Syria, there are roughly five million Kurds with about four million in Iraqi Kurdistan.

[4] This is the general view of most of Iraqi Kurdistan’s leading politicians, who remain distrustful of Arabs — especially Sunni Arabs.

[5] Mohammad Ihsan in an 18 November interview in his cabinet office headquarters in Erbil.

[6] Renaas in conversation in his home, with leading Kurdistan cultural figures.

[7] Asad Ihsan, peshmerga veteran, in 20 November 2014 interview in Zakho, Kurdistan.