Over the weekend, I heard from a couple of friends in the region about goings on there. The first is from a journalist buddy based in Iraqi Kurdistan working for a major newsmagazine. (I don’t want to scotch his access, so I won’t print his name.) The second is from Aykut Uzun, my driver, translator and fixer when we were being tailed by the Turkish police south of Diyarbakir.
My journo buddy tells me that I’m “not missing much so far.” Also, the Kurds are overwhelmingly pro-war. “Talk to the Kurds about the reckless geopolitical games W is playing and you are met with a blank stare and a story about Halabja,” he writes. “Ask the KDP, PUK or INC about the same thing and you get a lecture about the nefarious interests of the French.”
He also provides good logistical information and some alarming news. The Syrian and Turkish borders are closed right now, which I knew, but the route through Iran is open — for freakishly huge bribes. (He mentions $5,000.) There’s also a rumor that Turkey is about to open the border, but that is, as yet, just a rumor.
Aykut in Ankara is more pessimistic. He works mostly as a tour guide, for which he got a four-year degree and it’s usually good money, since tourism is the biggest industry in Turkey. Not now.
“Due to this fuc…g war, tourism business is very bad in Turkey now,” he writes. “So I can’t say that personally I am doing well.” He does mention the rumor that Turkey will open the border, but it may be only for five days. Then he comes to the Turkish preparations for war and America’s deal-making.
“I don’t give any chance to the possibility of Turkey’s rejection of U.S. troops,” he writes. (Well, it looks like he’s right. Monday may see the deal consummated.) “If she [Turkey] doesn’t allow, the economic program that has been continued with IMF after the last crisis in 2001 will be damaged very badly. As everybody knows, the U.S. is very efficient [he means influential] with the IMF, and Turkey needs the help of it.”
It seems Turkey is about to overestimate U.S. patience, but still I believe U.S. needs Turkey for this war. The other possibilities are much more expensive and difficult… Some analysts claim that U.S. can do the operation without Turkey, but this would cost 40 or 50 billion dollars more to her. So you see we are fair. We want half of this… Turkey is driving such a hard bargain, because we took a big lesson [I think he means “loss”] from the first Gulf War. U.S. had promised us to reimburse our losses which would occur after the war. You are the one who knows Turkey’s losses. You talked with the people in southeast Turkey. Now the Turkish government wants a “written agreement.”
After he wrote this email, the Turks and Americans seemed close to an agreement that would give Turkey $5 billion grants and $10 million in loans, with a bridge loan immediately available to help pump the Turkish economy once the shooting starts.
It’s worth noting that the cash figures mentioned in the Times story are less than were being reported earlier this week. And the story never comes out and says a deal for Iraqi Kurdistan is in the works, but considering the quotes from Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis, it’s pretty obvious that’s what’s happening.
“A Kurdistan should not be set up,” Yakis said. The Times also heavily reports Turkish concerns regarding Iraqi Kurdistan. Two concerns were that U.S. weapons don’t fall into Kurdish hands and that Turkish troops be under Turkish command (This is a big one, and contradicts reports from earlier this week that Turkish troops would be under American command.)
Things are quickly getting nasty in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“No one wants another fight, of course,” Hoshiyar Zebari, spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Party, one of the two main Kurdish political groups, told reporters in Arbil on Sunday.
“But if there’s a forced incursion, done under the pretext of ‘I’m going to give you forced aid’, then believe me there will be uncontrolled clashes,” he said.
“And it will be bad for the image of the United States, Britain and other countries who want to help Iraq, to see two of their allies, Turkey and Kurdistan, at each other’s throats.”
In Tehran, Iranian Kurd parliamentarians also voiced concern about Turkish intentions in Iraq and accused Ankara of seeking to control Kirkuk and Mosul, once part of the Ottoman empire.
The 22-strong Iranian Kurdish parliamentary faction wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, European Union leaders and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.
“Who in the world does not know that Turks have a desire for Kirkuk oil and annexation of Kirkuk and Mosul to their soil?” the letters said. “Authorizing a Turkish military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan means authorizing genocide and termination of Iraq’s territorial integrity.”
And as things get nastier in Kurdistan, Iraqi National Congress frontman Ahmed Chalabi is getting increasingly bitter over what looks to be a rapidly decreasing role for himself and his organization.
Two weeks ago, the White House said Chalabi will be leader of a transitional coalition government that will take over from Gen. Tommy Franks when the shooting stops. However, the Washington Post reported a few days ago that “Once security was established and weapons of mass destruction were located and disabled, a U.S. administrator would run the civilian government and direct reconstruction and humanitarian aid.” Chalabi is, predictably, distressed by this turn of events. In an op-ed for Daily Telegraph, he wrote, “The leadership and governance of Iraq is, without exception, an exclusive right of the Iraqi people … There must be no gap in the sovereignty over Iraq by Iraqis. We reject notions of foreign military government or United Nations administration for Iraq.”
He continues and writes that his transitional government should assume sovereignty “the moment” Saddam is removed, but admitted that his government would be willing to work with the U.S. military to establish order, secure the border, etc. He dismisses the idea of Iraq as an Arab Yugoslavia as a “myth” borne of the “convenient preconception that fits the Western image of unruly and warring tribes.”
“There is no record in the history of our land of a Shia village attacking a Sunni village or an Arab quarter attacking a Kurdish quarter,” he writes. (Yes, but there is a lot on record about Kurds attacking other Kurds when the PUK and the KDP warred over smuggling tariffs in 1995-96.)
It should be noted that the Guardian story reports him as angry over the installation of a military governor, presumably Franks. If the Iraqi opposition objects to a military governor post-Saddam, they likely will be even less happy with a U.S. civilian administrator as a further step to be taken before the country is handed over to the INC.
Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Iran-backed Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), who recently ordered 5,000 SCIRI troops into Iraqi Kurdistan, said Iraqis would resist, perhaps violently, any attempt to impose a government on them.
“If the Americans do this, they will discover this is a mistake,” Hakim said.
So what’s the White House’s game? Why are these “plans” and “blueprints” getting leaked especially when the media reports of the plans are sending the Iraqi opposition into a grand mal tizzy?
The Iraqi opposition, divided as it is, doesn’t appear qualified enough to run a taco stand, much less run a country that’s been devastated by two, coming up on three, wars and 12 years of sanctions since 1980. And that’s pretty much been the State Department’s objection to the Iraqi opposition all along. Furthermore, Chalabi is distrusted by the Department of State, the CIA and most of the rest of the foreign policy establishment. He seems a bit too eager, for someone convicted in Jordan of financial fraud and sentenced to 22 years of hard labor, to get his hands on the levers of power — and the purse strings — of oil-rich Iraq. But the civilian hawks running the war planning, such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, are big-time backers of Chalabi. Could the leaking of the rebuilding ideas be part of the ongoing war between Colin Powell at State and Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz at the DoD and Perle at the Defense Policy Board? Since the administration of Iraq would, presumably, fall to the State Department after the military is done with it, perhaps the goal may be to discredit the INC — and Chalabi in particular — so that State, which never wanted this headache to begin with, can have a freer hand in running the place without having to deal with the INC.