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Preventing conflict over Kurdistan


Éditeur : Carnegie Endowment Date & Lieu : 2009, Washington
Préface : Henri J. Barkey Pages : 64
Traduction : ISBN :
Langue : AnglaisFormat : 177x254 mm
Thème : Politique

Présentation
Table des Matières Introduction Identité PDF
Preventing conflict over Kurdistan

Preventing conflict over Kurdistan

The consequences of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq will doubtless be debated for years to come. One result, however, is already clear: the long suppressed nationalist aspirations of the Kurdish people now dispersed across four states—Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria—have been aroused, perhaps irrevocably, by the war. Already in Iraq, Kurdish regions, which have benefited from Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, have consolidated themselves into a federal region. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is a reality and a force for further Kurdish empowerment as it seeks to incorporate other Kurdish-majority areas and the oil-rich Kirkuk province in particular into its domain. The KRG’s existence and demands have already alarmed all of Iraq’s neighbors and the Baghdad government.

The issues are far from being settled. If ignored or badly handled, Kurdish aspirations have the potential to cause considerable instability and violence in Iraq and beyond at a particularly delicate time. For the United States, the Kurdish issue touches on many vital concerns—the future unity and stability of Iraq and the ability of U.S. combat forces to disengage responsibly; its relations with Turkey, a key North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally and aspirant for European Union (EU) membership; and more generally, the stability of an oil-rich region during a period of considerable uncertainty over energy security.

This report argues that Washington must pay close attention to the many intertwined dimensions of the Kurdish question and, in particular, to the very real potential for conflict and outside intervention. Washington must develop a comprehensive approach that recognizes and, where possible, leverages those linkages to help usher in a stable and prosperous future.

This report does not suggest that the many facets of the Kurdish issue can only be solved simultaneously, but rather that Washington has to be sensitive to how potential progress—and setbacks—in one area can affect movement elsewhere. Of primary importance should be settling Kirkuk’s future and consolidating the legitimacy of Iraq’s federal structure. Closely related is the development of a working relationship between Ankara and the Kurdistan Regional Government.


INTRODUCTION

The consequences of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq will doubtless be debated for years to come. One result, however, is already clear: the long suppressed nationalist aspirations of the Kurdish people now dispersed across four states—Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria—have been aroused, perhaps irrevocably, by the war. This is translating into demands for greater political and cultural rights and, for the Kurds of Iraq, autonomy from Baghdad’s control. If ignored or badly handled, Kurdish aspirations have the potential to cause considerable instability and violence at a particularly delicate time for the region. For the United States, the Kurdish issue touches on many vital concerns—the future of Iraq and the ability of U.S. combat forces to disengage responsibly; its relations with Turkey, a key North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally and aspirant for European Union (EU) membership; and more generally, the stability of an oil-rich region during a period of considerable uncertainty over energy security. In short, Washington must pay close attention to the many dimensions of the Kurdish question and, in particular, to the very real potential for conflict and outside intervention.

There are three interconnected sources of potential violent conflict in the Kurdish region. The first concerns the role the Kurds and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will play in Iraq, namely the extent and size of the territory (including the oil-rich region and city of Kirkuk) they will control as part of a federal state. There is a real possibility of secession in the event that the central government and its allies fail to satisfy some of the basic requirements put forward by the Kurds. Kurdish secession, resistance to Kurdish claims on Kirkuk, and other scenarios could plunge Iraq into an all-out civil war.

The second potential source involves the rising tensions in Turkey between the state and its Kurdish minority. Ankara perceives the KRG and the Kurdish successes in northern Iraq as potential threats to its territorial integrity. It fears greater political mobilization by its own Kurdish minority and a stronger Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a homegrown insurgent group with approximately half of its fighters based in northern Iraq. Turks were adamant in trying to prevent the emergence of a robust, autonomous Kurdish state in northern Iraq. This has already emerged as a major irritant in U.S. relations with Turkey, a NATO ally; last year, Washington, under tremendous pressure from Ankara, provided Turkey with a green light to engage in cross-border military operations against the PKK in northern Iraq. Since December 2007, Turkish aircraft have been staging continuous, though contained, operations against the PKK, supplemented by one ground operation. Those operations risk escalating into a Turkish–Iraqi Kurdish conflict with a full-fledged Turkish intervention that could cause other neighbors to do the same.

The third source of conflict is the reaction of Iranian and Syrian Kurds to developments in their neighborhoods. Tehran and Damascus have long opposed Iraqi Kurdish aspirations and have cooperated with each other and with Turkey to stymie Kurdish advances in Iraq. Although Iranian and Syrian Kurds have not received as much attention as their counterparts in Turkey and Iraq, they too have been influenced by the regional events. Increased Kurdish mobilization and instances of violence in both Syria and Iran have alarmed these two regimes. They too may choose to intervene if Iraqi developments are perceived to threaten their territorial integrity.

For the United States, all three of these potential causes of conflict give rise to a slew of problems. Political instability, violence, or all-out civil war in Iraq would certainly interfere with the plans to withdraw U.S. forces, as would intervention from neighboring states. Civil war would have disastrous consequences for U.S. interests in the region as a whole. A Turkey that turns inward because of its inability to peacefully resolve this domestic challenge is unlikely to play either a constructive role in the Middle East or succeed in joining the EU, a goal that has had bipartisan support in Washington for more than two decades. For those reasons, the Obama administration should view the Kurdish question, writ large, as central to a successful and responsible disengagement from Iraq and, ultimately, to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The challenges created by Kurdish aspirations and the realities on the ground in northern Iraq are daunting, but Washington must take the lead. Whatever its current constraints in the region, the United States still remains the only power with sufficient clout, resources, and influence over most of the parties to begin to resolve these conflicts. First and foremost, how it disengages from Iraq will influence developments in Kurdistan as a whole. This report suggests an approach for the new U.S. administration to prevent problems associated with the Kurdish question from undermining its policies in the region, especially in Iraq.

The report argues that Kurdish issues in Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria are inexorably linked and that as a consequence, Washington must develop a comprehensive approach that recognizes and, where possible, leverages those linkages to achieve its policy goals. This is not to suggest that the many facets of the Kurdish issue can only be solved simultaneously in a “Big Bang” fashion, but rather that Washington has to be sensitive to how potential progress—and setbacks—in one area can affect movement elsewhere. Of primary importance should be settling Kirkuk’s future and consolidating the legitimacy of Iraq’s federal structure. Closely related is the development of a working relationship between Ankara and the KRG. Both sides have compelling reasons to cooperate, and such a relationship would go a long way toward mitigating Turkey’s internal Kurdish unrest. Iran and Syria play tertiary roles at this stage, though their own Kurdish problems could escalate in nature and content.

The report begins with an overview of the Kurdish question throughout the Middle East and an overview of the situation of Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. An analysis of U.S. stakes and objectives leads into recommendations for U.S. policy.




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