[Marxism] US-backed Kurdish expansion in Iraq led general to urge US troops tilll 2020

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri Aug 13 04:33:39 MDT 2010

Kurdish General Again Insubordinate, Angles for US to Remain in Iraq
Posted on August 13, 2010 by Juan [Cole]

The public statement by Iraqi chief of staff Lt. General Babakr Zebari , at
a defense conference that the Iraqi army would not be ready to stand on its
own until 2020 and US troops should remain until then is not a statement
about security issues in general but is a highly ethno-sectarian piece of

Unsurprisingly, the elected prime minister of Iraq and head of the current
caretaker government, Nuri al-Maliki, promptly refuted Zebari and insisted
on civilian control of this decision-making. As prime minister, al-Maliki is
beholden to the elected parliament, which set the timetable for withdrawal.
The Obama White House is also committed to the withdrawal.

Zebari is an old-time Kurdish guerrilla and a prominent member of Masoud
Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party. (That the Guardian article above did
not mention this background is incomprehensible to me; I really like
journalists and especially ones who risk all by going out to places like
Baghdad, and don't want to be needlessly critical, but when reporting
neglects essential context it does a disservice to readers.)

The Kurds have many reasons for wanting the US military to stay in Iraq.
They have established what is for all intents and purposes an independent
state in what had been 3 provinces of Iraq (though by now the provincial
boundaries and administrative apparatuses have long since been erased),
called Kurdistan. Kurdistan is the Taiwan of the Middle East, a separate and
independent nation that cannot be so named without causing a war (or a whole
set of wars). But Kurdistan gives out visas and refuses to allow Iraqi army
troops on its soil and does foreign contracts without consulting Baghdad, so
what would you call it?

Despite being semi-autonomous, the Kurds also have a strange relationship to
the Baghdad government, electing members of its parliament and at present
holding the presidency of the country. Some compare this situation to Quebec
in Canada, but that province has far, far fewer perquisites than does
Kurdistan. It is more as though Jefferson Davis served in Abraham Lincoln's
cabinet and Robert E. Lee was a high ranking staff officer in the Union army
as well as in the Confederate.

Kurdish nationalism in Iraq is not satisfied with this relatively
advantageous situation (de facto separatism plus powerful influence on the
central government). Kurdistan nationalists want to annex part or all of
several other Iraqi provinces that have substantial Kurdish populations. The
Arab population of Iraq (both Sunnis and Shiites) is die-hard opposed to any
expansion of Kurdistan at the expense of the territory of Arab Iraq, though
virtually everyone is willing to let the Kurds retain their current
territory and special privileges.

There have been clashes between the Kurdistan military, the Peshmerga, and
the regular Iraqi army, in parts of Iraq as far as 200 miles from the
Kurdistan border, because the Peshmerga has taken control there. The
situation threatens another civil war in Iraq, and outgoing US commander
Gen. Ray Odierno responded by having US troops patrol with both Peshmerga
and regular Iraqi army units so as to avoid firefights between the two.
Since the US will less and less be in a position to provide this mediation
service, Odierno suggested that United Nations troops be brought in to
fulfill it, but met a firestorm of protest from Iraqis eager to be out from
under the long years of deadly UN caretaker status (Iraq is one of the UN's
great failures, where it is responsible for killing large numbers of
civilians with its regime sanctions, and of destroying a promising
developing economy, and of failing to prevent an illegal and aggressive war
on the country by GW Bush).

The US military has consistently sided with the Kurds in both military and
political affairs, so it is unsurprising that Zebari fears their departure.
Without a US protectorate, the Kurds will face Arab Iraq alone. Moreover,
Arab politicians in Baghdad who want to block Kurdistan expansionism have on
several occasions already sought support from Turkey in this endeavor, and
such a Baghdad-Ankara alliance against the annexation of Kirkuk and of parts
of Ninevah and Diyala Provinces is likely to strengthen and be cemented when
the US departs.

My own view is that the KDP's romantic territorial nationalism is
anachronistic and inappropriate to a Gulf oil state, and likely to be
undermined by economic developments. There is much more petroleum in the
Shiite south than in Kurdistan, and pumping and refining it will require a
big skilled labor force. Large numbers of Kurds will almost certainly be
drawn down to Basra Province to work the Rumaila and other fields (and there
is more black gold in Maysan and elsewhere not yet exploited). Just as
Kurdish nationalism in Turkey was blunted by the way the Kurds were spread
around the country as laborers in construction and light industry (and the
way they came to vote just like their Turkish neighbors in Istanbul and
elsewhere), Kurdish nationalism in Iraq may well be blunted by the enormous
labor migration to the south that is likely to occur over the next two
decades. (Further south in the Perso-Arabian Gulf, the countries have such
small populations that they have brought millions of guest workers from
India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, etc.; but Iraq has a sufficiently large
population, including the Kurds, that internal labor migration is likely to
be significant).

In any case, Zebari cannot name any real function the US military could play
in Iraqi security in the coming decade beyond logistics and air support, and
the latter can be done from Qatar. The US is no longer independently and
actively patrolling the cities and therefore increasingly lacks the sort of
intelligence that would allow a pro-active intervention. The violence is
much less now than when the US was wholly in control.

But beyond being biased and incorrect, Zebari is being insubordinate. The
Iraqi parliament passed the Status of Forces Agreement which calls for US
troops to be out by the end of 2011. That is the decision of the civilian
government. For a serving general to attempt to undermine it is a very bad
sign, and if there were an Iraqi government in existence, it should fire


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