With the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq by the United States and Coalition Forces in 2003, the prospect for Kurdish independence never appeared more ripe. The Kurds had had reason to hope before: in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm (1990-91), their optimism had been repaid with harsh reprisals from the Saddam regime, in the form of chemical gas attacks. Even after this disappointment, The Kurds have been loyal to the US up to and through the US invasion of Iraq of 2003. In return, some could say that the Kurds are due American support in their bid for statehood.
Historically, pundits have framed an independent Kurdistan based in Erbil as a potentially destabilizing force in the Middle East. However, how might an independent Kurdistan, bordered by Turkey to the North, Syria to the West, Iraq to the South, and Iran to the East, benefit the United States’ geopolitical interests in the Middle East? The US’ support of Kurdistan could create a loyal state in the Middle East, where there is a current lack of dependable American allies (Israel and Saudi Arabia notwithstanding).
Concerning Turkey, a likely counter argument might be: but Turkey would be enraged by such a move! This is true. However, Turkey may have already left the American orbit. Recently Turkey has openly turned towards Russia and authoritarianism, and away from its former bid to join the European Union. Why not support a loyal people (the Kurds) while simultaneously counterbalancing the Turks (now friends to the Russians) on their eastern frontier?
With the instability present in Syria due to its ongoing civil war, Syria’s ethnic Kurds would likely wish to join a sovereign Kurdistan. What better time to accomplish Eastern Syria’s annexation by Kurdistan but when Syria itself is in a state of civil war?
The Iraqis would resist a Kurdish secession plan, crying for stability publicly, while privately fearing the loss of significant oil revenue generated from the oil fields around contested Kirkuk.
An equitable oil-sharing arrangement concerning the Kirkuk oil fields can be found, placating both sides. A heavy hand from the United States acting as a sponsor for Kurdish independence would go a long way here as well, acting as the ‘stick’ (continued American security assistance to Iraq) to Kirkuk’s oil as the ‘carrot’.
Finally, concerning Iran itself, having an American client state on its western border may be one more inducement for Iran to not want to risk direct US military engagement, and possibly even change its calculus re-developing a nuclear weapons program. Looking at the long game, the American removal of Saddam created a Shia-dominated Iraq, which will naturally turn to Iran anyway. The United States might as well counterbalance and weaken this inevitable alliance with a northern independent state of Kurdistan.
In summation, facilitating the establishment of Kurdistan could be a strategic move on behalf of the US, as well as a potential repayment of the loyalty the Kurds have shown America. Whether the Trump administration has the audacity to actually implement a plan in its best interests, however, remains to be seen.