Dr. Ben Priest believes pushing the Kurds towards greater independence is an unpleasant affair for the White House and there will be the least formal support for it.
Many Kurdish leaders in Iraq and Syria have welcomed Biden's election as many believe he would follow a more Kurdish-friendly policy in the countries and the Middle East.
"While we’re still very much in the beginning of the Biden presidency, I think it’s safe to say that this will be a continuity of the Obama administration – I simply refer to it as Obama 2.0. That being said, he’s not given any indication that either Iraq or the KRG are priorities for him. As is the case between diametrically opposed administrations, they’re reassessing the deals made by the Trump administration. For the Middle East, this means the F-35 sale to the UAE and potential sale to Saudi Arabia, the Iranian Deal, and the allocation of US military forces. I suspect the focus will be on ‘holding Middle East partners responsible’ when it comes to conflicts with unfavorable optics, such as the war in Yemen, the Muhammad bin Salman’s orchestrated killing of Jamal Khashoggi in their Turkish embassy, etc.," Dr. Priest said about Biden priorities and his overall outlook towards the Kurdish question.
"The resumption of the Iranian Nuclear Deal will most certainly have an impact on the nature of American engagement in Kurdish areas. While this won’t take front page status in the US for a while, this resumption has been in the works long before the elections even took place. Former Obama administration officials have been working behind the scenes throughout he Trump administration to try to salvage all they could, John Kerry’s multiple meetings with Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif being the most public examples. The Obama administration gave quite a bit of ground to make the Iranian deal happen in the first place, most notably with respect to leaving many Iranian activities in the region unchecked. I expect the same to come from President Biden, publicly approaching it with much the same preamble it is using with other powers in the region, but with a keenness to bring both parties back to the table," he stressed.
Referring to less anti-ISIS operations in the past year as the group has been almost defeated and the impact of the situation on the US ties with Kurdish allies, the university professor told KurdPress that "prior to writing this, I asked a number of friends and family members not connected to the Middle East when the last time they say anything in the news about ISIS was – it had been at least a year. To most Americans, ISIS was defeated a long time ago. Quite the contrast to the fact that I can log onto most any Kurdish news outlet and find updates about fighting Da’ish [ISIS] in Kirkuk or elsewhere. There will be a reticence on the part of the Biden administration to be seen as reengaging in a conflict we supposedly exited, particularly when Coronavirus issues are still at the forefront of American domestic concerns."
"All of this being said, wanting to stay out, or appear to have stayed out of Iraqi/ Syrian/Kurdish territory and affairs is one thing and military and political realities are another. I can’t imagine I’m the only one wary of a repetition of 2011, where massive American withdrawal led to the power vacuum that eventually led to Mosul being completely occupied by jihadi fascists," Dr. Priest said about possible US withdrawal from Iraq and the Kurdistan Region in the north of the country.
“While the US has not built any new bases as they said they would early in 2020, they have ‘fortified’ them, and it seems that at least for right now, they’re bringing in more NATO troops rather than simply American troops," he said about reports that the US has transferred some of its troops to its bases in the Kurdistan Region and boosting the bases.
"As for any potential redrawing of borders, I don’t believe we’ll see anything radical from this administration. In 2006 when then Vice President Biden said, “We will see an independent Kurdistan in our lifetime,” he did so as a vice president who was looser with his opinion than his current office affords him. There was something of a running joke about how whenever he said what was on his mind it always ran contrary to the administration’s policies, lending to the ‘Good ol’ Uncle Joe’ caricature. I think we’ll see a more constrained President Biden when it comes to public statements," he said about Biden's support to the Kurdistan Region and the independence of the region from Iraq during the time he was in the former US President Barack Obama's administration.
Answering the question if Kurdish issues are priorities to Joe Biden policies, the political expert stated: "In sum, I think the Biden administration will have its hands full juggling the benefits of maintaining the Abraham Accords, reengaging the JCPOA and Iran, keeping a quiet hand in combating jihadi fascists, and being seen making headway on eliminating American support in Saudi-Iranian proxy conflicts. Pushing for increased Kurdish independence would be an unwelcome complication that would get little if any de facto support."
"So, ‘better U.S. President for the Kurds?’ Probably, though not as much as most Kurds in the Middle East might hope," he noted.
"I see the present socio-economic realities in the KRG as the snowball effect starting with the economic crisis starting in 2014, the fallout of the Barzani-centric 2017 Referendum, and the global COVID-19 crisis and subsequent collapse in oil revenues. While I still see the KRG as having a better handle on their internal affairs than the Iraqi Central Government (ICG), the current situation has highlighted how much the endemic corruption is contributing to the overall disorder. Many Kurds within Hawler, Slemani, and Duhok have long been disenchanted with the current state of Kurdish politics and how entrenched the ruling families are. The various economic crises have accentuated these inequalities. However, I would describe the general attitude of these Kurds as one of quiet resignation; those that will talk about simply keep their heads down and keep scraping along with that rugged determination I’ve grown to associate with those communities. Many more are afraid of talking about politics at all and grow deeply uncomfortable if you bring these issues up in conversation. Then again, you’ll always have the few loud ones that will take to social media (usually with pseudonyms) and say something to the effect of ‘[minister x] is a gawād for what they’ve done to the Kurds’," Dr. Priest said about the economic situation of the people in the Kurdistan Region and the region's economic crisis and protests against it.
About efforts by some Kurdish groups and parties for decentralization in the Kurdistan Region, the political expert stressed that: "This is a further effect of the Referendum as the ICG continues to punish the KRG and weaken its position – the five percent reduction in shared oil profits will have a massive impact on an already struggling KRG system. Between these budget issues, managing PKK presence in KDP and PUK territories, and even older grudges, a shared sense of Kurdayetî as a centripetal force within the KDP is at an all-time low. I have no doubt that the PUK leadership has been doing its best to ingratiate itself to Baghdad in exchange for a better cut of the budget."
"What Turkey is doing in northern Iraq has been going on since 2003, part of Erdogan's ongoing strategy of creating a buffer zone to deny Kurdish militias safe haven. It is the hard-power version of what they’re practicing all over the Middle East and Balkans, which Ahmet Davutoglu once described with the German “lebensraum” (‘breathing room,’ a term coined by Karl Haushofer in the early 19th century). While Davutoglu resigned in 2016, I am in the camp that views the AKP and President Erdogan as being Neo-Ottomanist in their domestic and international policies. With regard to Syria and Iraq, they use economic and military pressure to keep the PKK from maintaining roots and camps from which they can train and plan attacks," Ben Priest told KurdPress about Turkey policies in the Kurdistan Region.
About Turkey operations in the Kurdistan Region and the policies of the Kurdish ruling parties in the region against the operations, the professor stated that "While it’s in US interests to maintain the somewhat flimsy line that delineates the YPG from the PKK, the AKP sees no such distinction and acts accordingly. I think the territory that the Turkish army and its proxies have taken in the north of Syria will be as permanent as Turkey can manage out of their push and pull with Tehran and Moscow. I don’t think Turkey has the leverage needed to create anything more permanent than what it has got in northern Iraq – but I also don’t think it needs to. Between the direct investment in KRG businesses and the military presence in the northwest, neither the KDP nor PUK has been able to say much of anything against Turkish air strikes and troop movements against PKK and YPG targets."
Reporter's code: 50101