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America and the Kurds: A Case for Fresh and Urgent Rethinking

07/08/2014 13:13 BST | Updated 07/10/2014 10:59 BST

A secret CIA dossier entitled "The Kurdish Minority Problem" has come my way. It says that "the mountain tribes known as the Kurds are now and will continue to be a factor of some importance in any strategic assessment" of the Middle East. It concludes that the Kurds are "belligerently independent, distrust the governments over them, and have stubbornly resisted efforts to disarm them or restrict in any way their relative freedom."

The document's assertion that the Kurds "....give an initial impression of being stolid, taciturn and even stupid: the men usually appear politically naive," and frequent references to Soviet subversive activities give the game away. The document dates from December 1948 and was declassified thirty years later.

The language of the report is archaic but is a very useful contrast with the far better situation of the Kurds today, certainly in Iraq. They have massively expanded their relative freedom: they endured and survived genocide, formed their own autonomous region, developed a vibrant economy and society, got the oil out of the ground - with gas and minerals to follow - and are the best hope for what is left of Iraq.

But the State Department doggedly follows the old script that one Iraq is the best policy. That train left the station in June.

Fresh thinking is required. The KRG is operating a twin track policy of seeking to defend itself against Sunni extremists and helping build the democratic capacity of Baghdad while also pursuing the course of independence. The two go together. Even if a Kurdish Republic emerges, it will remain neighbours with Baghdad and needs it to be as stable and functional as possible. After all, the watchword of its international diplomacy is of Kurdistan as a stable gateway to a bigger market.

Yet America is reluctant to move. Professor Gareth Stansfield, a veteran observer of all things Kurdish, rightly argues that America's "...ignoring Kurdish realities at this moment may prove to be not only a strategic risk but a missed opportunity at a time when there are few others on the table."

As for British policy, an old hand tells me that they will stick to the one Iraq script in public but may be privately preparing for the outcome of independence. Widespread pro-British attitudes in Kurdistan and its energy sector's contribution to diverse and secure energy supplies to Europe could count for much.

The wider world, and especially America, should also recognise the KRG's strong defence of Christians and the Yezedis, and providing sanctuary to up to a million fleeing from violence in Syria and Iraq. The Kurds are our frontline in the struggle against extremism and yet seem to be left in the lurch.

What worries me is the lack of support for arming the Kurds. It is part of a pattern. It is nearly a year since the Commons shocked itself and appalled many in the Middle East by failing to endorse punitive strikes against Assad's using chemical weapons, 25 years after Halabja. It was a missed opportunity that set the scene for later disasters.

The focus of many recent demonstrations has been the terrible conflict between Hamas and Israel in which 1900 people died but there has been no focus on the bloody advances of the Daash which has caused 1500 deaths a day, including mass beheadings and executions.

America's clinging on to an expired policy looks less and less credible. Yes, it's understandable that they fear that Iraqi fragmentation would mock the loss of American blood and treasure, now including the loss to jihadists of many billions of dollars worth of American equipment, including 1500 armoured Humvees.

Yes, it is understandable that they wish to uphold the 2005 constitution they helped broker and which stipulates that the oil wealth belongs to Iraqis. The KRG argues that independent exports and the equitable sharing of the revenues conforms with this.

American foreign policy is often slow to move as its formation is based on many checks and balances between competing institutions and interests. The KRG voice in Washington needs to be louder. The voices of academics and columnists calling time on the Obama Administration's policy will help. For instance, William A Galston writes in the Wall Street Journal that "there is nothing sacred about the post-Ottoman state system in the Middle East--and no good reason why the U.S. should continue worshipping at its altar."

There must be urgency about this. Kurdistan is in clear and imminent danger. We surely don't want to wait thirty years for a declassified CIA document that concedes that backing Kurdistan could have boosted stability but was flunked at great cost.