A pro-Kurdish advocacy group with a powerhouse list of advisers has hired its first lobbying firm to urge the Joe Biden administration and the new Congress to keep the Kurds top of mind when formulating Middle East policy.
New York-based nonprofit Justice for Kurds hired law firm Covington & Burling to “advocate for policies promoting the interests of the Kurdish people,” who are spread across several Middle East countries including Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Lobbying on the account are former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and attorney Stephen Rademaker, a former assistant secretary of State under President George W. Bush.
A Franco-American initiative, Justice for Kurds was formed in 2017 by celebrity French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy and American billionaire investor and Electrum Group chairman Thomas Kaplan. Its bipartisan advisory council has more than 100 members, including Berman himself as well as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former US Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and retired Gen. David Petraeus.
The lobbying hire comes as the group hopes that Biden will be friendlier to the Syrian Kurds than his predecessor Donald Trump. The former president drew Justice for Kurds’ ire with his October 2019 decision to pull US forces out of northeast Syria and leave the way open for Turkey to attack America’s erstwhile Syrian Kurdish allies in the fight against the Islamic State (Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a terrorist group).
“The Trump administration was disregarding the interests of the Kurdish people in Syria,” Rademaker told Foreign Lobby Report. “I think now that we have a new administration, there’s opportunity to hopefully correct some of that and make sure that the traditional US support for the Kurdish people throughout the region continues.”
Rademaker added that his firm’s work for the nonprofit will largely consist of reminding the administration and members of Congress of the long relationship between the US and the Kurds.
“There’s strong bipartisan support for the Kurdish people, and there has been for decades,” Rademaker said. “It’s very hard to find a Republican or a Democrat in Washington that has anything but good things to say about the Kurds.”
While Rademaker declined to go into lobbying specifics, Justice for Kurds made its priorities last year on the one-year anniversary of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s Syria intervention with a two-page center spread in The New York Times declaring it “time to break with Erdogan.”
“Our stalwart comrades-in-arms … were betrayed to a tyrant whose imperial ambitions extend, beyond crushing the Kurds, to harassing practically all of Turkey’s neighbors in a bid to re-establish a new Ottoman Caliphate,” Levy and Kaplan wrote. “We will continue to denounce this menace until there truly is justice of Kurds.”
The group joins a bevy of Kurdish groups lobbying in Washington.
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The Syrian Democratic Council, the political wing of the Syrian Kurdish forces that battled Turkey in 2019, beefed up its Washington presence last summer by hiring Kurdish advocate Ayal Frank and his firm AF International. The group’s priorities include ensuring that US sanctions against the Bashar al-Assad regime don’t bite their autonomous Rojava region of northeast Syria too hard.
Meanwhile the US office of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) welcomed Justice for Kurds’ new lobbying push.
“Justice for Kurds advocates for all Kurds and is independent of any Kurdish entity,” KRG representative to the US Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman told Foreign Lobby Report in an email. “There are many Americans who support the Kurds and can’t always find a way to express it. Organizations like Justice for Kurds help them do that.”
She said the KRG’s priorities under the Biden administration include continuing and bolstering the security partnership against the Islamic State, strengthening bilateral diplomatic engagement and broadening economic relations. Erbil also has a long-running dispute with Baghdad over its share of oil national revenues.
Julian Pecquet contributed to this report.