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World

Opinion: A case for Kurdistan

By fighting effectively against the "Islamic State" in Iraq, Kurds are promoting their goal of establishing an independent Kurdistan, writes DW's Kersten Knipp.

The terrorist group "Islamic State" (IS) is paving the way to its "caliphate" with incredible amounts of violence. How long this entity will be able to last seems to be of little interest to its members. Every nation, even a caliphate, requires the long-term cooperation of other states, and after the atrocities the group has committed, it is unlikely to find many countries which would be willing to cooperate with it. For the time being, exactly how the religious group will survive will remain the caliph's secret.

Though it was not the terrorists' intent, IS has been promoting another promising project: the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq. The Kurds are currently the only ones who, with the help of the United States, can stand in the way of IS terrorists. This fact has earned them the sympathy of much of the world and given new life to considerations for an independent Kurdistan.

Reservations about a Kurdish state

There are, of course, many hurdles that still need to be overcome before an independent Kurdish state could emerge from the autonomous regions Kurds currently inhabit. Turkey currently has good relations with Kurds, based in no small part on economic ties. Despite this, Turkey still has a hard time accepting an independent Kurdistan. Ankara fears such a country could inspire the Kurdish minority in Turkey to also begin pushing for independence. Similar fears are common among leaders in Syria and Iran since any concrete discussions about an independent Kurdistan could call their national borders into question. Leaders of Western countries have also taken a reserved position, fearing that shifting borders - or even a border war - could destabilize the entire region.

Such fears are not unreasonable. The region is already highly instable - and it seems that pure chaos rules in stretches of it. Syria's civil war continues well into its third year. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has lost control of swaths of the country to IS fighters. Northern Syria is ruled by IS and it's caliphate has spread across the border into Iraq, and now parts of that country are crumbling as well. In northern Iraq, it's only regions controlled by the Kurds that have not fallen into IS' hands. Their fight against the "Islamic State," however, will eventually have a cost. That cost will inevitably include demands for additional steps towards independence.

A recipe for success?

In addition to their military successes, Iraqi Kurds also have a political argument when it comes to promoting their statehood. Home to Sunnis, Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Alevi, the Kurdish region of Iraq is the only part of the country where followers of several religions are able to live peacefully together.

Deutsche Welle Kersten Knipp

Deutsche Welle's Kersten Knipp

The multi-denominational model could have a positive influence on the entire region as sectarian logic has driven the region to the edge. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's short-sighted policies based on religious sectarianism led to the Iraqi state's implosion. While the civil war tearing Syria apart started without religious differences playing a major role, for some time it has increasingly developed into a proxy war with Iran, which supports Shitte fighters while Saudi Arabia provides backing to Sunnis. Leaders from both countries are increasingly seeing the disaster their religious fervor is causing.

Even Lebanon, which went to great pains to negotiate a delicate balance of power between Christians, Sunnis and Shiites, is at risk of getting caught in the riptide of the Syrian civil war.

Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan stands in contrast to the rest of the country's disastrous sectarianism. That has made the region one of the few winners of the recent and ongoing revolutions. It has carefully avoided getting involved in religious fervor and has developed into a prospering part of the country. Whether as an autonomous region or eventually an independent state, the Kurds are setting a good example by using a system that works.