February 22, 2024

Hamas’s shocking slaughter of over 1,200 Israelis on October 7 continues to have a strong impact, with numerous attacks by Iran’s proxies on American outposts in Iraq, Syria, and the Arabian Peninsula. But the worst is yet to come. The US is playing a careful game of tit-for-tat at the moment, as both Iran and America hope to avoid direct escalation. However, America’s regional strategy lacks the deterrent factor needed to stop Iran’s destabilization efforts. The US neglects the possibility of effective non-state proxy allies, such as the Kurds in Iraq and Syria. By galvanizing this anti-terror bulwark and expanding it to include Iran’s Kurds, the US could begin to push back against Iran’s agenda without increasing its military presence. One step could be to reverse the Obama administration’s designation of the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) as a terror organization, which was seen as a move to placate Iran. PJAK advocates for freedom and democracy in Iran, and has never targeted civilians. The US added PJAK to the list of terror groups alongside the IRGC in 2019, and PJAK has succeeded in inflicting casualties on the IRGC. Pressure from Iran and its allies has forced the Iranian Kurdish opposition into a de facto ceasefire, but they are preparing for the right window of opportunity to resume their offensive. PJAK is not the only Kurdish group facing off with Iran, and its terror designation harms all Kurds’ and the overall Iranian opposition’s ability to present a united front. Delisting PJAK could help underscore US seriousness and leverage without causing any threat to Turkey. Additionally, it could help build stronger American rapport with the PKK to further shift their tactics and open the door to brokering an eventual conclusion to the Turkey-PKK conflict.