These years: 1975. 1988. 1991. 1995. And now 2003.
Those dates will be burned in the collective memory of Iraq’s Kurdish population, which, for the past 12 years, has built a nascent democracy in the very face of Saddam’s tyranny. But now, it seems, that the experiment will be strangled in the crib because the United States is negotiating with Turkey to occupy the Kurdish area in northern Iraq.
The plan, which is being negotiated in closed-door meetings in Ankara, the Turkish capital, is being bitterly resisted by at least some leaders of Iraq’s Kurdish groups, who fear that Turkey’s leaders may be trying to realize a historic desire to dominate the region in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The Kurdish officials say they fear a military intervention by the Turks could also prompt Iran to cross the border and try to seize sections of eastern Iraq.
American diplomats and senior military commanders, led by President Bush’s special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, are said to be encouraging the Kurdish leaders to accept the Turkish proposal. While Washington has strongly supported the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq over the past 12 years, it is eager to secure the permission of Turkey’s leaders to use Turkey’s bases for a possible attack on Iraq. (Emphasis added.)
This is a betrayal on the level of the Algiers Accord in 1975, when Secretary of State Henry Kissenger pulled the rug out from the under the Kurds who were fighting Saddam with the help of the Shah of Iran. On the level of Halabja, when Saddam gassed that Kurdish village (among others in his brutal al Anfal campaign) and killed 5,000 men, women and children in less than 20 minutes and the United States (and the rest of the world) stood by.
Turkey has been driving a hard bargain to allow the United States to use its bases for this invasion. Back in December, it even asked for 10 percent of Iraqi oil annually. And back in October, I wrote about the Kurdish plans for autonomy within a post-Saddam Iraq here and here. (If you’d like to see a copy of the proposed Kurdish constitutions given to me by Dept. Prime Minister Sami Abdul Rahman, click here and here.) The official word is that the Turks’ role will be extremely limited, with a few thousand troops confined to the northern regions near the Iraqi-Turkish border. They would be under American command and limited to humanitarian duties.
However, the Times story quotes a Turkish official — it doesn’t say if the official is with the military or the civilian government — as saying the deployment would far exceed the numbers talked about with the Americans. And Turkish prime minister, Abdullah Gul, suggested that the Turkish Army’s role would go beyond humanitarian concerns to protecting Turkish interests in the region.
“Turkey is going to position herself in that region in order to prevent any possible massacres, or the establishment of a new state,” Gul told Turkish reporters.
This isn’t fair. I met several of the men and women working to create a democracy, flawed as it is, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and I can’t even imagine the disappointment that this news must have generated. Adding insult to injury, the Americans intend to seize the oil-rich cities of Kirkuk and Mosul for themselves, to prevent the Iraqis from sabotaging the oil production facilities there and the Kurds from seizing them for themselves. (Kirkuk is the proposed capital of an envisioned Kurdish autonomous region.) Turkey has long coveted both Kirkuk and Mosul, having lost them to the young Kingdom of Iraq in 1926.
I worried about just this development back in October, and said America was sending mixed signals to the peoples of the region. As I wrote back then,
Kurds certainly think a democracy is in the cards, what with their proposed constitution and all. Fowzi Hariri, the smooth, British-educated deputy head of the KDP Bureau of International Relations, told me in July that “We want Baghdad.” I didn’t know what he meant by that, but he went on to explain that the Kurds want the chance to hold the office of chief executive in a Federal Republic of Iraq. “We want a direct say in government,” he continued. “Whenever we have relied on other systems or people, we have ended up with a dictatorship.”
That was a thinly veiled barb at the on-again, off-again support from the United States. My suspicion is that we’re at it again, telling the Kurds they will have a place at the table in order to lure them into committing to a fight against Saddam while we tell the Kuwaitis, Turks and Syrians that a messy, unpredictable democratic Iraq is “not in the cards,” as the Kuwaiti said to Kristof. And when the hammer hits the anvil, I think we’ll hang the Kurds out to dry.
Sometimes it sucks to be right.