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The Kurds Confront a New ‘Gang of Four’

Bernard-Henri Lévy

(The Wall Street Journal) – The Iraqi Kurds held a dignified, orderly referendum Sept. 25 that conformed with all the rules of a democratic vote. Afterward, they refrained from declaring the independence that is their right and that a century of treaties promised them.

President Masoud Barzani —who has stood with America and the West against Islamic State for two years—made this crucial point: In his mind, independence can come only after patient, sustained, possibly drawn-out negotiation with Baghdad.

And yet all the region’s dictatorships immediately unleashed their ire on him and his people. From the instant the results were announced, it was a race to see which one could go further to condemn, smother, block, embargo and imprison a small population whose only crime is to express the desire to be free, to flourish as an island of democracy and peace.

We have Iraq, a supposedly federal state that in recent years has observed none of its constitutional obligations to the Kurds—yet it has the nerve to declare the referendum unconstitutional.

We have Turkey, which has traduced the rule of law in its treatment of intellectuals, journalists, lawyers, dissidents and defenders of human rights—yet asserts its offense at the affront to legal form the Kurds allegedly committed by expressing their desire for orderly independence.

We have Iran, which has temporarily suspended the Sunni-Shiite quarrel, so urgent was the need to conclude with the Turks an alliance that will allow it to deal with the irredentism of its own Kurds.

And we have the Syrian regime, butcher of its own people, divider of its own nation, now touting the unity of Iraq and declaring the Kurdish referendum “unacceptable.”

Years ago, the phrase “Gang of Four” was coined to describe a cabal of leaders who believed that the Chinese revolution had not devoured enough of its children and that the massacre had to continue. Here we have a new Gang of Four composed of Haider al-Abadi, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Bashar al-Assad and Ali Khamenei, who, in their distinctive ways, are threatening an air blockade, a land blockade, an oil embargo, a military intervention. How long before we hear the threat of rivers of blood?

Sorriest of all, when the Kurds—who have faced threats before, but sense in the Gang of Four a threat to their existence—call for help, the world, with the U.S. in the lead, finds nothing to say, averts its eyes and in so doing takes the side of the dictators. The Peshmerga were all we could talk about when we needed them to fight Islamic State. But now that the Iraqi phase of the war is almost won, we are discarding them—a disposable ally.

True, French President Emmanuel Macron mentioned the rights of the Kurdish people when Prime Minister Abadi visited Paris. Mr. Macron declared that the Kurds have long been a friend of France.

But that is not enough. In the absence of a stern and solemn warning to the Gang of Four—without a clear reminder that there is only one side to the escalation and it is theirs, without the reaffirmation of the great principles that underpin international law and universal morality—the worst may come to pass.

And France would find it difficult to carry on, without America, a fight for the honor, dignity, and the larger interest of the democracies. Don’t they urgently need, in this region, an ally with the mettle of the Kurds?

So, are we facing Munich-grade appeasement? Are we agreeing that might makes right? Will we give in to the world’s consummate blackmailers? Is the West—and the U.S. in particular—making a colossal error of judgment in not grasping that there is something suicidal about abandoning a brave and loyal ally in favor of its adversaries?

Or perhaps the Kurdish people—who are not Arabs, are secular, believe in pluralist democracy, practice equal rights for women, and have consistently protected, rescued and taken in minorities—are one more of the world’s expendable peoples.

There is only one solution: to speak up; to say calmly but firmly that there is something absurd about allowing authoritarian regimes to preach constitutional law to a people who only yesterday were under their boot; and to ensure that the Iraqi authorities respond, without delay or precondition, to the offer of dialogue the Kurds have extended to them.

Mr. Lévy is director of the documentary films “Peshmerga” and “The Battle of Mosul.” Translated from French by Steven B. Kennedy.

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