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World

Repercussions Of The U.S. Withdrawal From Syria For The Kurdish Region Of Iraq

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Kurds and Americans have had an interdependent relationship. The Kurds have relied on the U.S. for security while the U.S. had relied on the Kurds as allies. We've been reminded of this relationship ever since the president withdrew U.S. troops from Syria two weeks ago. And there are few political leaders in the Middle East who know what it's like to work with the Americans better than Hoshyar Zebari. Zebari is Kurdish. He was Iraq's longest-serving foreign minister, starting in 2003 when he worked closely with the U.S. to build the new Iraq. Welcome.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Thank you.

CHANG: Tell me what went through your mind today when you heard President Trump say, let someone else fight over this long blood-stained sand?

ZEBARI: Well, I believe today's President Trump's declaration of victory is fanciful, really.

CHANG: Fanciful.

ZEBARI: There is no victory. The Kurds are not safer, and the United States have pulled back from its commitment toward the Kurds, toward the fighting ISIS, toward maintaining the U.S. regional and global role in the region. But he has just handed over northeast Syria and the U.S. foreign policy to its adversaries on a silver plate.

CHANG: I want to talk about a word that you used - commitment. You say that the U.S. is pulling away from its commitment. The war in Iraq set in motion a series of events that, yes, did remove a dictator that a lot of people thought should go. But it also, some would say, created immense instability in the Middle East. So let me ask you, what does the U.S. ultimately owe in that region?

ZEBARI: Well, the United States should stand for its values, for American dream, for its influence in the region. And the Kurds have been...

CHANG: But what does that mean?

ZEBARI: The Kurds have been all along loyalist allies and friends. But the U.S. has lost a great deal of its influence and prestige in the region in the eyes of its allies.

CHANG: I understand that you had a chance to meet with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, two weeks ago. What do you believe Russia's intentions are in that region now?

ZEBARI: Well, we advised them because we anticipated, really, that the U.S. commitment is not reliable. And we ask him please to do something to create some dialogue between the Syrian Kurds of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Assad regime.

CHANG: But do you believe the Kurds can trust the Russians to facilitate that dialogue?

ZEBARI: Well - but they are a dominant actor and player in Syria. I mean, the recent agreement between Erdogan and Putin in Sochi clarify that they are there, you see, to fill the vacuum.

CHANG: So now Russia is the player that you will have to deal with.

ZEBARI: Well, we have to deal with a very complicated situation. But this long sand stained with blood is really not in the interest of the United States. The United States has been there after the Second World Wars and the Suez Canal (unintelligible) the Beirut bombing of the Marines. And every time they left, they came back. And it is an area of vital interest to the United States.

CHANG: How does this entire situation end well for the Kurds? Do you think it can?

ZEBARI: Well, I think it can end well. The Kurds have been very loyal allies in fighting ISIS and maintaining peace and stability, not threatening the national security of neighboring countries. And the United States, these days, have very few allies in the Middle East. So the question is for the administration, really, do want allies or you don't want?

CHANG: Hoshyar Zebari is a former foreign minister for Iraq. Thank you very much for speaking with us today.

ZEBARI: Most welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.