there is something odd about international politics. alliance formations have shown again and again that even fiercely proclaimed ideologies are pushed aside all too easily whenever interest align. deeply entrenched moral divisions are secondary to security, and even framed states, rebellious regions and terroristic organizations can turn into a viable partner on the edge of crisis. ‘there are bigger fish to fry’ as they say. it was then in an irony of fate that the united states and the islamic republic of iran ended up on the same side of this conflict. too bad north korea does not have a stake in this area, because that would have just given the irony a final touch. but in any case, with the us and iran on the same side and even turkey falling into place, the fight against the islamic state has turned existing cards upside down. and the beneficiary of this conflict is the kurdish regional government.
while the kurdish struggle, be it for recognition, an end of suppression and protection of the kurdish people, or eventual independence, is as old as the idea of nationhood itself, the winds of international power balances have turned to the kurds favor. and just recently, when a kurdish friend of mine smiled about the difference it makes in international support to not fight a ‘legitimate’ government but a terrorist organization instead, i remembered che guevara: allegedly it was him who said ‘thank you for the bay of pigs’ as he was referring to the us-invasion in cuba when they were trying to step up against the guerrilla movement led by fidel castro and che guevara. not only did the invasion fail, but more than that it consolidated and finalized the rule of the new system. after all, as they took power, while celebrated and cherished in the streets, there were still people questioning the ability of mountain guerrillas to lead a state. but when the same guerrillas were able to fend of the united states in the bay of pigs, people trusted their strength to guide, rule and defend the nation.
granted, the storyline of the kurdish regional government is different. they are not attacked by the united states. and unlike cuba, they are not aiming at an international isolation to create their individual rule. while cuba is an island, the krg is not. but the kurdish regional government, formed out of a guerrilla fight in 1991 and out of the pieces of party division from 1998 and 2006 onwards, was attacked and is still threatened by the islamic state. it is this outright, imminent threat to the regional government and the kurdish people inside and outside of the krg, that put the federal region in the position of proving their ability to lead and their strength to defend the nation. after all, the federal armed forces of the iraqi army left them to their own fate for the longest period of time. fortunately, standing up for themselves is something that is deeply entrenched in the kurdish heart and mindset over the decades of revolutions and the generations of martyrs. however, while large in numbers and brave in spirit, the kurdish peshmerga are badly trained, particularly for a fight on a long stretched front line with the old guerrilla fighters now acting like a state army that fends off an insurgency. combining this bad training with a lack of weaponry, the actual fighting power was realistically too little to combat an islamic state.
luckily, however, the kurdish region happens to be at the right side of history in this battle. (or if not on the right side of history then at least at the right side of us-interests.) supported by airstrikes and more and more incoming weaponry and military funding from the united states, the kurdish regional government has gained from the conflict ever since. for the first time international media attention has focused on a nation that thus far has only made it to the headlines in terms of guerrilla fighting (iraq), terroristic attacks (turkey), and the constant subtle tone of ‘those rebellious people who only cause trouble by wanting to redraw the cast-iron-clad fixation of united nations recognized state boundaries’. now, even against baghdad’s protests, the kurds are armed and supported. so while in the case of cuba it was the existing military strength and determination that consolidated power internally, it is the kurdish fight against the islamic state that raises their level of military force within iraq and their political power on an international level. having international support gathered behind erbil as the head quarter of the fight against the islamic state, the kurdish region has reached a point of being ‘too big to fail’ as they call it in business terms. what was the capital of a rebellious region that never quite wanted to fit into the context of iraq, is now the basis of hope for the western world to fend of an islamic state. and if kurdish leaders play their cards well, i believe that one day there might just be someone saying ‘thank you for the islamic state’.