The Impact of Great Powers Competition on Kurdistan



Xi Jinping's visit to Saudi Arabia comes just five months after US President's visit to Riyadh. The two visits are another sign of the great conflict the world is witnessing, especially the powerful rivalry between China and the United States. This rivalry could change the shape of the power of the world.

While politics in Kurdistan revolves mainly around a narrow and recurring circle of internal conflict at a time when the great global conflict could change the security and political structure of the region, undoubtedly, this change will affect the four parts of Kurdistan.

Energy and Beyond

China is one of the world's largest oil buyers, especially from Saudi Arabia. China buys about a quarter of the total production of Saudi oil. Access to cheap and sustainable energy is essential for China's economy, whose GDP has grown from $1.34 trillion in 2001 to $17.7 trillion by 2021. China may agree with the Biden administration to try to lower energy prices. On December 4, OPEC+ decided to continue cutting 2 million barrels per day as it had agreed in April. This decision may be bad news for the United States and Europe, especially since they have decided to put more pressure on the Russian energy sector. The strong return of oil prices to world politics prompted leaders to turn again to the GCC. In addition to Biden and Jinping, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited the Gulf this year. On November 18, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, participated in Manama Forum and claimed that Russia had lost its largest customer (Europe).

Indeed, the energy factor is an essential part of the importance of the Middle East and especially the GCC to major world powers, but that is not all. Because at a time when the United States was talking about the need to pay more attention to the Indo-Pacific region and less to the Middle East, countries like China was strengthening relations with the countries of the ME. The activities and work of the Chinese-Arab summit, established in 2004, increased, and China provided loans to some of these countries. In addition, China has made a 25-year agreement with Iran and developing relations with Turkey and Israel. Of course, this is a part of the power struggle to reshape the world.

The Rivalry between the World's Great Powers

More than a decade after Fukuyama's famous thesis on "the end of history", which proclaimed the victory of the United States and liberalism in the world, another debate about the political world took place in the thesis, which is the end of unipolarity. The Biden administration confirmed in a strategic document on its national security that China is a real competitor to the US. Also, at NATO’s Summit this year, the members stressed that China has a project to gain more global strength.

Economically, although the United States is still the world's largest economy, its economy is growing slower than China. According to World Bank data, US GDP growth has doubled over the past two decades from $10.58 trillion in 2001 to $23 trillion by 2021. In contrast, China has increased by more than 15 times. Militarily, China has increased its military spending from $50 billion in 2001 to $270 billion. The United States has increased its military spending from $493 billion in 2001 to $768 billion by 2021. According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), by 2021, global military spending will reach $2.1 trillion for the first time. According to the report, three Asian powers represented by China, Russia and India are among the five countries with the highest military spending. China and the United States made 52% of the total spending.

In addition to the economic and military dimensions of the power competition between the United States and China, competition has increased between the two sides to build alliances and develop with other parties. Disputes over technological dominance and influence on the Pacific region have been among the most critical dimensions of the conflict now spreading in the Middle East.

Kurdistan in the World Powers Competition Equation

The most important outcome of the world's major powers' competition is the creation of a power vacuum in the Middle East, which has led to the movement of states and a new game of alliance and competition aimed at creating a balance of power. Although there is no complete power vacuum, the hesitation shown by the United States in the region since 2011, when the US shifted its interests towards the Pacific Ocean and especially when it reached its peak in 2019, the desire of regional countries to pursue a stricter policy towards the Kurds has increased.

Turkey and Iran had increased their military movements in the region, which reminds us of the Kurdish situation in the bipolar world, especially in the 1980s, when the repressive policies against the Kurds reached the highest levels and genocide was committed against them. More than 6,000 people have been killed in the fighting between the PKK and Turkey since 2015, while only a few years ago, there were peace talks, "Imrali" solution between Turkey and the PKK, like the one Turgut Özal failed to implement after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is the best example of how changes in the global balance of power affect the Kurdish issue.

Led by the United States and American hegemony worldwide, the two wars in Iraq and the war against ISIS paved the way for two Kurdish forces, one de jure and the other de facto, in the region. But at the same time, American hesitation and the struggle of significant powers began during Obama's administration, and regional efforts increased to limit the Kurd's influence.

Turkey has launched three large-scale ground operations in western Kurdistan and is now threatening a fourth. The borders of the Kurdistan region have been further reduced since 2017. Iran has carried out no fewer than three large-scale air strikes in the past few months alone. Its response to the protests in eastern Kurdistan, "Rojhelat", was bloody. After the mid-nineties, Iran stopped attacking eastern Kurdistan Opposition Parties and was trying to develop its relations with the Kurdistan Region.

Of course, the emergence of another wave of conflict between the parties in the Kurdistan Region is an internal matter produced by the world's changes. The opportunities for the regional countries to let the Kurds confront themselves and involve them in a limited local game have increased, while the US and West aim in unifying the Peshmerga is going very slowly.


The world is changing, and Kurdistan is passing through a sensitive stage. Xi Jinping's visit is a clear sign of the changes that are about to happen. Important players in the world and the region are adjusting to the intense rivalry between China and the United States. Of course, a wave of anti-Kurdish politics broke out in this transitional period in the region. Of course, this is not the 1980s, and if Kurdish politics change within a closed circle, it could be a threat and an opportunity.

It is estimated that the number of Kurds has tripled at least since the 1980s, their political and military capabilities have changed, people's understanding and worldview have changed, and most importantly, the countries surrounding the Kurds have more internal problems. At the same time, the nature of politics and influence is different from the past. After all, every change can bring opportunities or risks, but the winner is to avoid repeating past mistakes!

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