A Special Relationship or a Special Status

April 12, 2012

The White House statement regarding relations with Iraqi Kurdistan is an important step in the right direction. That of recognizing the region as different — but not separate– from Iraq. However, it is still far from establishing a special relationship.

The statement came from the White House after President Obama joined a meeting between U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and President Massoud Barzani.

Although it said that the U.S. is “committed to a close and historic relationship with Kurdistan and the Kurdish people,” it clearly states that this commitment is “in the context of our strategic partnership with a federal, democratic and unified Iraq.”

In other words, there is no special status for Kurds with the United States and they are being asked to be good Iraqis. The second part of the White House statement adds that both President Obama and Vice President Biden “encouraged President Barzani’s continued engagement in the Iraqi political process, under the auspices of Iraq’s constitution.”

This is a clear message that the Kurds are expected to be part of the political process in Baghdad and that the special status they generally talk about has still not made it into U.S. policy on Iraq.

The only special status that the region enjoys with the U.S. is “high-level consultations between U.S. officials and representatives of the Kurdistan Regional Government,” according to the statement.

Regardless of what was said in private, the statement should serve as a reminder to the Kurds that the United States clearly does not grant them any special status and that the road to the U.S. still goes through Baghdad.

The statement should also remind Kurds that relations with the U.S. may not come through consultations or even cooperation at a military or security level. They have to come by demonstrating to the world that the Kurdish region is different from the rest of Iraq.

Showing the U.S. and others in the international community that the region is truly “the other Iraq” can be achieved by becoming a model for the values that the free world stands for. The Kurds should demonstrate clearly that they are adamant about good governance, rights and freedoms.

The statement of the White House indicates that America is shy about giving special status to the Kurds in Iraq. This is partly because of the anti-Kurdish lobby in Washington and partly because of America’s commitment to a “federal, democratic and unified Iraq.”

Recent reports from the likes of the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, in addition to stories of corruption in the region, do not help make the Kurdish region a special place. The new Kurdish government will have to create the special status for the region by improving on all its portfolios. Only then will the region be a special place and qualify for a special relationship.

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