In the aftermath of the Iraq War, the US appointed two Kurdish leaders and several Arab leaders to govern the troubled and divided nation. Once again, the Kurdish people were exploited, this time by US sanctioned occupiers who largely ignored the welfare of the Kurdish people and self-appropriated billions of dollars of national wealth to increase their own power and prosperity. While the authoritative presence of hundreds of thousands of US government troops endorsed these leaders, the Kurdish people’s wishes were suppressed and their best interests were disregarded.
The religious-political landscape in Iraq still features many competing but few complimentary power considerations. Current Iraqi Shi’a Muslim leaders profess more loyalty to Iran than to its archenemy, the US. At the same time, Iraqi Sunni Muslims are seeking help from the Persian Gulf countries Saudi Arabia and Turkey to throw off the shackles of Shi’a rule. Meanwhile, the still incumbent Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani are looking to Turkey and Iran to help defeat the Iraqi Shi’a rulers and stay in power indefinitely.
The Iraqi rulers’ entrenched corruption during and after the US occupation is now more obvious in the Kurdish region of Iraq than the rest of the country. With a leadership style closely resembling that of the Saudi royal family, Massoud Barzani incongruously heads a party of revolutionary Kurds who have been fighting for the return of their territories on and off since the collapse of the Median (ancient Kurdish) Empire two and a half thousand years ago. However, the ethnically and racially distinct Kurdish people do not accept Saudi Arabian monarchical tribal rule, nor do the majority of them tolerate tribal, wealth-based oligarchical government. As astute political observers with good memories, they also know that Jalal Talabani surrendered his revolutionary socialism overnight to become the partner of Massoud Barzani so that both families could exclusively share as much of the Kurdish people’s wealth as they could acquire.
Initially, both Kurdish leaders lined the pockets of selected Kurdish allies, successfully creating loyal military forces and secret services to meet opposition from the Kurdish population. Both Barzani and Talabani are partners in oil businesses with US, Israeli, and European interests in the hope that their governments will support them against the claims of the rightful owners of these resources, the Kurdish people. Both ruling families are still working with Turkey and Iran for the same purposes.
But when the war in Syria allowed the Kurds to build a significant military presence there, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogen was then pushed to seek a peaceful settlement with the PKK of Kurdistan. Consequently, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and his organization are steadily gaining momentum towards becoming the undisputed leaders of the entire Kurdish people worldwide.
With Kurdish troops evacuating Turkey and Syrian Kurds poised to gain more power the Barzani family’s unconstitutional bid to place their leader in a third term as President of the Kurdish Regional Government seems unlikely to succeed. His corrupt control and manipulation of human and material resources to benefit too few has raised the ire of the long suffering and serially exploited Kurdish people. As a result, the majority of Kurds support the PKK and while PKK troops leave Turkey for the Kandil Mountains to aid the Kurds’ battle against Iran, Barzani’s attempts to attract Iranian support will further erode his popularity. And the Turkish Prime Minister’s pragmatic response to Abdullah Ocolan’s peace proposals hardly leaves him in a position to openly support Barzani’s ongoing economic predation of the war weary Kurdish population. Whereas both Barzani and Talabani have previously used Iranian and Turkish forces before to stay in power, this time they will be even more at the mercy of their allies, because most of the Kurdish people have deserted their government for the PKK.
The US made a mistake when it put Barzani and Talabani into power. As a result, it’s much heralded campaign for democracy in the Middle East has been waylaid and the economic development of less advantaged areas of the region has been stymied. With perverse local leaders apparently unable to attract the majority of the Kurdish people’s support, and significant shifts in the balance of power seemingly imminent it is imperative that the US change its policy to actually support democratic political movements, instead of corrupt, opportunistic oligarchies. Now is the time for the US to align itself with the wishes of the people of Kurdistan.