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.