In new global order, Americans and Kurds need to continue to work together
Special to Stars and Stripes October 18, 2023
As the new president of the Patriotic Union Kurdistan, a leading Iraqi Kurdish political party founded almost 50 years ago, I am well aware of the urgent need for leadership in the Middle East, as a different, perhaps unstable, future awaits us.
The global order is in the balance. Conflict and disaster threaten us all. One country alone cannot provide for our security. We Kurds must stand on our own two feet, but we cannot stand alone.
We live in an increasingly complicated world in which major powers are challenging Western interests. Furthermore, as the war in Ukraine continues to demand the attention of the United States because of its impact on global affairs and there is a new Middle East war, the U.S. can turn to allies that sided with and supported it in the past.
The United States is an indispensable nation. But we cannot expect it to put its best and brightest on our battlefields like the past. While we look to it to build our confidence, it is on us, Kurds and Iraqis, to build our nations together, as one, democratic and federal Iraq.
Kurdistan, an integral part of Iraq, is blessed with an agricultural and energy-based economy, a rich history, a contemporary artistic culture including film production and a young, educated and resourceful people with an average age of 20 years old, who are looking for a new start and a better life.
My mission from the Kurdish city where I live — Suleimani, Kurdistan’s cultural capital — is to build bridges with all of Iraq’s cities and communities to strengthen conditions for peace and prosperity, build our own capacity, attract investment and provide real chances for our young people to contribute to our shared future.
Kurdistan should integrate into Iraq in a way that allows our Kurdish identity, autonomy and development to thrive without threatening the central government’s need to support all Iraqis, including Kurds. My party, the PUK, has led national efforts to bring Iraq’s diversity and different parties together and we will continue to for all of our sakes.
Iraq and the Kurdistan region are blessed with resources. We must find a permanent formula that allows all of our citizens to benefit from them equally and thrive. Our capitals, Irbil and Baghdad, must come together to chart a collective way forward.
Now is also the time for Iraq to reintegrate into the broader region. Diplomatic initiatives led by the U.S. can be a model that strengthens the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as a coalition of nations at peace, not a fractured, conflict-torn area.
Kurdistan’s history with the United States enjoys a legacy of deep cooperation and trust.
I commanded the Counter-Terrorism Group in Kurdistan, a special-forces unit made up of Peshmerga fighters called upon to combat al-Qaida in Iraq and its successor, Islamic State.
I fought shoulder to shoulder with U.S. Special Forces against the evil of ISIS, and together we defeated that threat to Iraq and the broader Middle East. The Kurds have been at America’s side against common threats to regional and global security, and we can meet future challenges together again.
The hot war in Iraq is long over and American engagement is pivoting to Asia. Moving away from direct military engagements in smaller conflict areas, the U.S. must still continue to lead diplomatically in bringing regional actors together to keep the peace on their own. The United States has a unique role to play in shepherding new coalitions in the MENA region and in so doing provide small nations the confidence to do so.
American leaders can build on diplomatic successes in the region in the past years and opportunities to put aside long-standing hatreds, stereotypes and ideologies should be pursued. The world requires collective action built on shared values, not more challenges to national sovereignty and order.
Kurdistan wants to be part of this change, wants to help bring this change.
Our capabilities extend beyond the battlefield.
We can work closely with America on new diplomatic and economic fronts. For the sake of our peoples and common good, my father, Jalal Talabani, the first president of a democratic Iraq, understood the importance of the U.S. role in the Middle East and was a good friend of the United States.
The Kurdistan region is blessed with significant oil and gas reserves, fertile agricultural land and natural beauty in the heart of the Middle East. Historically, Iraq has always played a central role in the broader region and Kurdistan is an integral part of it. We seek a new partnership with the U.S. based on mutual interests and values, which give us and our people the strength to be a resource for the common good.
Kurdistan also enjoys relationships across the MENA region. We can be part of the area’s glue that helps build a safer and more prosperous future for all its disparate parts.
Over the years, our people have always maintained a strong bond with Americans whenever we interact with them, and they with us. We want to bring this history to the future, and help ensure the well-being, not just of the Kurdish people, but also of the American people, as we work to help lift up the Middle East in new ways.
Let us help each other push the uncertainties of this complex world in the right direction, a direction toward security and stability for all. Disturbing trends such as a global pandemic and multiple wars, impacting every corner of the earth, require us to build coalitions to win the day.
We stand for a rules-based global order based on cooperation, respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and I am committed to bringing stability and development to Iraq and the broader Middle East in the years ahead.
As the U.S. focuses on big global challenges and gets away from American costs in blood and treasure in the Middle East, it must not walk away all together from supporting its allies and friends in the region and it should continue to encourage peaceful relations and security among us. Iraq and Kurdistan must not be skipped over during this period of regional uncertainty.
Bafel Talabani is president of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a leading Iraqi Kurdish political party.