Kurdistan: A Deep History of US Betrayal

Peyton Gouzien | @pgouzien

Several days ago, President Trump withdrew U.S. troops from Kurdistan in Northern Syria. He consequently endorsed Turkish military operations against the Kurdish forces. Since then, Turkey has announced they’d begin ground operations in Northern Syria. Turkish bombings and troop deployments in the region have already begun.

Critics of Trump’s move have said he has betrayed an ally in Kurdistan; he is facing backlash from Republicans and Democrats alike. Yet, both his critics and Kurdistan fail to remember a bipartisan history of US betrayal.

The US Betrays Kurdistan… Again

The United States’ betrayals of the Kurdish people date back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres would have provided for a possible legally-defined Kurdistan, but due to Turkish backlash, the United States instead advocated for the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 with no provision for the Kurds.

Post-WWII, the United States increased its presence in the Middle East, arming Iraqi Kurds under Abdel Karim Kassem. Yet, this only lasted until 1963, when America supported a coup against Kassem, cutting support. The US even provided this new government with Napalm, which they later used against the Kurdish.

When Iraq drifted towards the Soviet Union in the ’70s, the US once again armed rebels in Kurdistan. The purpose of this was to “bleed the Iraqi government” with help from our then ally, Iran. But again, the country soon after signed off on a deal between the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein that cut aid to the Kurdish.

Iraqi Attacks on Deaf Ears

The Reagan Administration ignored Saddam Hussein’s campaign against the Kurds in the ’80s despite knowing its use of nerve gas. Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, then encouraged rebellion against Hussein in 1991, during the Gulf War. The elder Bush’s military ordered US troops to stand down as the Iraqi military massacred rebels, including the Kurdish. He would eventually flip sides again, supporting British efforts to protect the Kurdish in Northern Iraq.

Bill Clinton had a similarly inconsistent record; he targeted the Kurdish in Turkey by supplying Turkey weapons to wipe out Kurdish villages. Bush Jr. betrayed Kurdistan in Iraq as well, allowing Turkey to commit a massive bombing campaign on the Kurds in 2007.

How Do the Kurdish Fare?

Despite bipartisan support to betray Kurdistan in the past, the unofficial nation remains standing. Kurdistan was valuable in the fight against ISIS throughout the Syrian Civil War. To respond to Turkey, the Kurdish have now had to abandon the detainment of many ISIS fighters, which critics fear will revive the terrorist cell.

Turkey has begun its invasion of the region, with at least seven civilians reported dead due to Turkish strikes. The Kurdish in Syria claim to have repelled the Turkish ground assault.


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