Iraq and the Kurds continued

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Nov 1 07:52:27 MST 2002

(from lbo-talk email list)

On Thu, 31 Oct 2002, Dennis Perrin wrote:

 > Isn't this where Kissinger came in, urging them to attack Saddam until
 > Saddam and the Shah could mend their differences? And then of course
 > American aid was stopped, and then, and then . . .

Yes, but. As much as I enjoy hating America, we were at least fourth in
line here when it comes to responsibility for what happened to the
Kurds, and probably more like fifth, behind the Israelis.

The villian first and foremost, who was horrified by the idea of the
Kurds making a pact with Iraq, was the Shah of Iran. It was he who
convinced the Kurds that they could do better and that he would stick by
them. They were complete idiots to believe him. Not only because he had
oppressed Kurds much worse than the Iraqis (who at least allowed them
their own university, and to publish books in their own language -- much
more than any neighboring country, even today) but because if he hated
the original pact, why on earth would anyone believe he would help them
get more??? Purest stupidity.

So the second party to bear responsibility has to be the Kurds
themselves, and especially their main leader at the time, Mullah Mustafa
Barzani. [Footnote: he wasn't a Mullah. Mullah was his first name. The
current Barzani you hear about is his son.]

The third contributing party was Saddam. His way of dealing with the
open alliance between the Kurds and his most feared enemy (Iran) was to
try to assasinate their leaders on numerous occasions in order to
produce more compliant ones (a strategy that seems a perennial favorite
in the Middle East, even though it never seems to work.) This didn't
increase the goodwill factor, to put it mildly. He also forced the issue
by announcing the autonomous area would come into full force on the
given date in 1974 even if the Kurds didn't agree. But even then, at the
last moment, he told the Kurds he'd give them a better deal, including
half of Kirkuk, if they'd agree. Barzani's oldest son told him clearly
that he was turning him down because they thought they could get more.
And Saddam told them they were wrong, that he'd crush them if they went
to war. And he was right.

A bit of background here: in the 60s, the Kurds fought two major
guerilla wars against Iraq and pretty clearly won. That was why Saddam
made his original offer -- to end the second war.

What changed between 1969 and 1974 was that when the Kurds allied with
his most feared enemy, Iran, backed by the United States, Saddam offered
his full allegiance to the Soviet Union. The fruit was that in 1972 he
signed a pact with the Soviet Union that gave him a whole a new
generation of heavy weapons, crucially including helicopters, that
completely changed the balance of power. The Kurds got larger weapons
too -- but from Iran, who never intended to let them win, and kept
delaying deliveries if they ever looked like they were getting anywhere.
And besides, the heavy weapons didn't fit well with their successful hit
and run style.

So what was our role in all this? In 1973, as Kissinger was passing
through after the Fourth Arab-Israeli War -- 3 years after the Shah
started meddling in, 10 years after Israel started meddling in -- the
Shah asked us to kick in a small amount of money to aid the Iraqi Kurds
and Kissinger agreed. This was meant by the Shah as an extra gesture to
give more reassurance to the Kurds and it did. But they were just as
nuts to be taken in by this as they were to trust the Shah in the first
place. When they asked us whether this was a guarantee that we'd stick
with them, Richard Helms (the head of the CIA, who died last week) told
them very clearly that the Shah was in control and we were just going
along to make him happy. And that was after not accepting any of the
Kurds' representatives for a year in Washington out of deference to the
Shah, which should have made the same point abundantly clear. The lack
of meetings is also a matter of record, as opposed to second hand
reports of what a CIA chief said. But it should be noted that our source
for what Helms said to the Kurds is the Kurds he said it too, who were
Barzani's senior representatives. They maintain to this day that they
relayed the message clearly to Barzani. And Barzani refused to believe
it. He believed he had unqualified support because he wanted to. Because
he thought the Israelis controlled America. And because he'd always won
before and was sure he could win now.

The idea of the great American betrayal is mainly a function of
Barzani's version of the story which he peddled in Washington during his
exile in the 1970s that started shortly after fighting began. (He's also
blamed by some Kurds for abandoning them.) And of William Safire's
championing of him and the Kurds from that point to the present day. And
of the Pike Committee Report.

There's more to the story, but that's enough probably. To make this all
Kissinger's crime is IMHO even more distorted than K's protestations of
total innocence. Total ignorance is more like it -- he didn't know Kurds
from turds. Nor did he care. In his opinion the axis of history ran from
Washington to Moscow, through Paris, London and Berlin. And everything
else was irrelevant.

The reasons why Republicans and other cold warriors tried to guilt trip
Kissinger for letting them down was because they saw him as not being a
cold warrior *enough*. Barzani kept saying over and over in public how
he loved the USA and he wanted to fight Saddam -- who was now on the
Other Side. So of course conservatives thought not supporting them was
wrong. But what alternative were they supporting? Implicitly, exactly
the same strategy they were accusing Kissinger of and which the Shah in
fact followed: use them to weaken Saddam and who cares what happens
next. They just wanted it to keep on going on as long as the cold war
lasted. Which was exactly the strategy these same cold warriors were to
pursue in Afghanistan only a couple of years later.

With Safire and the Israelis, the reasoning was the same, except that it
wasn't about the Cold War, it was about the Arab-Israeli conflict. The
Israelis supported the Kurds before anyone, during their wars in the
60s, because they explicitly wanted to tie down Iraqi divisions so they
wouldn't be free to join in wars against Israel.

Safire has been tirelessly championing the Kurds for 25 years. It was
almost possible to believe this was a selfless point of ethics with him
(since normally he supported and still supports Nixon and Kissinger)
until almost exactly a year ago (November 4, 2001, if memory serves),
when, in a sudden reversal and betrayal that puts to shame the one he
accused the US and Kissinger of, he wrote a column saying the US should
offer Kirkuk and Mosul, and all the oil under them, to the Turks if they
would agree to be our ground troops in toppling Saddam. In other words,
we should give all of Kurdistan to one of their worst enemies just at
the moment when Saddam finally fell. Granted, since he's only a pundit,
this was only a betrayal on paper (although it sure stirred up a lot of
imaginations in Turkey at the time.) But even as an intellectual
betrayal it stands out for its shamelessness. Certainly from this point
on, nobody could ever give Safire the moral high ground over Kissinger
when it comes to the Kurds.

1970s left liberals, on the other hand, said the US was guilty because
they were against covert action of any sort. This was to them simply one
more example of covert action going badly wrong. They kind of saw it as
analogous to the Hmong, where the big bad US involved a poor defenseless
people in our quarrels that had nothing to do with them and hung them
out to dry. Not only was it not quite like that, but their implicit
alternative was that we never should have helped them in the first place.

The one other reason this story has stayed alive among liberals is
becuase when the Pike Committee questioned Kissinger on this point, he
reputedly answered (in secret testimony, so there is no public record)
that "covert action should not be confused with missionary work." In an
era when people thought the main problem with foreign policy was that it
wasn't ethical enough, this seemed to sum up everything they were against.

It is also, of course, completely true.

So the conservatives blamed the US for not sticking with the Kurds in
complete bad faith, since implicitly they were planning to do the same
thing they were accusing the administration of. And the liberals gave
the US more blame than it deserved because it was a great bat for
hitting Republicans with.

Barzani blamed the US for the obvious reason that it was absolutely the
only way to remove the blame from himself. He couldn't well blame Iran
-- he would have been called an idiot for trusting them, which he was.

And Israel blamed us for the same reason, so they could all themselves
selfless heros.

So there was something for everyone in blaming us. And in the
mid-seventies, with disclosures about covert action busting out all
over, and pictures on TV of people clinging to our helicopters as we
abandonned them from rooftops, we were all quite willing to believe the
worst ourselves. And everybody, across the spectrum, from entirely
different political perspectives, all loved blaming whatever they
thought was wrong on Nixon and Kissinger.

But none of these critics really gave any more of a damn about the Kurds
than Kissinger did.

And IMHO, our contributory reponsibility for the Kurds' fate was fourth
or fifth in line. We didn't inititate it, we weren't the main impetus,
and we weren't the major source of weapons or funding or military
advice. And afaict, we not only made them no promises, we made clear
that we made them no promises, despite the elder Barzani's later
self-serving claims.

Michael (Pollak)


Louis Proyect

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