Sunni Arab leaders have largely been silent on the September 25 Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum, but Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abdul Gheit visited the Iraqi Kurdish capital last week to dissuade the Kurds from holding the vote.
In a recent letter to Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani, Ahmed described his fears of “disintegration and fragmentation,” noting in his plea that the Arab League is “strongly keen on ensuring the territorial integrity of the Arab states.”
What seems lost on Ahmed is the strategic pragmatism in allowing the Kurds to further solidify their proven bastion against Iran and successive waves of regional instability.
The Kurdistan region is an effective vanguard against Iran, the chief instigator of regional division. At the same time, it has been the Kurds who have beaten back ISIS from their other borders.
The region has also weathered simultaneously a collapse in oil prices, a total cut of support from Baghdad, the arrival of two million refugees and the onslaught of ISIS. Standing in stark contrast to their surroundings, the Kurds are the model for stability.
Tellingly, who else vehemently opposes Kurdish self-determination in Iraq and Syria? Iran and her shadow proxies.
The regional balance continues to tilt in favor of Iran’s aspirations to create a Shiite crescent from Iran to Syria to counter the Sunni world, the West and Israel, all under a nuclear umbrella and aided by Russia. Kurdish independence would stymie that.
Competing regional designs, whether pan-Arab irredentism or America’s “freedom agenda,” now lay in tatters with Iran picking up the pieces.
With Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Qatar and Lebanon now overrun with Iranian influence, and with Iran’s expansionist sights now set on unprecedented relations with Turkey, it may not be long before the remaining Gulf States meet the full brunt of Iran and her proxies. In just the last year, Iran established a new pathway to the Mediterranean and strongholds on the Red Sea.
The Arab League in 2016 likewise condemned the Syrian Kurdish federalization, again citing fears of “disunity.” What “unity” does Secretary General Ahmed hope to preserve?
In addition to untold civilian casualties, is “Syria” still the Syrian Arab Republic if it requires massive, ongoing intervention by Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah militants to “restore” this “unity”? After all, the Arab League suspended Syria in 2011 on the basis of what the league saw as government suppression of protestors.
If an Arab city such as Aleppo can be leveled, then one cannot imagine what awaits intransigent Kurdish population centers. Indeed, Syrian officials recently warned of the “price” that the Syrian Kurdish democratic administration will pay for refusing to return to the fold.
Yet, it has only been Kurdistan region President Barzani and the Syrian Kurdish forces that have declared they will not allow the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Units to operate in their respective areas — which the Iranian-influenced central governments of Baghdad and Damascus fully welcome, and which Ahmed is intent on defending.
Barzani has received warm welcomes in regional capitals, including Riyadh and Amman. While his desire for independence has been met with measured silence from Sunni Arab leaders, this silence is far from the vocal condemnation by the Arab League chief.
In May, Ahmed made a wise observation when he said, “Iran is enjoying what the Arab world is going through. There are those in Iran who are watching and waiting for us to destroy ourselves.”
Ahmed should consider whether he seeks a self-fulfilling prophecy by playing into Iran’s aspirations. It’s time for the Arab League to reexamine the source of this position on the “unity” of the failed states of Iraq and Syria, and whether this opinion truly reflects the strategic pragmatism and moral clarity that the region.