What does Trump’s ‘America First’ mean for the Kurdistan Regional Government?

Kurds should be realistic about the new US president, writes Ruwayda Mustafah


What kind of relationship will the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq have with the new US administration?

Kurdish officials are currently in the ‘wait-and-see’ phase, although the Kurdistan Region’s president Masoud Barzani recently said in an interview that he hopes for greater support.

It is essential that Kurdish politicians and Kurdistan’s representatives in the United States don’t buy into naive narratives about how this administration will favour Kurds because ‘we deserve their support’ or ‘the time is right’.

The new administration and its foreign policy does not seek to work or promote the interests of other countries or regional governments without direct benefit to America.

Donald Trump suggested that the cost of intervening in Iraq should have included taking the country’s petroleum reserves. This would, in effect, also have included the Kurdistan Region’s oil reserves.

It’s noteworthy to point out that during President Trump’s election campaign, he consistently claimed that he was opposed to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which toppled the Baathist dictator Saddam Hussein.

The Kurds have been largely in favour of the invasion of Iraq, which led to a stronger Kurdistan Region with greater autonomous powers.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has responded to President Trump’s comments with caution, not wanting to anger Iraq’s key partner in anti-ISIS efforts. In an interview with Reuters, Abadi said:

“It wasn’t clear what he meant. Did he mean in 2003 or to prevent the terrorists from seizing Iraq’s oil? Iraq’s oil is constitutionally the property of the Iraqis.”

Here’s what the Kurdish people and entire Middle Eastern community need to understand. President Trump has repeatedly said that he will put American interests before all others — in fact, during his inauguration speech, he said:

“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.”

What does this mean when it comes to US policy towards Kurdish people?

The Kurdish government and its politicians should be extremely careful with their handling of relations with the United States.

This new administration is unpredictable, and will not hesitate to dismantle or back down on promises towards Kurdish people for the sake of putting their own interests first — remember, it’s ‘America first’ from now on, principles and ethics aside.

The main advantage of Kurdish politicians, and in fact the Kurdistan Regional Government’s diplomatic relations, is that it simply seeks to work for itself.

The Kurdish leadership has consistently stressed that it seeks to have good relations with foreign countries, and has never involved itself in the domestic issues of any country, apart from offering to act as counsellor in conflict-ridden instances.

In maintaining this approach, the Kurds must seek to strengthen regional relations as opposed to relying on Trump’s administration in hope of support towards a Kurdish state.

It’s worthwhile to remember that the neighbours of a potential Kurdish state include Iran, Turkey and Syria — three countries that have a host of complex problems, particularly in handling their significant Kurdish population.

Ruwayda Mustafah is a British-Kurdish student, researcher, academic and author of ‘A Journey to Kurdistan

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