Relations With Iraq's Kurds: Toward A Working Partnership


Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani will be visiting the White House on April 4 and meeting with President Barack Obama. Discussions are likely to involve Kurdish concerns about Iraq’s prime minister, but may largely focus on defining what Vice President Joseph Biden termed as a “special relationship” between the U.S. and Kurds during his visit to Arbil last December. Relations between the governments of the United States and Kurdish Region have grown and deepened considerably since the 2003 U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq. The Kurds continued to be staunch proponents of the American presence and ongoing engagement in Iraq.

Since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December 2011, however, the Kurdish leadership has grown uncertain about both U.S. commitment and the current status of their bilateral relationship. The authoritarian actions Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took against his political rivals in December 2011 have compounded their doubts. The U.S. needs to regain the KRG’s confidence and obtain its active support for the stability and unity of Iraq. Barzani’s visit gives the Obama administration an opportunity to help secure these interests.   

This paper provides historical and strategic context of U.S.-KRG relations, explains the status of the current relationship, and provides recommendations for utilizing a partnership with Arbil to secure and advance U.S. interests in Baghdad.