When the Iraq war went down a decade ago, one posited outcome was to divide Iraq into Arab Sunni, Arab Shia and Kurdish areas. The idealistic folks among us, including Dubya's foreign policy team, thought that was too pessimistic and too tribal and that Iraqis should be able to put those petty differences aside and have one central government.
Well, fast forward to today and we're on the verge of having that tripartite solution emerging as the jihadi Sunni ISIS group grabs the traditionally Sunni areas including Saddam's hometown of Tikrit and heads for Baghdad as we go to press.
On a somewhat positive note, Kurdish irregulars have headed south and snagged Kirkuk. It's a big oil-producing region that's largely Kurdish but outside of the autonomous Kurdish area in northern Iraq. Rather than have ISIS snag it as they run amok, the Kurds have told the Iraq army to take a hike and look after their own.
Kurds have been fairly friendly to the US, as the US essentially set up a Saddam-free zone after the Gulf War in the north and the Kurds kept most of that autonomy after the second go-round kicked out the Baathists. Unlike the rest of Iraq, where the locals didn't care that much for the US, a free-standing Kurdistan would likely be US-friendly and a possible ally on NATO's southern edge.
Backing an independent Kurdistan would tick the Turks off, since there is a large Kurdish area of Turkey that's been traditionally repressed (but a bit less so in the last few decades, if memory serves), so the geopolitics of the Kurds going from autonomous to independent would be touchy for the US and NATO to back. The Iranians wouldn't be all that happy either, since they too have a Kurdish minority, but with the nuclear detente deteriorating, there seems to be little downside in playing nice on that front.
There's going to be some cold realpolitik to wade through in the weeks to come, as we have an al-Qaeda-Shiite brawl sprawling over Iraq and Syria (and possibly Lebanon) where we have little at state on either side. An Assad-Iran-Hezbollah-Iraqi central government coalition has little to root for, and a radicalized ISIS team and less-radicalized Sunnis and Christians in Lebanon doesn't tug at the heart-strings too much, either.
The Kurds are one of the few friendlies in the area and could use some help. The whole shooting match could use some help, but the Kurds have a more-manageable starting point than the others.