Irredentism is a poli-sci term which refers to the propensity of Balkanized states to reconstitute themselves as part of the larger political entity to which they once belonged. Vladimir Putin is an irredentist to the extent that he would essentially like to bring back the U.S.S.R. (as is evidenced by his aggressive actions in the Ukraine).
The problem with Iraq, despite being the cradle of civilization, is that it never really was a political entity with a history of sociopolitical homogeneity. Iraq was a creation, the troubled legacy of British colonialism. It's basically a tribal society which has always been divided. So when President Obama considers the once unthinkable return to interventionism in Iraq -- igniting airstrikes against ISIS in the hopes of preventing an al-Qaeda type insurgency (actually ISIS is a more radical group which had been expelled from al-Qaeda), he should think about the potential nominees. Nouri al-Maliki supported Shiite interests, but who is to say that more moderate Sunni cadres will be any more dependable? The Sunnis were the faction from which Saddam Hussein emanated. Kurdish leaders used the impending overrunning of Kirkuk by ISIS to take control of the city and it's hard to think that ISIS could easily threaten the well-organized Kurdish military. As The Washington Post pointed out, Iraqi Kurdistan is emerging as one of the more stable parts of the country ("Amid turmoil, Iraq's Kurdish region is laying foundation for independent state," 6/12/14). Why not put all our cards on the Kurds? Kurdish society, with its relatively more democratic institutions seems like a perfect proxy for the kind of democratic initiatives the US supports. While the Kurds have a checkered history when it comes to human rights and the rights of women in particular, ("Rights report cites abuses in Kurdish Iraq," CNN, 4/14/14), Kurdistan could be to Iraq what Israel, in a good sense, is to the Middle East in general. Instead of courting further international sanctions and the disapprobation of those elements of the Iraqi population that will be endangered by air strikes against ISIS, why not simply shore up Kurdistan? It may sound like the old cold war policy of spheres of influence, but as we can see in the instance of Kirkuk, a strong Kurdistan seems to be the best insurance against making Iraq into a major outpost of Islamic extremism.
This was recently posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture|