As a result, the KRG has once again started selling its oil abroad without going through Baghdad’s State Oil Marketing Organization. “Since May,” the FT reports, “the Kurds have sold almost 40m barrels of oil to traders via the Turkish port of Ceyhan.” (Interestingly, much of the crude seems to be winding up in Israel, which is now said to be getting as much as three-quarters of its oil from the pro-Israeli Kurds.)
Meanwhile in northern Syria, the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) — an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — has been making inroads into ISIS control. In fact, with some 35,000 fighters under arms, it is the only armed group that has had any success in rolling back ISIS gains, doing so with the aid of American airpower. Its gains, coming at the same time as the PPK has stepped up attacks inside Turkey, have so alarmed Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he has ordered Turkish aircraft to bomb targets in northern Syria. His ostensible target is ISIS, but the Turks seem to be saving most of their firepower for the PKK and its affiliates.
What’s happening, notwithstanding violent Turkish resistance, is of great significance. You can almost hear the tectonic plates of the region shifting. The Kurds, long the largest ethnic group without their own state (they are thought to number over 30 million people), appear to be on the verge of realizing their long-held ambitions for autonomy if not independence.
Already the KRG is virtually a sovereign state inside the empty shell that is Iraq. Now, the YPG is carving out another Kurdish statelet in Syria. It would not take too much more effort to join the two Kurdish enclaves and thus create a de facto Kurdish state sprawling across northern Iraq and Syria.
Of course, major obstacles remain in the way — not only the Turks and Iranians (who have their own substantial Kurdish minority) but also the Arabs of both Syria and Iraq. They are not going to support Kurdish statehood. But the Syrian and Iraqi states have virtually ceased to function, thereby making their opposition less relevant than ever.
Neither Iraq nor Syria is likely to be reconstituted in their old form, which in any case dates back only to the post-World War I settlement created by Britain and France. Who is to say that a future realignment of Mesopotamia and the Levant might not result in the creation of a Kurdish state?
And, notwithstanding habitual American support for existing borders around the world, it is hard to see why we should stand in the way of such a development, should it occur. The Kurds are more secular and more pro-Western than any other group in the region other than the Christians of Lebanon and (of course) the Jews of Israel. They are far from perfect — the PKK, in particular, is a terrorist group with a Marxist ideology — but at the moment the Kurds look a damn sight preferable to the other alternatives on offer, which are competing brands of Sunni and Shiite jihadism. This is not to say that the U.S. should make the realization of Kurdish statehood a primary objective, but it is to say that we need to rethink our reflexive opposition to that prospect.