There have been two truck bombs in Kurdistan in the last month. Kurdistan is the northern region of Iraq that has been largely autonomous since the first Gulf War. It is peaceful, politically unified, and its economy is booming. In other words, its the only success story of the entire campaign. What is the significance of these recent bombing attacks by insurgents? I can think of three possibilities.
1. These particular insurgents have no greater strategic objectives, and are just attacking targets of opportunity - there is no real significance to the attacks. This is a possibility. We can't assume that all of our enemies have ulterior motives to every attack. It would, however, definitely be a mistake to assume they don't. Hence the following two possibilities.
2. This is part of the Kurd-Arab dispute over Kirkuk. Kirkuk is a city sitting on top of a massive oil field. In the 1980s, Saddam kicked out all of the Kurds and settled Arabs in the area. Now the Kurds want their homes back. The city is ethnically diverse, like Baghdad, and is probably going to be fought over at some point or another. Yet, these bombings didn't happen in Kirkuk. Maybe the insurgents (probably Sunni Arabs) are sending the Kurds a message of what to expect in the future if they don't cede Kirkuk?
3. The insurgents are trying to influence the American government. This is what first came to my mind when I saw the news headline. Not many people are talking about "staying the course" anymore. The 'surge' appears to be failing. What is plan B? Some people are saying we could keep forces in Kurdistan, other people are saying we should get all US troops out of Iraq completely, including out of Kurdistan. Perhaps the insurgents are trying to strengthen the hand of the latter group of politicians. If Kurdistan can be portrayed as being instable like the rest of Iraq, then redeployment of US forces to the north looks like a less viable option.
We should redeploy to Kurdistan. Complete withdrawal would be a huge mistake.
It has become clear that we can't referee the civil war in Baghdad and the other Arab regions of Iraq. But there is no reason to not station a sizeable US force in Kurdistan, not unlike what we have in Afghanistan to chase the Taleban. From our position up north, we can do three major things. One, we can have a local base from which to chase Al Qaeda. Two, we can prevent invasion by Iraq's neighbors (Saudi Arabia and Iran in particular), helping to prevent a wider regional war. Three, and perhaps most importantly, we can negotiate a cease fire between the factions after the civil war has run its course a bit.
The last time you heard any politician talk about Iraq, what word was repeated more often than any other? Diplomacy. Diplomacy. Diplomacy. But to have any diplomatic leverage, you need to have force backing it up. Thats why nobody cares what Europe says anymore. The European Union has greater economic power than the US, but without anything hard to back it up, they are ignored. Having a force in Kurdistan gives the U.S. a huge amount of diplomatic leverage. We'll regret not having it, once the ethnic cleansing starts.