The Kurdish Conflict: Iraq, Turkey & Oil


          Who are the Kurds? Will there ever be a Kurdish state?


  • Liam Anderson & Gareth Stanfield, The Future of Iraq.
  1. Chapter 7: “The Kurds,” pp. 155-183.
  • Andrew Tabler, The Lines that Bind: 100 Years of Sykes-Picot.    
  1. “Iraq: Identifying a Steady State,” by Michael Knights, pp. 26-31.
  2. “Ending a Century of Subjugation: Sykes-Picot’s Kurdish Legacy,”by David                              Pollock, pp. 32-37.
  3. “TurkeyFaces Its Toughest Tests,” by Soner Cagaptay, pp. 53-57.
  • Soner Cagaptay & Cem Yolbulan, “The Kurds in Turkey: A Gloomy Future,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Tabler et al., “The Syrian Kurds: Whose Ally?” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, March 29, 2016

The prevailing question posed, when it comes to U.S. | Iraq relations is how the U.S. should view Iraq and how U.S. interests intersects with the nature and form of the Iraqi state. The historical record of uprisings and revolutions by the Kurds & the Shiites shed light on the divisions within the country which makes it difficult for the U.S. to propose a “one-Iraq policy”. In “The Lines That Bind”, Tabler suggests that the U.S. should look hard at its preconceptions of Iraq but should not try to set the agenda for the country. This is an example of America taking the observer role & truly understanding whether Iraqi’s are open to a fair separation from the Kurd’s. What are America’s priorities? Tight economic, political, military and diplomatic ties between a more cohesive Iraq and a new Kurdish entity seem far-fetched. In this instance, the way that the U.S. approaches the process to unity will be crucial to its success. Representative government in Iraq is possible, but not without a clear understanding of the country’s past & present struggles and a clear agenda negotiated between BOTH countries.

What is the future of Iraq? Anderson & Stanfield in “The Future of Iraq”, provide a refreshing perspective on historical events – which is crucial to understanding the state of the country today & best practices for interventions. They speak about the role of the British, who gained control of the region after the fall of the Ottomon Empire and who then made violent governance necessary through [attaching the Kurdish province of Mosul to Arab Baghdad and Basra & by favoring the Sunni Muslim minority at the expense of the more numerous Shi’a]. This information sheds light on why separations and divisions in Iraq have been able to thrive. A forced form of unity was imposed in the past along with outright discriminatory practices that labeled one cultural identity as superior to the other. This unsecure groundwork needs to be mended before a third party can implement an overarching blanket policy to “help” Iraq. The question then becomes, “What should happen first”? Rectifying relations among the many cultural identities in Iraq [bottom-up strategy] or enlisting foreign powers to implement policies for better governance [top-down strategy]? I’m in favor of the “speak up” & “listen down” approach.

Soner Cagaptay & Cem Yolbulan, in “The Kurds in Turkey: A Gloomy Future”, explain how finding the answer to whether Turkey can prevent the current escalation from developing into another major conflict, rests on a thorough understanding of the historic Turkish-Kurdish relationship & the newly emerging dynamics between Turkish Kurds and other Kurdish groups in the Middle East- specifically Syria. In modern day, the spillover of violence from Syria, coupled with deepening internal polarization and a resumption of hostilities with the [PKK], has led to the gloomy assessments of Turkey’s political future. Some even believe it is the end of the Turkish democracy. However, there still exists some bright spots in Turkey’s development which have resulted from the corruption, violence & attempts of concentrated executive power. For example, although Turkey has been economically stagnant, this has eliminated the tools of economic populism available to restore President Erdogan’s popularity- which is a good thing. Secondly, the Turkish electorate –  successfully blocked Recep Tayyip Erdogan from transforming his office into a powerful executive presidency – not the military. Voting rights is one of the defining indicators of a functioning democracy & this came to light in Turkey.  Another glimpse of hope comes from the left-wing political parties who have become more socially democratic and less divisive by focusing on domestic issues- like the reintroduction of headscarves in schools & government offices. Of course, democratic institutions are not built overnight & need time to develop. Yes, Turkey needs a more consensual democracy and Syrian issues will have implications on its stability, but using an analytical lens that looks for “hope in an unseen light” can be a perspective adopted by stakeholders that can help determine Turkey’s survival & subsequent prosperity.

Tabler et al., in “The Syrian Kurds: Whose Ally?”, states that U.S. officials see the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party [PYD] as a tactical ally with a seasoned ground force in the fight against the Islamic state [IS], while Turkey views it as a terrorist group closely linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK], which is once again fighting at home. However, in the U.S., Turkey & PYD are both seen as allies against IS. Turkey has critical assets in the campaign because they –  share a long border with Syria, have ample military bases & is the second largest armed forces in NATO. PYD has been the most effective ground forces in taking Syrian territory from IS. It appears that the two opposing forces are fighting for U.S. support which will depend on how well they can fight the Islamic State- which depends on whether the battle against the Assad regime is a national priority for the U.S presidential administration.

Long time rivalries and alliances continue to shift in the Middle East given the civil war in Syria. The entire situation is a tangled, connected mess because each player in the region has interests that intersect and sometimes collide with enemies and allies alike. Knowing this, the U.S. led coalition against the Islamic state needs to be very strategic in its own actions & monitor its member countries who may have incentives to exit. For instance, although the U.S wants to keep a good relationship with Russia, Russia has not agreed with many of the tactics employed by the U.S.  against Syria. This is because each country has different goals & stakes in the matter. Russia wants to preserve a client state to prevent Syria from becoming failed states that might serve as bases for Chechen extremists who could target Russia. The United States is focused on not only ousting President Al- Assad but achieving a complete regime change in Syria.



Whitney F. Martinez |Political Science, M.A., C.G.S.

Ph.D. StudentDepartment of Politics & Government|School of Social Science, Policy & Evaluation

M.B.A. Candidate/Research Assistant, Drucker School of Management

 Founding President, Phenomenal Voices

Marketing|Communications Director ’17-’18, Drucker School Student Association 

National Society of Leadership and Success   

 Claremont Graduate University 

Adjunct Faculty, Department of Political Science

School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Chaffey College

5885 Haven Ave, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91737



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s