Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

U.S. perspectives on Kurdish independence from Iraq, 1972-2011

U.S. perspectives on Kurdish independence from Iraq, 1972-2011 Thumbnail


Kurdish attempts in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, to gain self-rule represent a potentially serious source of conflict and instability in the region. Since the creation of Iraq in 1921, Iraqi Kurds have struggled to achieve autonomy as their minimum goal and independence as their ultimate objective. And, indeed, Iraqi Kurds have a compelling case for statehood.

Secessionist conflicts constitute a challenge to the American hegemonic position in the Middle East and the Kurdish case remains a central concern for the US. However, US. policy towards Iraqi Kurdistan has been ambivalent, if not contradictory, in that it has supported de facto autonomy for the Kurds of Iraq, while continually stopping short of supporting their independence.

This highlights how the issue of Kurdish independence is problematic for both the US. and the Kurds themselves. This thesis sets out to consider the extent to which concern for regional stability determines US. attitudes towards the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan. It does so by examining aspects of US. policy in relation to Kurdish independence from Iraq, both from a historical and a current perspective. It looks at the nature of Kurdish nationalist ambitions in Iraq and the effectiveness of Kurdish promotion of these ambitions. Further, it considers US. policy options for the future of Iraqi Kurdistan, including the possibility of endorsing an independent Kurdish state.

The thesis draws a number of conclusions. Importantly, it is clear that US. policy towards the Kurds has to be seen in the context of US. attitudes towards Iraq more generally. This policy, moreover, has been influenced by weaknesses and divisions in the Kurds' own approach to independence. It would appear that, while a desire for regional stability underpins US. policy in the area, specific decisions have been taken by Washington on a pragmatic, case-by-case basis.

Finally, my research has revealed that developments since the 2003 US. invasion of Iraq have raised concerns about the unity of Iraq while provoking greater expectations among Iraqi Kurds for fully-fledged self-determination. The US. response to these developments has been to favour a form of federalism which would accommodate Kurdish aspirations rather than full independence.


Downloadable Citations