[Marxism] Kurds maneuver for independent state

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 26 07:28:08 MDT 2006


Kurds quietly angle for independence
Oil revenue could give Iraq's Kurds greater economic distance from Baghdad, 
experts say.

By James Brandon | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

ARBIL, IRAQ - As Iraq's government takes shape after months of political 
deadlock, the country's leading Kurdish politicians have promised to work 
toward a cohesive and peaceful Iraq.

"If [Prime Minister Jawad] al-Maliki quickly establishes a powerful 
government that includes all groups, he will be an asset for the Iraqi 
people," said Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish president of Iraq, after Iraq's 
Parliament approved his second term and named Shiite politician Mr. Maliki 
to replace the embattled Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

The Kurdish desire for independence, however, still runs deep. And with 
parts of Iraq increasingly unstable and growing more Islamic, experts say 
the Kurds, who are relatively secular, are working quietly to consolidate 
and extend the autonomy they have enjoyed since 1991.

The Kurdish Regional Government, which has run the Kurd's autonomous zone 
in northern Iraq since the early 1990s, recently has signed contracts with 
foreign oil companies to explore for new oil fields in Kurdish-ruled areas 
of Iraq. Experts say they hope the revenue generated from these deals could 
provide greater economic, and thus political, independence from Baghdad.

"The Kurds are offering attractive terms to companies that are willing to 
take a gamble on the legal situation," says Rafiq Latta, a Middle East 
editor of the Argus Oil and Gas report in London. "And some small oil 
companies are prepared to take the bait."

The Norwegian oil firm DNO has been quickest off the mark, followed by 
Canadian firm Western Oil Sands. DNO began exploration in northern Iraq in 
2004. But two weeks ago it announced that it would be able to begin pumping 
oil from one newly discovered field near the city of Zakho in early 2007.

At present Kurdistan's annual budget comes from its share of Iraq's overall 
oil revenues, which are distributed according to population. As a result, 
the Kurds receive 17 percent of Iraq's overall $30 billion annual oil revenues.

Iraq's oil exports, however, are mainly from the Shiite-dominated south - 
meaning that Iraq's Shiite rulers, theoretically at least, could shut down 
Kurdish northern Iraq's economy at will.

Kurdish oil aspirations are also challenged by poor security and the 
Constitution, which states that, unlike oil exploration, contracts to 
repair existing oil fields must be negotiated by the Oil Ministry in Baghdad.

Last week, Shamkhi Faraj, head of marketing and economics at the Ministry 
of Oil in Baghdad, estimated that Iraq's oil industry needed $25 billion to 
repair war damage and replace old equipment and infrastructure.

So far the Shiite-controlled Ministry of Oil has been largely unsuccessful 
in signing contracts to repair the oil fields. Experts say that foreign 
companies are worried by possible insurgent attacks, but also by the 
political uncertainty of Baghdad.

Consequently, the Kurds have been unable to fully repair the oil fields 
around Kirkuk, largely under Kurdish control since 2003. This is a source 
of frustration for the Kurds, as the fields contain around 15 percent of 
Iraq's oil wealth.

But even if the Kurds could fund the reconstruction of oil facilities in 
Kirkuk themselves - as some are now suggesting - this would mark only a 
start. The Kurds would also have to build new pipelines to export their oil.

"Under Saddam the oil fields were very badly damaged," says Mr. Latta. 
"Water was pumped into them as cheap way to increase output, and a huge 
amount of foreign investment is going to be needed.

"And even then it's not just a simple matter of having oil reserves and 
turning on the taps," he says. "Managing that investment will require a lot 
of expertise, which the Kurds simply don't have."

The Kurds have, however, at least consolidated their physical control over 
Kirkuk's oil. Before the US invasion in 2003, Kirkuk was a mainly Arab 
city. Today Kurds are the majority, having driven out many of the Shiite 
Arabs brought in by Saddam Hussein to "Arabize" the city.

"Those who were brought to Kirkuk by Saddam should leave and then there 
should be a referendum," says Azad Jundiani, head of the media office of 
the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) - one of the two main Kurdish 
political parties.

But a recent move by influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr indicates that 
Shiites are trying to counter Kurdish control of Kirkuk. The Washington 
Post reported Tuesday that "hundreds of Shiite Muslim militiamen have 
deployed in recent weeks" there. The newspaper said as many as 240 fighters 
loyal to Mr. Sadr have arrived to the city.

Almost as important to long-term Kurdish ambitions is Tal Afar, an Iraqi 
city that's ethnically Turkish but Shiite by religion. It lies between 
Mosul and the Kurdish enclave of Sinjar near the Syrian border.

"Tal Afar is the Kurds' access route to Sinjar, and through Sinjar they 
have access to Syrian Kurdistan," explains Joost Hiltermann, a Middle East 
analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. In other words, 
if the Kurds can also take and hold Tal Afar, then their dream of a greater 
Kurdistan remains alive.

"They claim Tal Afar to be a Kurdish area and a place where many Kurdish 
live but, in fact, it's an important milestone on the road to the creation 
of Greater Kurdistan," says Dr. Hiltermann.

In the past few weeks fighting there has revived awareness of Kurdish 
vulnerability, especially as reports circulate that Iranian and Turkish 
troops are concentrating along the borders of Iraq's Kurdish north.

Many Iraqi Kurds are increasingly aware of the obstacles to greater 
independence. Both Kurdish political leaders and ordinary citizens are 
resigning themselves to remaining part of Iraq for the foreseeable future.

"The Kurds desire to rule themselves," says Farhad Auny, head of the 
Journalists' Syndicate in Arbil. "But at the same time it is not to the 
benefit of the Middle East, the international community or the Kurds 
themselves to ask for independence now."

And to this end the Kurds are starting to think the unthinkable and begin a 
process of forgiving their Arab compatriots.

"Since the establishment of Iraq 80 years ago the Kurds have been exploited 
and tortured by all Iraqi governments," says Mr. Auny. "We are not going to 
talk about what we have suffered from the Arabs but it has taught us that 
we must build a modern and developed country.

"The Kurdish people are flexible and forgiving but they never forget," he 
says. "To hate is to be weak. You cannot grow good crops in a soil of hatred."

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