Kurdistan: American Withdrawal and American Betrayal

The Kurdish people — or “Kurds” — are the largest ethnic group in the world that do not occupy a state of their own. This unfortunate status has been associated with them ever since the early 1920s when Britain and France took the liberty of chopping up the Middle East into modern-day Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. This imperial division of the region left the Kurdish people — who had historically inhabited a large region of Iran — displaced. 

Ever since this displacement, the story of the Kurdish people has been a struggle to achieve globally recognized autonomy. This goal, which has transcended generations of Kurds, has led them to wage war, most notably against Iraq in the 1970s and most recently against the Islamic State (ISIS) in recent years. Not necessarily by accident, these two enemies have led the Kurdish people to become allies with the US, who have had quarrels with the same groups. As a result of these common enemies, both the Iraq War and the war against ISIS were and have been fought by American soldiers standing side by side with the Kurds. 

Just as much as the struggle for autonomy has defined the modern history of the Kurdish people, so too has the constant betrayal by its allies. From the US to Iran, and then the US again, it seems that every time the Kurds fight as allies with or even for another country, they always end up betrayed. For example, in 1975, when the US was backing the Kurdish fight against Saddam Hussein and Iraq, they cut off military support as a result of a deal made between Iran and Iraq. The Kurdish army who was fighting the Second Iraqi-Kurdish War at the time was subsequently defeated by the Iraqi forces. Betrayals like these have plagued the Kurdish people ever since the beginning of the 20th century. 

So what has the US-Kurd relationship been as of late? Since 2016, the US has worked closely with Syrian Kurds to combat ISIS within Syria. This relationship has allowed the US to not only to reduce the threat of the Islamic State but also to maintain a presence in the region that would otherwise be overrun by US enemies. Most recently, the Kurds “played a key role” — according to a senior State Department official — in the raid that killed the ISIS leader Baghdadi on October 26-27. 

Unfortunately, the tradition of betrayals continued for the Kurds this past month as President Trump withdrew American forces from Northern Syria. This abrupt abandonment of the strategy that the US had successfully employed for years in the region has prompted the targeting of Kurdish fighters by Turkish militants. Thousands of Kurds have been slaughtered as a result. Those who were able to withdraw into Syria have found new allies in the Russian and Iranian backed Syrian government of Bashar Al Assad(enemies of the US), who provided the only option to help the Kurds combat the Turkish offensive.

Furthermore, the US withdrawal has allowed ISIS to regain much of the ground that it had lost to the US-Kurd forces. The New York Times has reported “the escape of hundreds of women and children linked to the Islamic State from a detention camp” as well as the failure “to transfer five dozen “high value” Islamic State detainees out of the country.” These results show that the US withdrawal from the region could lead to ISIS regaining much of its former strength and then some.

Ultimately, this ill-advised move by President Trump has abandoned a valuable US ally, razed the progression US involvement had made in the region, and allowed ISIS the opportunity to return to power.