29.10.2013 – Hawar Abdulrazaq – BasNews (Erbil): US political expert has warned that the biggest challenges faced by the Kurds are their own internal conflicts. Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, told BasNews that in his view the Kurds of Iraq have made a lot of progress: “More than ever before, Kurds are closer to independence”.
“I never expected the progress I found in Erbil, there should be a sign at the airport saying ‘Excuse us while we’re under construction’, because everywhere you look there are constructions and new projects. This is a sign that Kurds control their own destiny,” said Cook. “I think the changes over the last decade have helped the Kurds, but the question is, can the Kurds take this opportunity to achieve their dream?” he asks. “The biggest challenge in front of Kurds is internal conflicts and how they will solve the tensions that exist between the political parties,” Cook added.
An example of disunity highlighted by Cook involved his journey from the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is largely controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, to Suliaymania, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan stronghold. Cook said he noticed the uniforms of the peshmerga (Kurdish army) change depending on whether he was in a KDP or PUK controlled area. Regarding US policy in Iraq, Cook said that after the war in Iraq in 2003, US has not had a set policy.
“The US didn’t know a lot about the complexity of Iraqi politics. They thought that they could just hand back Iraq to the Iraqis, but when that didn’t work out the US didn’t know what to do,” Cook added. Cook also said that the US made a mistake in withdrawing from Iraq, but also thinks they didn’t have other options.
He also spoke about Iran’s policies in the region and its influence in Iraq.
“Iran knows the region’s politics better than the US. They know which politicians will preserve Iran’s interests in Iraq,” he said. Ultimately, Cook believes that Iraq will fragment, but says that no one wants to be held responsible for it. “The problem is not the US. Neither the Shiite, Sunni or Kurds want to be held responsible for breaking Iraq, but Iraq is fragmenting by itself,” Cook explained.Cook is an expert on the Middle East; Politics in the Arab world; US-Middle East policy; Turkish politics and civil-military relations in the Middle East.