In evaluating ways to clean up the mess that the Bush Administration made in Iraq, too little attention has been paid to the strategic options presented by the Kurds, who comprise about 25 % of Iraq’s population and now control 10-20 % of its territory under the umbrella of the Kurdistan Regional Government (hereinafter “Kurdistan” or “KRG”).
I was in Kurdistan last week. Its second city, Sulamaniyah, is crowded with traffic, and construction cranes dot the skyline. Civilians rush about, patronizing high-end clothing stores as well as traditional markets. The atmosphere is calm, with few worries about security. Not a single American soldier or marine has been killed, wounded or kidnapped in Kurdistan since the invasion of 2003. Unlike in southern Iraq, Americans are popular.
KRG is guaranteed political autonomy by the Iraqi constitution. The Kurds intend to hold on to the autonomy and, if possible, to expand it, hoping to extend the geographic reach of KRG to the oil-rich governorate of Kirkuk. With the revenue from Kirkuk’s energy resources, protection from KRG’s Peshmerga–militia forces estimated to number anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000, and a modicum of support from U.S. forces, the Kurds are well-positioned to play a crucial role in the reshaping of the Middle East.
Five scenarios can be envisioned. The first is least likely: a genuinely unified and democratic Iraq.