The Kurds find themselves caught in the middle of a power struggle between the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Iran and Syria — a familiar situation that follows decades of geopolitical strife in their region, explains Ted Snider.
By Ted Snider
The only thing that has ever been faithful to the Kurds is history: it has faithfully, without fail, betrayed them. The Kurds have been cast in the role of the pawn in powerful countries’ games of chess. They do much of the hard work only to be sacrificed when checkmate is in sight.
Most recently, the U.S. rediscovered the Kurds as useful pawns in the war on the Islamic State. But, despite being one of the most effective forces fighting the Islamic State, now that the end is in sight, the Kurds are, once again, in danger of being abandoned.
The United States, unlike Russia and Iran, was never invited into Syria. The U.S. insisted, though, that it was only there to save Syria from the Islamic State. Recently, however, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tipped the American hand. America has no intention of leaving Syria once the Islamic State is checkmated, he said. The U.S. will stay after the war is over, and the uninvited stay has to do with more than just keeping the Islamic State down – it has to do with keeping Iran out.
Consistent with the current strategic pivot from Syria to Iran and Hezbollah, keeping American forces in Syria appears geared more toward kicking Iran and Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad out of Syria than it does with keeping the Islamic State out of Syria.
But to checkmate the Ayatollah, America needs to employ its pawns, and those pawns, once again, are the Kurds. The 30,000-soldier border force the U.S. would deploy to block Iran would be made up mostly of Kurds. But an armed Kurdish presence on the northern border with Turkey is a red line that Turkey has long warned it would not allow the Kurds to cross. So, the American decision has brought the wrath of Turkey down upon the Kurds.
As Turkey invades and bombs Afrin and the villages around it, experts on the region, such as Patrick Cockburn, warn that the Kurdish villages will be “reduced to mounds of smashed masonry.” As the number of dead and wounded rises, and as doctors in the region warn “of a rapidly worsening humanitarian situation,” senior Kurdish politician Aldar Khalil demanded that the U.S. “should meet their obligations toward this force that participated with them.”
“How can they stand by and watch?” he asked.
But this is not the first time the Kurds have asked that very question. In March 1975, the desperate Kurds begged the Central Intelligence Agency: “Our people’s fate in unprecedented danger. Complete destruction hanging over our head. No explanation for all this. We appeal you and U.S. government intervene according to your promises.”
The promise to which they were referring was a U.S. promise to support the Kurds if they would provide the troops for a covert action against Saddam Hussein – if they would be the pawns in the great powers’ game.
In the 1970s, Iran and Iraq were quarrelling over a number of border disputes. In the hope of keeping the Iraqis preoccupied and busy, the Shah offered money and arms to the Kurds to fight Saddam Hussein. But the Kurds didn’t trust the Shah and made their acceptance conditional upon an American guarantee that Iran would not cut the lifeline to the Kurdish uprising.
Iran expert Trita Parsi says the CIA and the State Department counseled against the covert action because of the inevitability of the Shah’s betrayal of the Kurds. But Henry Kissinger took the opposing position, and, following a 1972 visit to Tehran by Kissinger and President Richard Nixon, the U.S. promised the Shah American support for the Kurds: the Americans promised to support the Kurds.
Nixon signed off on the covert operation on August 1, 1972; Kissinger made the arrangements for the covert war, and the CIA took charge of it. The support took the form of $5 million and weapons, but by the following year, Kissinger had backed, and Nixon had approved, greater U.S. aid that would eventually reach over $20 million dollars and more than 1,250 tons of weapons and munitions.
But by 1975, the U.S. backed Kurdish uprising was in trouble. The U.S. eventually came to the conclusion that the Kurds could only be saved by an Iranian military intervention. The Shah was providing much more money than the Americans, but he was not willing to commit his armed forces. He refused and, instead, began negotiating a border settlement with Saddam Hussein. The Shah received territory in exchange for ending support for the Kurds. According to investigative journalist Robert Fisk, it was Kissinger—one of the guarantors of the promise to support the Kurds–who hammered out this agreement between the Shah and Saddam and, so, abandoned the Kurds.
Financial aid and arms stop flowing to the Kurds, and Saddam slaughtered perhaps as many as 182,000 Kurds. Many more fled to Iran as refugees. That’s when the first 1975 Kurdish appeal was made to America. Kurdish leader, Mullah Mustapha Brazani would personally appeal to Kissinger, one of the authors of American assurances, that “We feel … the United States has a moral and political responsibility toward our people who have committed themselves to your country’s policy.”
Kissinger never answered, though, according to CIA expert John Prados, his station chief in Tehran had argued that he should and gave him options. Kissinger abandoned the Kurds with the famous reminder that “Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.”
Several years later, in the first Gulf War, the Kurds would be asked by the U.S. to rise up against Saddam Hussein a second time. This time, the request came from the CIA. And, again, the Kurds were abandoned by the Americans. And, again, thousands of them died in Saddam’s retaliation, and tens of thousands were forced to flee.
This betrayal of the Kurds followed a long history. The Kurds were first given their own land when a small piece of what had been Turkey was given to them in 1920. They quickly lost it back to Ataturk and the Turks, and the international community abandoned them. The Kurds found themselves in the vulnerable position they are now in, scattered across Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.
From these events to the current situation in Syria runs an unbroken chain of America using and abandoning their Kurdish pawns. Leaked documents reveal American willingness to purchase Turkish cooperation at the expense of Kurdish interests and lives.
A leaked 2006 embassy cable declared that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice promised the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan “that the US would reinvigorate trilateral (US-Turkey-Iraq) discussions on the [Kurdish] issue.” The cable lists several “significant efforts the USG [US government] is undertaking to ameliorate the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] threat.” The cable boasts that “Sharing of sensitive intelligence on PKK activities within Turkey has led to successful COIN [counter-insurgency] operations.” It also includes as significant efforts “surveillance flights over PKK camps in northern Iraq,” and “An intelligence fusion cell, which meets weekly in Ankara to pass information to the Turkish military on PKK activity.” In other words, the U.S. gave Turkey intelligence to use against the Kurds.
The following year, in 2007, President Bush “promised to provide Turkey with ‘actionable intelligence’ to use against the PKK” [Wikileaks CRS-RL34642]. The same cable says that the Turks have used that intelligence: that “Since that time, Turkish forces have launched targeted air and ground strikes against PKK camps and other facilities located in the mountains of northern Iraq.” It concludes with the line, “They have expressed satisfaction with their results.”
According to John Prados, as early as 1948, the CIA had said that “The mountain tribes known as the Kurds are now and will continue to be a factor of some importance in any strategic estimate of Near East affairs.”
Seventy years later, the Kurds are still being disappointed by the meaning of American assurances regarding actions taken based on those estimates. It is not known how America will negotiate being caught in the middle of its Kurdish ally in the war in Syria and its NATO ally in Turkey, but history is not exactly whispering assurances in the Kurds’ ears.
Ted Snider writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history. This article originally appeared at Antiwar.com.
Erdogan is an islamo-facist meglomaniac the u.s needs to honor it’s promises to the kurdish people of Rojava and make the turks get back across the border or face destruction.
Yes some kurds have been the pawns of USA ,Germany and France for sure…But not all….At least there are proud kurdish minorities living in Turkiye and Iran happily enjoying their full democratic rights and equality..The great lie mentioned in the article is tha claim USA had provided information to the Turkish government???? Sure USA has been providing information to El Kaida ,Taliban,ISIS Boko Haram a,Latin American guerilla group -Sandinista and such-and PKK-YPG terrorist groups to use them as pawns in the name of the World Zionist Kingdom interests.Therefore the only information provided,by USA to the turkish government was misinforamtion and manipulation to hide that truth..This is why e now ask our government to exit this stupid NATO whre we have been allied-!??-with the U.S soemhow ,once upun a time during the cold war.
Do these pictures of Cisra’s devastation(by Erdogan’s government within Turkish borders) show Kurds “happily enjoying their full democratic rights and equality.”
Let it be clear that this time Kurds won’t let themselves be used as “pawns” because this time the whole world and also the entire Kurdish population knows that the betrayal didn’t only come from the US but the entire international community. This time the history won’t repeat itself because for the first time Kurds have been organised very well both politically and militarily. This time they also have showed the whole world, how they beat the great evil ISIS. The world now knows that the Kurdish aspiration toward self-determination is not only legitimate but also a well-deserved one unlike many idiot claiming this to be a “zionist-game”. By the mid 2020 there will be no Turkey, Iraq, Iran or Syria as we know it. There will be a secular, democratic, gender equal and tolerant Kurdistan. Mark my words, with or without anyone’s help this will happen. So bet on the right horse Western/Eastern world because if the Kurds are good at anything they good at remembering who their friends were in the times of need.
I hope that you are right. It’s a beautiful dream. Rojava forever!
It is too late to address the many past grievances of the Kurds but presently the U.S. could send a strong message to Erdogan that there is a red line at the Turkish border. Turkey is too vulnerable within its borders not to heed such an injunction and withdraw from Afrin. However, this administration has already manifested its hypocrisy in regional politics.
The Kurdish leadership in both Iraq and Syria have made some really idiotic decisions lately about the alliances that they make.
The Peshmerga in North Iraq managed to unite Iraq, Iran and Turkey against them when they held a referendum on independence. The problem for those countries was not just the idea of an independent Kurdish state, it was also its close ties to Israel.
The expressions of support for Kurdish independence by the Israeli Prime Minister and Defence Minister, and the images of Israeli flags being waved at pro-independence demonstations must have been like a red rag to a bull for millions of people in that region. The last thing that those people wanted was a pro-Zionist enclave right beside them. There’s already enough Israeli-occupied territory in Palestine.
The result of that referendum campaign was the opposite of what the Kurds hoped for. Iraq felt so provoked that it re-took much of the territory that the Kurds had taken control of after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
In North Syria, the Kurdish forces have antagonised both Syria and Turkey by allowing themselves to be used as an American-backed border force.
Turkey is infuriated by this because it effectively sets up a heavily-armed Kurdish state on its border. That’s why Turkey felt compelled to attack the Afrin region recently.
Syria is unhappy for the same reason, and also because US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made it clear that Washington wants to see regime change in Syria (or a “post-Assad leadership”, as he calls it). The thousands of US troops and the military bases that have been set up in the Kurdish region – which is Syrian sovereign territory – might be useful for acheiving that.
So Ted Snider is right that the Kurds are being used as pawns, but that is not a role that they were pressured into by outside forces. It’s the choice of their own leaders.
This is an important point.
Yes, but the agreement of most leaders is not the choice of the people. The ability of outsiders to make a deal and empower certain leaders should not be blamed on the people, or used to excuse the agitators.
I agree. The same holds true for Americans. We all can’t be blamed for the choices our leaders make. Some can — the ones who have zealously supported and promoted the leaders, but those of us who have been resistant and outspoken, we should not be blamed for the debauchery of our so-called leaders.
For roughly the past 700 years the Kurds have been separated into Ottoman (later Turkish, Syrian and Iraqi) and Iranian Kurds. In this period their language, culture and mentality has diverged where today even though they are all called Kurds, they are in truth 2 separate people. A Turkish Kurd will have trouble understanding an Iranian Kurd. To group them all as a homogeneous entity does not represent them correctly. Further, even in a single country like Iraq the Sulaymanieh vs Irbil Kurds are quite different. Barzani, the Irbil Kurds, runs a tyrannical family business and is willing to do business with who ever pays him enough. The Talabani clan is much more integrated and democratic in nature. Additionally, Sulaymanieh area was under Persian control for long periods of time, making the Southern Kurds more like their Persian Kurdish extended family. Talabani’s warmer relations with Iran points to this. While the Talabani backed Kurdish population was aligning with the USA and Iran in 1975, Barzani was aligned with Sadam and fighting their Kurdish cousins. Who was right? the Kurds fighting for freedom or those fighting for their country? Most probably some of each. But the greatest betrayer of the Kurds is not the USA, Turkey, Syria, Iran or Iraq but the Kurds themselves. In the Iran-Iraq war, the Talabani clan aligned with Iran and was punished with extreme chemical weapons, Halajib, while Barzani was posing for pictures with Sadam and receiving money and weapons from him. He then quickly aligned with the USA when the tide turned. Later Barzani accepted ~$2B of loans from Turkey to build Irbil infrastructure including his own ‘palace’. Turkey is careful not to attack Iraq Barzani Kurdistan since they owe them in excess of $2B in addition to selling them their oil and rock bottom prices.
It is always easy to point to others for ones problem. Their is no Kurdish solution – each Kurdish clan needs to figure out what is best for themselves.
The truly evil can never be trusted, ever. Words are only tools of deception for them. Every pretense of decency is only a subterfuge to accomplish their goal of domination of all others. The promises of the US gov are worthless ploys. Perceived advantage is the only principle tyrants are guided by. Cheating, lying, stealing, and assassination are the stock in trade methods of the US Empire and it’s evil rulers.
The point for me is, Don’t Be A Chump.
Don’t be America’s Chump. Don’t be China’s Chump. Don’t be Iran’s Chump. Don’t be Russia’s Chump. Don’t be any Tyranny’s or Tyrants’s Chump.
To Thy Own Self Be True.
It’s amazing America’s myriad Proxies, Chumps really, fall for it again & again, when a mere rudimentary review of history shows America’s Proxies are so much Road Kill after being thrown under the bus when America no longer needs them.
The most blatant example is Saddam Hussein. The CIA put him in power. They selected him and groomed him and they overthrew Abdel Karim Kassem paving the way for his Tyrannical Iron-Fisted Rule. They supplied him with Chemical Weapons or the ingredients for Chemical Weapons and instructions on how to make them so he could use them against Iran and then the Kurds. They backed him against Iran, but by 1990 he had worn out his welcome and he was no longer in favor, so, it was his turn to be the Target and not the favored Proxy.
There’s a lesson to be learned. Don’t get in bed with these Sadists and be their Proxy. They will screw you in the end and more than likely murder you if you’re too brazen in your defiance to be their Chump on a Chain.
They are not Chumps, they are players, if anyone is a Chump, it is the those poor Kurds crowd.
“Why Kurdish Oil Is a Wild Card for Markets” From Bloomberg
1. Why does the Kurdish region matter to oil markets?
The KRG says the area’s reserves may total 45 billion barrels, more than Nigeria’s, and Kurdish oil is generally cheap to extract. The region pumped about 544,600 barrels a day in 2016 and is expected to boost output to 602,000 a day this year, consultants Rystad Energy said in April. Last year’s production represented about 12 percent of Iraq’s total supply, based on data compiled by Bloomberg News. Those volumes alone would put the KRG on par with OPEC’s Ecuador and Qatar.
When foreign investors tramped into the region’s oil fields after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the crude was so abundant it seeped from the ground beneath their feet. Tony Hayward, the former BP Plc boss turned wildcatter, called Iraqi Kurdistan “one of the last great frontiers” in the oil and gas industry as his then-new company Genel Energy Plc started prospecting there in 2011. Ashti Hawrami, natural resources minister for the KRG, has spoken of increasing exports to 1 million barrels a day or more.
I was also referring to the Kurds when I mentioned Chumps. America is using the Kurds as a Proxy and therefore they are America’s Chumps. The article indicates this is the history of the Kurds. They have always been someone’s proxy. Caught in the middle. A people with no country. Similar to the Palestinians, actually.
This right here is why those who voted for Trump as a viable alternative to “The Red Queen” and continue to support him as some form of Resistance to the Deep State and NeoLiberalism, simply have ZERO CREDIBILITY.
If someone can’t chew gum and dribble the ball concomitantly, then they are either duplicitous or they haven’t the capacity to understand. “The Red Queen” and Donald Trump were not an either or proposition. It wasn’t one or the other. Whichever one you chose, you got the other whether you like it or not. They ALL bat for the same team — Team Oligarchy.
Trump is not an Outsider. He is not the Resistance.
The Madness that is his Presidency can be turned into a positive IF enough people see the Emperor Has No Clothes and reject America’s Political Duopoly once and for all and craft a strategy where We The People take back the American Government from The Rich and their Corporate Skins they slip in and out of to exploit and abuse the Defenseless of this planet they are hellbent on destroying until they can move on to another, and then another after that.
Thank you Cold. One bit of hope I had when the Clinton Crime Family was prevented from moving back into the White House was that perhaps Trump supporters wouldn’t be such spineless, situational morality bots as the Obama/Clinton supporters. So that once the new Emperor proved that he too wore no clothes, they would turn on him.
And some did. Especially after the first time the Trump Administration ordered the bombing of Syrian forces, many Trump supporters were vocally outraged. I suspect that’s why the MSM has largely ignored or downplayed all later escalations of war-making in Syria.
Combined with the theater of the MSM/Establishment “war” against Trump, this manipulated “news” seems to be actually increasing support for the Trump Administration.
What is the point of this article? That the US should carry through with its promises and arm the Kurds? They are hapless victems of the great game becuse the alies did not sufficiently carve up a peice for the Kurds? The Ottoman Empire practiced multiculturalism, there were more languages spoken in Ottomon Istanbul than today. This is because when Turkey was being formed they looked at their experience with all of the various ethnicities and found that they had all betrayed them in WW1, so Turkey rejected multiculturalism for nationalism.
Stated by so many, granting state power to any single ethnic, religious or cultural group is a recipe for exploitation of minorities within those states. The Kurds have aspired to a separate state at least as far back as the aftermath of World War I when Wilson excited them. As the author notes the energy coming from these aspirations has been used to weaken nations where the Kurds are most prevalent. We are doing it now in Syria. We did it against Saddam Hussein and am sure we are doing it in Iran. An unintended consequence is to alienate Turkey and bring the nations with Kurdish populations closer together and seeing us as a common enemy.
The fair way of treating the Kurds is to assure their civil and religious liberties within the countries where they reside and to reject any thought of a separate We in America should support that approach in our long term interest.
Perhaps most Americans would prefer the diplomatic approach to benefit the Kurds as local minorities. Certainly the US would be more benevolent and more secure in that were its approach. But We in America cannot see our best interests, conceive an effective and humanitarian foreign policy, or even elect representative leaders, so long as money controls mass media and elections.
All true about us but one can hope our transparent divide and control policies will energize the countries in the region to unite on issues of common concern The Kurd issue represents a way of getting the ball rolling. Watching all this stuff all around the world, why in hell didn’t irascible old Truman cut the legs off the CIA when he felt inclined to do so which as I read somewhere he thought about. They are relentless bastards.figuring out where to cook up their next plot and human misery their specialty.
Since Sykes picckott agreement, the kurdish land been divided by Iraq ,Iran, syria and Turkey, all the fertile lands, rivers oil fields and human resources are with in the border areas ,, and those 4 countries are only in agreement to suppress the Kurds , whom even their women are joining armed struggles for some freedom, however its up to the 4 nations to sort it out peacefully and not giving chances to CIA or XYZ to use it for their own purposes , there must be some sort of solutions , regards
Is the U.S. trust worthy? Well if we ask a Native-American or Ho Chi Minh, then the answer would be ‘no, not that much’. In fact, what we are witnessing in Syria, is very much like what the U.S. did back when the U.S. broke treaty after treaty with every Native American tribe, and that’s how the West was won.
The U.S. is addicted to bullying, and to eventual war. The U.S. balks at Moon Jae in and Kim Jung un trying to negotiate a peace on the Korean Peninsula. If this isn’t enough, the U.S. delivers more weapons into a brutal Ukraine regime, all the while slapping Putin’s outstretched hand aside to turn down his offer to partner for peace. Then there’s Syria, dear sweet Syria, where taking it’s cue from the Brookings Institute on how to be unsavory and clever, the U.S. marches on with their deceptive walk.
I swear the U.S. wants to lose the trust of other nations. What makes this deception by the U.S. even more troublesome, is that America brags about it being a country determined by the ‘rule of law’. So, taking all of this into consideration, of how the U.S. can’t be trusted, will it amaze anyone when the world someday ignores the ‘trusted word’ of the U.S., and walks away from the U.S. at a time the U.S. may need assistance?
Incidentally, reading the history of the Kurds and the U.S., should we prepare ourselves for repelling Kurd terrorist attacks one day?
Interesting article, suggesting that the US claimed to be setting up a Kurdish border force just to give Turkey an excuse to invade Syria, to force the Kurds to oppose Damascus or replace them with its re-branded Al Qaeda forces for that purpose. Such plans seem likely only to cause divisions and hatreds, the real US MIC/zionist goal.
Are we playing chess now?
Yes, the seemingly contradictory statements by US agencies indicate only the duplicity of the whole US government, both in deception abroad to lead opponents to mutual destruction, and deception of the people of the US, that our secret wars serve them, rather than the dictatorship of the rich zionists.
Does Putin pay you by the hour or by the week for writing these lies and slander??
Here is an article that looks at how the United States has justified its presence in Syria:
There’s nothing like rewriting history to justify your own misdeeds.
There is a typo that should be corrected. The article says; “The Turks found themselves in the vulnerable position they are now in, scattered across Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.”
I think the author meant the Kurds.
Thanks for flagging that — corrected now.
Interesting contribution. Thanks for hat.
Just as a reminder:
“In 2004 Philip Giraldi, with his partner Vincent Cannistraro, a retired CIA counterterrorism chief, wrote that Turkish sources had reported that Turkey was concerned by Israel’s alleged encouragement of Kurdish ambitions to create an independent state and that Israeli intelligence operations in the area included anti-Syrian and anti-Iranian activity by Kurds. They predicted this might lead to a new alliance among Iran, Syria, and Turkey which have Kurdish minorities.
Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said, just before Masoud Barzani’s independence referendum, that “Israel and countries of the West, have a major interest in the establishment of the State of Kurdistan.” She added, “I think that the time has come for the U.S. to support the process.”
There are many indications and partly evidences that the US administration serves the interests of a third-country which are not conform with the own interests of the US. The economic and political costs are volatile.
My apologies to anyone concerned for this off topic comment. As a long time Patriots/Red Sox fan, I naturally wanted the Patriots to win yesterday. I also wanted them to win “one more time” for Mr. Parry. Alas, not this time. His articles condemning “Deflategate” are definitive and single-handedly take on the powerful MSM’s notion of trashing the Patriots. Simply out of jealousy in my mind; check Mr. Parry’s articles on this topic right here on Consortiumnews.com PS- Hey “spellcheck”, yeah, I thought I had it correct. Look up ‘single-handedly’ in a real dictionary: We_ster’s Seventh (or Tenth) New Collegiate Dictionary.
From a Bears/Cubs fan–deflategate was much ado about nothing and I admire the Pats run–but good god man let’s spread the wealth a little!
The 8 game streak after being down 3-0 to the Yanks & sweeping the Cards in ’04 was something to behold…have an affinity for the Sox ’cause like the Cubs, classic park and long-sufferers who finally pulled through. Thanks for Theo.
Every country is a pawn in the machinations of the US. ISIS were (and still are) pawns of the US but now that they have had their ranks diminished, America has had to find some other mug to carry out their plan of regime change. The mystery is how it is these ‘pawns’ can’t see they are being used. Why they or anyone else would trust the Americans is beyond comprehension.
The broader question is whether group separatism is an inevitable aspiration or merely the power grab of local tyrants. It is inevitable when the group is persecuted or colonized, as were Vietnam and Korea, and the US was wrong to see those anti-colonial revolutions as power grabs by “stalinists” rather than revolutions like our own.
The issue is more complex when the group has had unsuccessful insurgencies resulting in widespread killing, adding hatred between groups. This adds the compulsion to win independence, even where the problem began without very widespread serious motives.
So the question is the degree of persecution of the Kurds, the necessity of independence for them. Has there been persecution or colonization of the Kurds except in response to their insurgencies? So far I have heard of none. The Kurds are split among four or more powerful nations, and any aspirations of taking land from all of those is hopeless. Stirring vague aspirations of Kurdish leaders by outsiders seeking to destabilize the region is the worst of amoral and irresponsible acts.
The US has no goals in the Mideast of its own, and the use of the Kurds by the zionists who control the US government has been solely to fracture the Mideast for the advantage of Israel. They have been sponsored, exposed to retaliation, and abandoned with no concern for their interests. The Kurds have been recruited to serve US tyranny, and are suffering the consequences.
Clearly the way forward for the Kurds is diplomacy, and that does not serve the MIC/zionists who have seized power in the US by using money to control elections and mass media. These are the tyrants to be deposed.
Because they are desperate for any help and the people have no control over the
leadership which is heavily armed and financed by USG, regards