Iraqi Kurdistan: Hubertus Hoffmann meets Fear and a Lighthouse of Hope

Posted in Iraq | 18-Apr-07 | Author: Hubertus Hoffmann

The red carpet has been rolled out in front of the Presidential Palace. Massoud Barzani, the highest-ranking representative of the practically autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq, has invited us to tea. In the traditional national dress, consisting of a red and white turban and olive-green trousers, the President speaks quietly and appears somewhat shy rather than a courageous fighter. His thoughts are a mix of concerns about the destruction of Iraq and increasing violence as well as interference by Turkey in the most important referendum regarding the oil city of Kirkuk, combined with hope and optimism. Indeed, the Barzani clan, which holds numerous key positions, has made an enormous effort for the approximately 5 million Kurds in Iraq, of which 4 million live in Iraqi Kurdistan, with an additional 1 million in the capital city of Baghdad.

Until 1991 the Kurds, who with 31 million people comprise the largest population group in the world without a nation-state, distributed throughout Turkey (16 million), Iran (7 million), Syria (3 million), and Iraq, were persecuted with severe cruelty for decades by Saddam Hussein. He destroyed 4,000 of their 5,000 villages; thousands of women and children were killed by Iraqi government troops using mustard gas; tens of thousands of fighters have been killed; and to date 182,000 Kurds remain missing. From the north, the nationalistic Turks in their own land fight the Kurds and treat them like second-class citizens who lack human rights; in opposition, the PKK has conducted a cruel, decades-long guerrilla war, a perpetual motion machine of destruction and violence.

Iran long supported the Kurds as enemies of archrival Saddam Hussein, taking in many of them as refugees. Iran mistrusted Kurdish motives because of its own strong Kurdish minority, similar to neighboring Syria. The Kurds sit not only between a rock and a hard place, but are instead hemmed in between four massive boulders in all four directions: Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Sunni-Shiite Iraq. (See Hubertus Hoffmann on Iraqi Kurdistan and How President Bush Could at Least Realize a Half-Victory in Iraq).

Their President Barzani is disappointed: Europe, in particular Germany which is highly regarded here, has forgotten Kurdistan. One hopes that the EU will apply pressure on Turkey so that the Kurds in Iraq are finally left in peace.

Businesses from Europe are highly welcome in the peaceful areas of Iraq. Above all, the supply of electricity remains deficient (there are power failures many times a day and every household has emergency lighting). In addition, the refining of gasoline and diesel fuel remains unorganized in an area where supplies of oil lie right below one's feet. A refinery with a capacity of 790,000 barrels, costing $1 billion, is scheduled to be finished within three years. Dams, together with new power plants, should provide the necessary electricity within several years. A German company is currently building an important natural gas power plant; however, the gas pipeline from the south to the northern part of Kurdistan has not yet been laid.

Construction is taking place on numerous sites within the city of Erbil, the center of Iraqi Kurdistan. These projects include the tallest high rise in Iraq, hotels, corporate buildings and a modern airport. The economy of Kurdistan is booming—interestingly, due primarily to the involvement of Turkish businessmen from the north who have recognized the economic opportunities.

President Barzani explains why the Americans have failed: “Following the invasion, the Shiites and Sunnis perceived the allies as conquerors rather than liberators. Only in the suppressed area of Kurdistan was this different. At the moment, there are two wars in Iraq: one against terrorism, and one between Shiites and Sunnis. Our position is absolutely against terrorism, but we will not get involved in a war between Shiites and Sunnis. The three population groups in Iraq must live together voluntarily and in cooperation. There must be a relationship between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in order to bring about a solution for Iraq and so that we can lead the country together.”

His idea is a strong federal, yet unified, Iraqi state, in which Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds control their own affairs to a large extent, and where minority rights and civil rights are guaranteed. Also, in the recently adapted constitution of Kurdistan, minority and civil rights would be guaranteed; that is the important basis for peace. The Iraqi national treasure, namely oil, would be distributed, after a new Iraqi law, according to the size of the population groups. However, companies would have to first conclude contracts with the regional governments.

Barzani finds words of praise for neighboring Iran. It, as opposed to Turkey, has not interfered in Kurdistan's affairs and concentrates only on support of the Shiites. The economic connections to Iran are normal.

His position regarding the oil city of Kirkuk, with a population of one million, is clear: this city, both historically and geographically, belongs to Kurdistan. Even though other population groups may live there (Saddam systematically expelled Kurds and settled Arabs there), this does nothing to change the claims of the Kurds. According to the Constitution, the affiliation of Kirkuk must be decided by referendum by the end of the year. The Kurds are confident of obtaining a large majority, not least because no region except Kurdistan, under the protection of the effective Kurdish security forces, offers a humane existence in Iraq.

Indeed, Iraqi Kurdistan has achieved something unbelievable: peace in the middle of daily murders in Iraq. Years ago, there were two suicide attacks when, with trepidation and under great pressure from the Americans, the borders to the rest of Iraq were opened. Since these have been closed again, and through the assurance of secure border controls, it is once again peaceful in northern Iraq. Many thousands of Iraqis, above all from Baghdad and among them 7,000 Christian families, have fled to peaceful Kurdistan in order to escape the murder and chaos.

Massoud Barzani, President of Iraqi Kurdistan, on the History and Future of Kurdistan - an exclusive interview by WSN TV

The underperforming American chief planners - with a lack of imagination, a misperception of history, religion and realities in Iraq and no masterplan from day one of combining civilian and military actions to an effective and credible Iraqi Grand Strategy- have made a further fundamental mistake in the post-war national structuring of Iraq in neglecting to immediately grant the strategically important city of Kirkuk to the only friends that Washington has in Iraq: the Kurds. Thus they could make a fortress of Kurdistan. They have even refrained from constructing a U.S. military base in the secure north, which could be held long term. The Kurds living there continue to need American protection, and it would represent the ideal base for operations in the south and even in Iran.

The underdeveloped and disappointing Baker-Hamilton Report on Iraq (see, Hubertus Hoffmann on the Misleading Iraq Study Group Report and What President Bush Should Do Now) even suggested deferring the referendum regarding Kirkuk, something so important for the economic development of Kurdistan; such delay would prolong tensions ad infinitum and weaken Kurdistan.

A Kurdish Kirkuk is a provocation to the Turks in the north because through its own access to oil, Kurdistan is greatly strengthened and a greater independence within a federal union of Iraq would be firmly established. The decades-old policy toward the Kurds on the part of Ankara consists of systematic repression, mastery, domination and lawlessness, which is again enforced through the military by the Kurd-hater and uncompromising General Yasar Buyukanit.

Western and UN values such as human rights, rights for population groups and sovereignty of states such as Iraq are trampled upon again and again. The Kurds, and the now distinctly weakened and divided PKK terrorist organization, provide an outstanding image of an enemy for the Turkish generals to present internally, an enemy with which one could justify repeatedly the personal claims to power of high-ranking military officers.

The more than 16 million Kurds within Turkey remain second-class Turkish citizens in spite of the efforts of Ankara to accede to membership in the European Union. They remain without the normal rights of population groups and without a free press or schooling. If Turkey truly wants to join the EU, it must give the Kurds that which the UN Charter on Human Rights and EU norms unequivocally demand: honor and human rights.

Indeed, it is only through a policy of reconciliation in Ankara towards the Kurds, those within Turkey and outside, that the interests of stability there will be served: peace through reconciliation instead of peace through repression, something which only serves to generate new hatred. In return, President Barzani must agree to a friendship treaty with Turkey, that no unification with the Kurds in Turkey will take place, and that a new independent Kurdistan will be limited to the Iraqi area. Turkish companies should participate in the refining of crude oil in Erbil, and dam projects should be discussed with Turkey. The combating of the terrorist group PKK, which has proven itself successful numerous times in the past, must be resumed and intensified by the security forces of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraqi Kurdistan—but also Ankara and the U.S.—need a fresh, new policy of détente, ideally with the cooperation of the EU. As an “honest broker” (Otto von Bismarck), Germany and the three Baltic nations would be particularly appropriate due to their historical prestige and experience with the establishing of sovereignty in the shadow of a large neighbor. They could provide an incredibly important European contribution to stabilizing this important region as well as to the relief of American allies. As an initial step, Berlin should invite Turks and the Kurds to a confidential conference as was organized successfully two years ago, for example, by the IISS (London) for the development of a policy of détente between Pakistan and India over the conflict in Kashmir and the threat of nuclear war.

Those who would like to become acquainted with the political future of Kurdistan should meet the President’s son, Masror Barzani, head of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Security Protection Agency. He is a clever and effective head of the Secret Service and was educated at the American University in Washington, D.C. He has had outstanding success within his country.

Masrour Barzani, Head of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Security Protection Agency on Why Iraqi Kurdistan Is Safe Now - an exclusive interview by WSN TV

Masrour Bazani sees many reasons why there are no suicide bombers in Iraqi Kurdistan, and why peace and freedom exist there.

Historically, there has been tolerance in Kurdistan for many centuries, with Moslems and Christians living together side by side in peace. There is no foundation for terrorism in Kurdistan.

The people of Kurdistan help and assist the security forces in order to protect themselves and their families—like 4 million body guards. They also want to prove that the Kurds can run their own affairs.

It is not only four years since the U.S. invasion in 2003, but now 16 years have passed since 1991 with the no-fly zone and the de facto independence of Kurdistan. Beginning then, the Kurds started to organize security for their territory, so they have had four times more time to secure their territory than the government in Bagdad or the U.S. in Iraq.

Masrour Barzani advises the Americans to look for the causes of the instability in Iraq rather than merely seeking to cure the symptoms: “Everybody is afraid of their role in Iraq.” The rights of minorities must be respected.

Masrour Barzani, Head of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Security Protection Agency on How to Make Peace in Iraq - an exclusive interview by WSN TV

Abdul Karim Sultan Sinjari, the amiable Minister of the Interior of Iraqi Kurdistan, sees the key to more stability in Iraq “in giving the security responsibility to the Iraqi people and giving the allies the role of assisting them.”

Abdul Karim Sultan Sinjari, Minister of the Interior of Iraqi Kurdistan on More Security for Iraq - an exclusive interview by WSN TV

Abdul Karim Sultan Sinjari appeals for an increase in support for his region through international assistance in training and equipping his police. It has suffered greatly during the last ten years under both the double embargo imposed against Iraqi itself, and the embargo imposed by Saddam against the Kurds.

Abdul Karim Sultan Sinjari, Minister of the Interior of Iraqi Kurdistan on Assistance for His Country - an exclusive interview by WSN TV

Which strategy for Iraqi Kurdistan should the U.S. and the EU push for within the conflict area of Iraq, Iran and Turkey?

  • The immediate implementation of a policy of détente between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan must have priority, initially through a round of confidential discussions including above all the high-ranking military officers from Europe, the U.S. and Turkey, as well as the introduction of best practice experience from other areas of the world.

  • Secondly, the EU should make much stronger use of its contacts to Ankara with respect to an end to the current policy of discrimination against the 16 million Kurds, as well as calling for the recognition of the rights for population groups according to European value systems and setting up concrete, bilateral project groups for this purpose.

  • The Barzani government, which is still quite inexperienced internationally, should be strengthened through a committee of international advisers who would support it throughout these important discussions and create incentives for Turkey including joint combating of the PKK, economic participation, and a limitation of Kurdish independence to the area of Iraqi Kurdistan. To this end the EU, and above all Germany, could be helpful.

  • The sovereignty of Iraq and the will of a million people in Kirkuk must be respected by Ankara. The EU, UN and the U.S. should regard as legitimate the results of the referendum on the status of the oil city, even publicly prior to the referendum.

  • The EU’s contribution to the development of Iraqi Kurdistan should be more than that to date; among other things through the establishment of a representative and clearly developed economic aid program for this region in which more peace and freedom exists than in any other part of Iraq.

  • Businesses from the U.S. and Europe should examine more closely the opportunities in this area.

  • The U.S. should take advantage of the soon-to-be-completed new airport in Erbil by constructing a large U.S. military base around the old airport, which is no longer used for civilian purposes, and then pulling back into the fortress of Kurdistan. From this base of operation America could conduct all military operations in central and southern Iraq, and project power into Iran as well as Syria.

American foreign policy must finally recognize that its policy of establishing a strong central power in Baghdad has, after four years, completely failed and cannot be implemented even with maximum utilization of the available U.S. troops.

The extreme American focus on centralization of power in Baghdad must be rapidly replaced by the logic of regionalization, as Senator Biden has rightly and continuously called for. (see Hubertus Hoffmann on Iraq: Three Strong Federal States Comprised of Kurds, Shiiites and Sunnis Are Needed Now with a Division of Oil Income – or a Bloody Civil War Is Unavoidable)

The U.S. could, through a pullback into Kurdistan, at least realize a partial victory in Iraq and protect a territory in which Moslems and Christians have lived together peacefully for thousands of years—an example for the rest of Iraq and also for its problematic neighbors Iran and Syria.