Kurds will Keep autonomy

Kurds will keep their autonomy as the U.S. says working out the details of Iraqi federalism is just too hard to do before June 30.

The Bush administration has decided the “Kurds can keep their special status”:http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/05/international/middleeast/05KURD.html in Iraq, because the accelerated timetable for handing over sovereignty by June 30 is too quick to solve the problem.

“Once we struck the Nov. 15 agreement, there was a realization that it was best not to touch too heavily on the status quo,” said an administration official. “The big issue of federalism in the Kurdish context will have to wait for the Iraqis to resolve. For us to try to resolve it in a month or two is simply too much to attempt.”

Indeed, this will be a thorny issue. There is widespread fear that a loose federation — what the Kurds are demanding — could lead to independence for Iraqi Kurdistan, triggering instability throughout the region. Turkey is constantly making growling noises that the Iraqis Kurds should be kept on a tight leash in Baghdad through a centralized government.
This decision basically formalizes the current status quo, with the Kurds having their own government that is more or less independent of Baghdad. They currently have control over their borders with Syria, Iran and Turkey, their own security forces with the _peshmergas_ and substantial ability to collect taxes and other revenues. Where Kirkuk fits into all this is unclear, but the Kurds want it. As Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party “said:”:http://www.krg.org/docs/mb-federalism-kurdistan-dec03.asp

The existing [self-rule] situation of the Kurds is their legitimate right and it is based on the right to self-determination, which is part of international law. After 12 years of self-rule, without the control of the Baghdad government, the Kurds will not accept less than their existing situation. They aspire for the inclusion of the other Kurdish areas in the Kurdistan region, which, before the liberation of Iraq, were subject to the policy of demographic change by the [former] central authority.
Those who are interested in the issue of a united Iraq, should know very well that it would be difficult for them to convince the Kurdish people after all these tragedies, ordeals and displacement policies to remain deprived from their rights in Iraq. This makes it essential that the brother Arabs respect the Kurdish decision and would not be hesitant regarding [the fulfilment of] any right of the Kurdish rights in Iraq. By this I mean that there are now some Iraqi and foreign sides that, to some extent, point to the federalism of governorates, which is rejected by the Kurds, because the Kurdish people have not been struggling throughout history for separating the Kurdish governorates from each other. They have struggled for the safeguarding of Kurdistan’s historical borders and not dismantling it. The Kurds’ achievements in 1970 [when their political movement signed the 11 March 1970 agreement with the Iraqi government, recognizing an autonomous status for the Kurds to be proclaimed within four years], were far more than federalism of the governorates, which is called for now.
The Iraqi issue should not be settled separately from the Kurdish issue, because the Kurdish people, who have a cause, consider that federalism is the best solution for their issue. Therefore, all future [Iraqi] governments should avoid the fatal errors that successive Iraqi governments in Baghdad have committed, and not neglect the will of the Kurdish people, because it is a will which is generated from an endless strength. The Kurdish people will not allow its will, which is inseparable from the will of the Kurdistan parliament, to be neglected.

As for the Americans to just kind of pass this issue off on the Iraqis, it’s worrisome, but not really surprising. The Americans originally planned to rapidly reintegrate Iraqi Kurdistan into the new Iraq, but the post-war chaos and the CPA’s struggles to establish itself quickly caused that plan to be jettisoned. The _peshmergas_ were exempted from the general order to disarm Iraqi militia. And after the CPA asked them to dismantle checkpoints between their territory and the rest of Iraq, the Kurds were then asked to re-establish them when the security situation failed to stabilize.
As Barzani said, this is _the_ issue that will literally make or break a new Iraq, and the wrong moves made in the heat of the moment could lead to the splintering of the country, civil war or a regional conflict involving Turkey and Iran. It really needs to be handled delicately, and the Americans — as the dominant power in the region — need to be deeply involved. (In the same way the Americans should be involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.) Nationalism runs deep in Iraq, Kurdish and otherwise, and I’m not convinced that events and the passions of a Kurdish populace won’t get out of hand, despite the best intentions of politicians.
Still, maybe this will work out OK. But don’t forget the Turkomen and the Arabs of Kirkuk. They will protest loudly about this, and probably violently. The Kurds will have to be on their best behavior to prove to the Turks to the north and the Sunni Muslims to the south that they can be trusted to respect their rights in areas under Kurdish control. No, Kurds don’t have their rights respected in Turkey to the degree that “Turkomen are protected in Iraq”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000360.php#000360 — even now. Yes, it’s a double standard. But it’s a standard that has to be met if the Iraq is to stay unified.
Boy, this just delayed my essay on the Kurds.

More Violence in Kirkuk

More violence in Kirkuk between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. Two dead, 10 injured. Bad news all around.

At least two people died and 10 were wounded today in Kirkuk when Arabs and Turkmen protested Kurdish efforts to control the oil-rich city.

Kurds on Iraq’s U.S.-appointed Governing Council are proposing that a future, federal Iraqi government grant broad autonomy to the northern zone, with Kirkuk as its capital, and a say over other areas with large Kurdish populations.
That plan is bitterly opposed by Turkmens and Arabs in Kirkuk, some 20,000 of whom took to the streets Wednesday, chanting “No to federalism! Kirkuk is Iraqi!.”

This is the aftereffects of Saddam Hussein’s efforts to “Arabize” the Kirkuk region. The city became a powderkeg of ethnic tensions when the “Kurds took Kirkuk”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000354.php in April and almost immediately began “Kurdishizing” the area by driving out Arab families that had been settled there. In August, “three Turkmen were killed”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000445.php#000445 in ethnic violence in Kirkuk. (If you want to see some of what the Kurds are looking for, I wrote about the proposed constitutions “here”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000046.php#000046.)
I’m working on an essay about the political maneuverings among the Kurds, the Iraqi Governing Council and even Turkey, so I’m not going to say much more than this. But, as during the war, some of the most interesting — and far-reaching — events are bubbling in the north while most of the obvious bang-bang action is around Baghdad. While the southern events are important — people are dying, for God’s sake — the Kurds could be the match that lights a larger fire.

Jews for Kurdistan!

At least two American Jews fiercely believe in an independent Kurdistan? Are there more?

Really interesting article here on a Brooklyn woman’s passionate support for an independent Kurdistan. The kicker? Vera Saeedpour is a “feisty, diminutive and devoutly Jewish senior citizen.”
The widow of a Muslim Iranian Kurd who died in 1981, her Jewish identity has had a tremendous impact on her immersion in the Kurdish cause. “How could we as Jews complain about the world being silent when we were persecuted,” she asks, “and ignore what has happened to the Kurds?”
Pretty interesting stuff, and she’s not alone. A friend of mine, who would prefer anonymity, is also passionately pro-Kurdistan and Jewish. And while Saeedpour calls herself an “advocate for justice,” my friend has called himself a “Kurdish activist.” What’s interesting about my friend is that, unlike Saeedpour who has strong personal ties to Kurdish culture (marriage), my friend just developed a passionate interest from books and visits. (He has friends who are Kurdish, of course.)
So I’m putting out a call, as I’d like to see how widespread this phenomenon is. If you’re Jewish and _passionately_ believe that the Kurds should be independent — if you might be considered obsessive on the subject, even — I want to hear from you. I’d also like to find out if this is a common trend in the American Jewish community. Does it grow out of Jews’ general sympathy for social justice? And what about in Israel? Is there much support for an independent Kurdistan there? How does this fit into the context of an independent Palestine? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions and I’m just kind of brainstorming, but if I can find enough Jews who feel like Saeedpour and my friend, that might be a pretty good story.

U.S. clashes with PKK/Kadek in north?

U.S. forces reportedly clash with PKK/KADEK Kurdish forces in northern Iraq.

Eyebrows should be raised, but the Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul is claiming that American forces have clashed with PKK/KADEK forces in northern Iraq. The BBC reports that U.S. forces exchanged fire with “unknown forces” in the area.

A spokesman for the US 101st Airborne Division, based in Mosul, said the incident took place near Dahuk, about 10 miles (15 kilometers) from the Turkey-Iraq border.
One member of the Iraqi border patrol was killed, he said.
The “unknown forces” were disbursed with the assistance of Apache attack helicopters and a quick reaction force team, he added.

“It is true that clashes took place yesterday,” Gul has said. “Not only U.S. forces but also Kurdish ‘peshmerga’ fighters were involved in engaging the PKK. Some U.S. helicopters were also deployed.”
[UPDATE 1:40 PM EST: Agence France Press is reporting ambiguity in the parties involved, just as BBC did earlier, saying Iraqi border guards came under attack by “unknown forces.” The “Kurdistan Democratic Party”:http://www.kdp.pp.se/ office in Washington has no comment.]
The “PKK/KADEK”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000119.php#000119 fought a brutal war with Turkey from 1984-1998, in which upwards of 30,000 civilians in southeast Turkey were killed and entire villages destroyed. In an effort to persuade Turkey to contribute 10,000 troops to Iraq, Washington promised to help crackdown on the Kurdish group, which ended its 5-year cease fire against Turkey in September.
At the time, Qubad Jalal Talabani, the deputy representative for the “Patriotic Union of Kurdistan”:http://www.puk.org in Washington — which has had sometimes warmer, sometimes cooler relations with the PKK — told me via email:

There is much talk about US-Turkey action towards the PKK, but in reality, the US are already fighting a war on a few fronts (Al-Qaeda, Ansar, Saddam loyalists etc). The last thing would want to do is open another front.
Secondly, the US and the Kurds (Iraqi), are on a very new and different playing field, in terms of the respect that each shows the other. The US would never do such actions with first consulting, and second receiving permission, from us.
Our advice to the US and to Turkey has always been, the PKK are tired, regardless of what some idiots from within them think, the majority of them are ready to lay down their arms and go back to their homes. If the US can pressure Turkey into providing them with an amnesty (a real one!) then this problem will be resolved.

Turkey apparently withdrew its offer of troops Nov. 7 and said, “The government has decided not to implement the (parliamentary) motion to send troops to Iraq,” an unnamed government official was quoted as saying. The next day, Gul warned the U.S. “not to show bias towards Iraqi Kurds.” Tellingly, Gul also

told NTV that the US had reaffirmed its determination to eliminate the PKK threat, but insisted that that Ankara reserved the right of intervention in case of a “threat or attack” coming out of its neighbour’s territory.

The next day, Sunday, we see the U.S. [possibly] attacking PKK/KADEK forces. Gul’s comments can only be seen as a maneuver to get the U.S. to act, [and thus should be looked at skeptically.]
But why? Running through all this is the American desire to have some kind of help — any kind — to help with increasingly successful insurgents in Iraq. Stratfor says a Turkish force is still not out of the question, especially if Washington fields a Shia anti-guerilla force with the help of Iran — Turkey’s old nemesis in Iraq. Is it so out of the question that the action in the north, which runs the risk of alienating a substantial portion of the Kurdish population in Iraq, which is anti-Turk, is a show of good faith by the U.S. in an effort to get Turkey’s civilian government to change its mind? (By all accounts, the Turkish military, unlike Ankara’s civilian government, sees sending troops as a chance to deal with the “Kurdish Problem” once and for all and establish control over northern Iraq.) If, in the future, fighting between PKK/KADEK and U.S. forces is seen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Turkish troops close behind.

Update to Flag Flap

Update on the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk

A knowledgeable friend who was in Kirkuk a few weeks ago wrote in to tell me that the Kurds — and other political parties such as the Turkoman Front — had been flying their flags since at least the beginning of August. Three days ago, when the Coalition Provisional Authority instructed the flags be taken down, Kurds pelted U.S. soldiers with stones. The CPA soon reversed itself, the reason for the previous entry.
As my friend wrote: “When I was there [in early August], the city was FILLED with Kurdish flags. It is truly unbelievable, and quite beautiful. Every single building had a Kurdistan flag flying. Many walls had Kurdish flags painted on them. Even the lightposts had Kurdish flags painted on them.”
The flagrant flag flying was news to me. I had heard from friends in the area that the Iraqi flag (minus Saddam’s post-1991 Arabic additions) had been flying since the early summer or so. In fact, when I was there in April on the day of Kirkuk’s liberation, there were many old-style Iraqi flags being waved about — in addition to the political parties’ flags. When did the Kurds and others begin putting up their own flags? I don’t know.
Anyway, the decision to let the Kurds wave their banner high in Kirkuk seems to be a reverting to the status quo, although one that I still think is decidedly shaky. Regardless of the validity of the Kurds’ claims on Kirkuk (and I think they’re pretty damn valid), flaunting the Kurdish nature of the city in the face of Turkey and its Turkoman brethren is asking for trouble.
Anyway, this flag lag reveals a source of major frustration for me. My sources communicate too slowly to allow for timeliness. Trying to parse Kurdish and Arabic English-language media over the net is a bit of a fool’s game. In short, there’s no good way to cover Iraq from New York, and I have no way to get to Iraq any time soon.