By Abbas Aslani

What U.S. Really Wants from Iraqi Kurdistan

September 26, 2017

The controversial independence referendum was held yesterday in the Iraqi Kurdistan despite the opposition from central government in Baghdad and international community including neighboring countries. In the absence of major external practical obstacles, rather than mere opposition, the de facto president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, could proceed with his agenda of referendum. However, the transition from referendum to independence can be a complicated process even impossible without an international recognition.

The United States, at times and through statements or phone calls, has declared opposition against the referendum. U.S. presidential special anti-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk and the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Douglas Silliman, in meetings with delegations from Iraqi Kurdistan, have rejected the ‘ill-timed’ and ‘ill-advised’ referendum in the region.

This comes against the backdrop of some other facts where other American diplomats have been supporting the century-long aspiration of the separation in the region. Former American envoy to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad who has been involved with U.S. policy makers at the White House, State Department and Pentagon since the mid-1980s, has been advising Masoud Barzani on his separation ambitions.

Paul J. Manafort, the former campaign manager for the U.S. president Donald Trump, is another figure who traveled to Erbil to advise the Barzanis’ allies on the referendum, according to a report by New York Times. Manafort has also agreed to assist with a planned push for Western recognition, after he was approached several months ago by an intermediary for Mr. Barzani’s son, Masrour Barzani.

One day ahead of the referendum, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Barzani and demanded him to avoid tensions with Iraqi central government in the aftermath of the referendum, a Kurdish official told me on the condition of anonymity. The phone call and the conversation indicates the lack of a serious opposition from American side.

Although some argue that the U.S. believes now is not the right time to hold the referendum, there is no doubt that Americans do sympathize with the Kurdish aspiration. Americans might distinguish between their public and behind-the-scenes positions and agenda. This can be part of a strategic temporary silence in order to control the oppositions and sensitivity in the region. At the end of the day, the United States, even if it does not fight on behalf of the Kurds against the threats on the path of separation from Iraq, they can go hand in hand with the Kurds in making their dream come true.

   

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