The other reason why Washington begrudges Kurdistan's right to exist is because it doesn't want to provoke the regional powers, Turkey above all. The U.S. interest in avoiding a war over the breakup of Iraq is clear, but it is not obvious why the Bush administration should oppose Kurdistan's existence within a federal Iraq, or indeed its expansion to include Kirkuk district and city.
After all, the Kurds' two major parties are committed to a democratic, binational, multiethnic, and religiously tolerant Iraq. They are both secular. Given that Kurdistan is by far the most stable and best-developed region in Iraq, it should be the building block for those in the U.S. and the United Nations intent on aiding democratic reconstruction. Washington should note that because Saddam Hussein used Palestinians in his repression of Kurds, popular Kurdish sentiment is not sharply anti-Israel in the way that Arab Iraq is. Turkey's politicians know that a full invasion of Iraq by their army would terminate their prospects of entry into the European Union. That binds their hands.
The Bush administration knows it cannot break up Kurdistan as the Arab liberals want -- and as Turkey, Syria and Iran would prefer. To do so would create chaos. The U.S. is, however, leaving Kirkuk -- and the details of a federation -- to the peoples of Iraq to negotiate -- having abandoned the Pentagon's preposterous plan for an American to write the constitution of Iraq.
No one knows how the negotiations will play out. With many Arabs preferring an 18-unit Iraq, and with Kurds preferring a two-unit entity, a compromise might be reached somewhere -- say with five regions, Kurdistan as one entity, Baghdad as another, and three other Arab-dominated regions in the northwest and the south. Kirkuk might be a special power-sharing unit within Kurdistan, while Mosul might be a special power-sharing unit within an Arab-dominated region.
Three things are certain. Kurds will remain unified behind the idea of one Kurdistan, with the right to decentralize power within their region if they so wish. Kurdish parties want to include Kirkuk district and city in their region -- to redress, fairly, Hussein's ethnic cleansing and settler policies -- and to have appropriate power-sharing arrangements with the Turkmen and Arab populations. Finally, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan will negotiate jointly, seeking a binational, democratic, multi-ethnic and religiously tolerant federal Iraq, knowing that their own supporters would prefer to have an independent state. Washington, Turkey and the Arab Iraqis should be grateful to have such an accommodating Kurdish leadership, but they won't be caught saying so.
No one has the power and the will to remove Kurdistan's hard-won autonomy. Whether begrudging recognition can be succeeded by something more harmonious is not known, but a period of gracious silence from Washington on its constitutional preferences would be prudent.