Michael J. Kelly J.D.
Professor of Law
Phone, studio and Skype interviews available
Michael J. Kelly is associate dean and professor of Law at Creighton University. An expert on genocide and the Kurds, Kelly has consulted with the Kurdish government on their constitution and is the author of the book "Ghosts of Halabja: Saddam Hussein & the Kurdish Genocide" (2008) and the article "The Kurdish Regional Constitution within the Framework of the Iraqi Federal Constitution: A Struggle for Sovereignty, Oil, Ethnic Identity, and the Prospects for a Reverse Supremacy Clause" in vol. 114:3 of the Penn State Law Review (2010)
Professor Kelly can discuss several areas on international law, genocide and the Kurds:
U.S. airstrikes against ISIS and air drops for trapped Yazidi and Christian minorities in northern Iraq today are legal under the 1948 Genocide Convention, which obligates member states to prevent and punish genocide. U.S. military actions to protect these minority groups are in furtherance of the “prevent genocide” prong of that multilateral treaty. Over 200,000 members of these groups are now fleeing into Iraqi Kurdistan as ISIS advances on Erbil, the Kurdish capital city.
· The U.S. has a long-standing obligation to protect the Kurds, and it will not allow the Kurdish capital to fall to ISIS. Ever the U.S. encouraged the Kurdish uprising of 1991 but then failed to support them when Saddam Hussein’s forces crushed it, American foreign policy has been focused on protecting and supporting the Kurds. The Kurdish government and people are the most ardent non-Jewish supporters of the U.S. in the Middle East.
· It is time for the U.S. and the international community to make good on a 95-year old promise that the Kurds have their own state. Like the Armenians, the Kurds were promised a homeland in the aftermath of World War I, but the Western powers failed to make that happen and renegotiated the peace in the Middle East after the rise of Ataturk and the consolidation of power by Lenin. Consequently, their dreams of a Kurdish state evaporated.
· The Kurdish people are a population of 30 million spread over an area the size of France, but they still do not have a country of their own. The Kurds of northern Iraq have functionally been a state since the U.S. established a “no-fly” zone over their territory to exclude Saddam Hussein’s forces from massacring them after the 1991 uprising. While a de facto state with an independently functioning government, economy, border control, military, and educational and healthcare system, the Kurds remain formally part of the Iraqi federation.
· Last month, the Israeli Prime Minister called for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state. Israel and Kurdistan are natural allies against various combinations of Arab Sunni and Shiite factions that have long been arrayed against them. Kurdistan has recently begun shipping petroleum through a pipeline out of Turkey from the reserves it controls, and Israel has received four of these shipments.
· Located in the mountainous convergence of Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, and independent Kurdistan would be a strategically important platform for U.S. foreign diplomatic and defense policy in the Middle East and would establish a new player in the region on the international stage that could alter the formula in favor of stability in that region. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. policy has favored a unified Iraqi state with a federal power-sharing structure; not independence for Kurdistan. The time has come to abandon this outmoded idea. Facts on the ground have dramatically shifted and American foreign policy on Iraq must catch up to this new reality. The Maliki government is collapsing and Iraq is reforming itself into a new configuration now. The U.S. needs to be ahead of this reformation, not behind it trying to support the preservation of what is quickly becoming a failed state.
· Territorial guarantees must be made reassuring Turkey and Iran that the Kurdish areas in those states would not join a new Kurdistan state. Turkey and Iran have traditionally been opposed to an independent Kurdish state carved out of northern Iraq for fear of losing part of their own territory. Yet both have developed lucrative cross-border trade relationships during the past 20 years with Kurdistan and have come to view the area as stable and reliable. Syria has also opposed an independent Kurdistan for the same reasons, but that is irrelevant at this point.