A couple of days ago, I approached a handful of bloggers, some on my left, and some on my right, and asked them three questions: What do you think of Kurdistan? What is the Bush Administration's policy on Kurdistan? What do you think the Bush Administration's policy on Kurdistan should be?
Most were unable to answer me, although to be fair, I did not give them all that much time to respond. Two bloggers were kind enough to comment, saying that they needed to read up on the subject more before forming an opinion -- a good, honest answer. But, given that Kurdistan is a part of the country that we are intending to invade in the next couple of months, shouldn't the Bush Administration have a clearly articulated plan, by now?
Of all the things about a potential invasion of Iraq, the thing that most disturbs me is that the Bush Administration appears to be treating it as a cakewalk. While I agree that, outside of Europe, Russia and China, there isn't a military in the world that the United States couldn't crush within a month, I've heard very little mention of what form a post-war Iraq would take. If it is the Bush Administration's intention that a post-war Iraq maintain its current political boundaries, I hope that this isn't a vital outcome for them, because it may be the one thing they can't achieve.
Iraq is a diverse and, at times, tribal state held together by the brute (very brute) force of Saddam Hussein. Leaving aside the dozen or so tribes that exist within Iraq proper, there are also a distinct Shiite population in the south, and a Kurdish enclave in the north. The Shiites in the south have fought against Saddam during and following the Gulf War, and it was his brutal repression following the war that was one of the reasons why no-fly zones were established in the north and the south of Iraq.
But it is Kurdistan that poses a more difficult question. Kurdistan is a fiercely independent country that doesn't exist. Its national aspirations are far more developed than those of the Shiite southeners. The Kurds reside in southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq and western Iran. They have a long history and a culture distinct from the people who live around Bagdhad, and they are the one group of people within Iraq that Saddam Hussein has used weapons of mass destruction on (in 1988, when Saddam was, technically, a U.S. and Western ally).
Following the 1991 Gulf War, Western leaders, especially George Bush, called upon the Iraqi people to depose their dictator. The Kurds responded. However, they counted on Western military support that did not materialize. As this website puts it: "At the end of the 1991 Gulf war the Iraqi Kurds rose against the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein after American calls for them to do so but they were again massacred when Saddam's army counter-attacked and they had received none of the military assistance they believed they had been promised. Thousands died as they attempted to escape the country by climbing the high mountain passes on the Turkish border."
In some ways, the Kurds of Iraq have little reason to trust the West since, quite frankly, the West betrayed them.
The Kurds certainly deserve better treatment and possibly their own country. Most of their population have been living in countries hostile to their culture for most of the twentieth century. But history suggests that an independent Kurdistan does not appeal to Western interests. It could, possibly, draw Turkey and Iran into an Iraqi conflict.
Kurdish separatist forces have been responsible for most of the terrorist attacks suffered by Turkey over the past twenty years. The Kurds, in turn, have been the target of Turkey's chronicle of human rights violations against legitimate dissent. Near the end of the Gulf War, there was talk of Turkey opening a second front against Iraq -- but there was also talk of Turkey occupying the two northern provinces of Iraq in order to prevent its southeastern Kurds from getting ideas from their Iraqi breathren. There is no question that Turkey would see an independent Kurdistan as a threat, and if they were to take the unusual step of invading, how would Iran feel, with Turkish soldiers on their border?
The Bush Administration states that they want to topple Saddam's regime (good!) and install a democratic government in Iraq (also good!). This suggests that they want to maintain the territorial integrity of Iraq. This is perfectly understandable, since it's one thing to advocate a regime change within an independent country, but another matter entirely to advocate a country's complete dismemberment. Some have spoken about the need to reform Iraq as a cooperative federation uniting the disparate ethnic groups but, if this article in the Kurdistan Observer is any indication, Kurds have their doubts about whether or not this is a realistic goal:
"Democracy is the ideal form of political system that guarantees the rights of all people, regardless to their race or ethnicity. Past history of Iraq is more than clear example that any form of centralized government in future Iraq will pave the way for authoritarian regime. Taking into consideration the political environment that surrounds Iraq in which dictatorship and authoritarianism are the main features of regional political structure leaves us with the question of survivability of democracy. Federalism has also been on the agenda without clarifying its nature; will it cooperative federalism or centralized federalism? Before choosing any form of political system we have to ask ourselves will it be relevant? Will it be durable enough to survive political disharmony? Survivability of democracy and federalism depends on the degree of development of civil society. And in the case of Iraq, especially in the region that is under direct of the central government, civil society has been barred from developing."
So, what is the Bush Administration's policy on Kurdistan? Should an independent country rise out of Iraq's ashes (I could support that)? If not, what does the Bush Administration do if the people of Kurdistan try to establish an independent country anyway? Are we willing to use the American military to subdue those people who are the most willing within Iraq to fight Saddam Hussein?
I'm not advocating doing nothing. I am just asking the Bush Administration to use more caution, and to plan not only the bombing runs and the ground offensive, but what he intends to actually replace Saddam's regime with. Plans for a post-war Afghanistan occupied more of the Bush Administration's attention during the war against the Taliban, but even there, the implementation of the plan was a scramble, and the reconstruction government has since hit snags. Although low-level talks are going on between the members of the Iraqi opposition, these forces are nowhere near as unified as those of the Northern Alliance, and post-war Afghanistan has hardly been a cakewalk.
I've asked this before: does the Bush Administration really know what it is doing? Perhaps it does -- although if it did, why does nobody know about Kurdistan when I bring it up? Perhaps nothing will happen. Perhaps the Kurds will react to events with caution, knowing that Western support isn't a certainty. But times of war are notoriously unpredictable. It is the job of every good human to worry. And what has the Bush Administration done to allay those fears?
I predict that, if war proceeds, in three months time, the word "Kurdistan" will be on everybody's lips. I've been wrong before. I pray that, in three months time, I'll eat crow, and not have to say "I told you so".
Back to Iraq 2.0
This site deserves your attention. You may agree or disagree with the man's opinions, but here is a blog from somebody who has actually travelled to Iraq, and who actually speaks about Iraqi Kurdistan.
He is also the first blogger I've seen to actually discuss the issue of Kurdistan. I found his article downplaying the connection between Saddam's regime and a group of Al Queda fighters working to destabilize the Kurds a little odd. While it is true that the group isn't operating in territory that Saddam controls, the fact that they are working against his enemies with his blessing suggests a connection -- although his point that the group may also be receiving funding from Turkey and Iran is well taken.