Washington and NATO Turkey: enemies of Kurdish nation

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Feb 22 18:41:28 MST 2003

International Herald Tribune Friday, February 21, 2003
Betrayed again? The Kurds don't want to be Iraqis

Peter W. Galbraith

Washington - Zalmay Khalilzad, President George W. Bush's special envoy to
the Iraqi opposition, went to Ankara this month and told top Kurdish leaders
to accept that a large deployment of Turkish troops - supposedly for
humanitarian relief - would enter northern Iraq after any American invasion.

He also told the Kurds that they would have to give up plans for
self-government, adding that hundreds of thousands of people driven from
their homes by Saddam Hussein would not be able to return to them.

For the Kurds this brought bitter memories. They blame Henry Kissinger for
encouraging them to rebel in the early 1970s and then acquiescing quietly as
the shah of Iran made a deal with Iraq and stopped funneling American aid to
them. (Kissinger's standing among Kurds was not helped by his explanation:
"Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.")

After the Gulf War, the first President Bush called on the Iraqi people to
overthrow Saddam. When the Kurds tried to do just that, the American
military let the Iraqis send out helicopter gunships to annihilate them.

The elder Bush partly salvaged his standing with the Kurds a month later
when he cleared Iraqi forces from the region, thus enabling the creation of
the first Kurdish-governed territory in modern history.

In the latest buildup to war, the Kurds took comfort from their special
status as the only Iraqi opposition group to control a territory, to possess
a significant population and to have a substantial military force.

But Turkish consent to the deployment of American troops for a northern
front is considered an important element in American planning. In addition
to billions in cash, Turkey has demanded ironclad assurance that there will
not be a separate Kurdish state.

The Kurds did their best to meet Turkish and American concerns. They
promised that they would not seek independence, confining their ambitions to
a self-governing entity within a federal Iraq. They also promised not to
take Kirkuk, an oil-rich city that they describe as their Jerusalem.

However, this proved inadequate for the Turks. They fear that federalism
could be a way station to Kurdish independence - and they may be right. The
4 million Kurds who live in the self-governing area overwhelmingly do not
want to be Iraqis. After 12 years of freedom, the younger people have no
Iraqi identity and many do not speak Arabic. The older generation associates
Iraq with poison gas and mass executions.

Still, Washington sided with Turkey. The Kurds were told that federalism
would have to wait for deliberation by a postwar elected Iraqi Parliament,
in which they would be a minority.

The Bush administration may have got the power calculus wrong. The Kurds
have established a real state within a state, which meets all governmental
responsibilities from education to law enforcement. Their militias number
70,000 to 130,000, and there is a real risk of clashes with any Turkish
"humanitarian" force.

The democratically elected Kurdistan assembly has completed work on a
constitution that would delegate minimal powers to a central government in
Baghdad, and could submit it for a popular vote. Short of arresting Kurdish
leaders and the assembly, a U.S. occupation force might have no practical
way of preventing the Kurds from going ahead with their federalist project.

The younger Bush's war has always had a moral component to it: liberation of
the Iraqi people from a brutal regime. If it sides so completely with Turkey
in putting down the democratic hopes of Iraq's Kurds, the administration
looks shortsighted and cynical. And not just to the Kurds. The writer is a
former U.S. ambassador to Croatia.

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