Kurdish independence now being supported by ... Turkey?

Via Ace and HuffPo, I’m suspicious that a story potentially this big has been confined so far to a Kurdish news outlet. If you’re looking for signs of an impending partition of Iraq, which all of entire western media is, they don’t come any bigger. Where’s the Drudge siren?

A few days ago, I tweeted that with Iraq in chaos, the Kurds might as well declare independence and upend the regional table entirely, to which maybe 50 people instantly replied, “What about Turkey?” Well, what about them?

The Kurds of Iraq have the right to decide the future of their land, said Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Friday.

“The Kurds of Iraq can decide for themselves the name and type of the entity they are living in,” Celik told Rudaw in an interview to be published soon…

In case Iraq gets partitioned, said Celik, “the Kurds, like any other nation, will have the right to decide their fate.”

Celik believes that Iraq is already headed towards partition thanks to “Maliki’s sectarian policies.”

Is that diplomatic nonsense being pushed by Turkey to a foreign outlet, obscuring the fact that they’d surely bomb the new Kurdistan to smithereens if it declared independence and gave Turkey’s Kurds a reason to revolt? Or has Turkey come around on the idea of a Kurdish state? Believe it or not, this may be on the level. Moe Lane points to this recent piece at Time mag about the Kurds’ secret weapon as Iraq melts down: Namely, oil. Iraq’s Sunnis and Shia could spend the next 20 years fighting over territory in the west and south; in fact, the country’s biggest refinery was seized by Sunni “militants” just this morning. If you want a steady flow of Iraqi oil, your best hope is for the country’s most stable group to break away, grab the oil assets it can, and keep the tap open. In fact, there’s already a pipeline from Kurdistan to Turkey. Erdogan’s simply protecting his investment.

He’s also worried about Iranian expansionism, first in Syria via Tehran’s Shiite proxy Assad and now in Iraq as Maliki and the Shia gear up to face ISIS. Kurdistan’s peshmerga are an obvious partner for Turkey against Iran on the one hand and Sunni jihadis on the other. In fact, Kurdish troops may be the best military force in Iraq right now. Peter Galbraith:

Kurdistan’s military, called the peshmerga, is ideally situated to combat ISIS. The Iraqi Army—or what is left of it—is hundreds of miles from Mosul; the peshmerga hold the Kurdish eastern half of the city. Although ISIS readily routed the Iraqi Army from the west bank, it chose not to tangle with far more formidable Kurds. President Obama can only order air strikes if he has good intelligence, controllers who can identify targets and troops who can follow up on the ground. Only the Kurds can do this…

Today, Kurdistan and Turkey are the closest of allies. Turkey is Kurdistan’s most important trading partner and Turkish companies are the largest investors in Kurdistan. Turkish intelligence and military officials consult regularly with their Kurdish counterparts. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a close personal relationship with KRG President Massoud Barzani and a poisonous one with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In advance of Turkish elections, Erdogan and Barzani jointly addressed a large public rally in Diyabakir, the largest city in Turkey’s Kurdish southeast and Kurdistan is playing a constructive role in support of Erdogan’s effort to make peace with Turkish Kurdish rebels.

Credit the Kurds with brilliant strategic thinking in making nice with Turkey after the U.S. invasion in 2003. They’ve wanted a state for 100 years; they knew there’d eventually be an opportunity once the Sunni and Shia started tearing each other’s eyes out; and they knew who the big obstacle in the region was to their ambition. They convinced Turkey to invest in Kurdish independence, economically and militarily, and now it’s going to pay off. Well done.

The obvious play here for the White House, as Galbraith notes, is to back the Kurds in independence, no matter how much crow the U.S. might need to eat for resisting the partition of Iraq until now. Kurdistan is famously pro-American as it is; offer them official diplomatic recognition and that’ll only ripen further, replete with help in stomping out ISIS. If they want to seize an oil field or two or 10 in the process, no one’s going to object, least of all Turkey. We’d finally have a real partner and a strong military ally in the region at a moment when Iraq and Syria look like they’re about to become the most target-rich environment on earth for the U.S. military. It’s a no-brainer.