Iraqi Kurdistan as Golden Key for Peace and the U.S. in Iraq
The golden key to peace and stability in Iraq lies in Iraqi Kurdistan—only President Bush and his advisers, as well as the members of the Iraq Study Group, have not realized that yet. Implementing a clever new Iraqi Kurdistan strategy now could halfway win the war in Iraq, rather allowing a shameful, historic U.S. defeat which will lead to a vacuum of power and destabilization in this important region.
For the last three years subsequent to the American invasion, the people in Iraqi Kurdistan have enjoyed peace and freedom. For them, Saddam Hussein was for many years a continual and deadly threat. Now once again their destiny depends upon the presence of American troops in Iraq and the perseverance of American foreign policy. Should the U.S. pull back its main forces in 2008, a new civil war could break out, or a domination by the Shiite majority could ensue with the loss of Kurdish autonomy. Even worse, the two mistrustful large neighbors Turkey and Iran could exploit this weakness for a blitzkrieg against the (in their eyes) unpopular Kurds.
America, as perceived by the Kurds in Iraq, has two contradictory meanings: liberation on the one hand and betrayal on the other. The Americans not only liberated the Kurds once in 2003, but also betrayed them on two other occasions—in 1975 and in 1991.
Up to the end of 1974, Washington supported the autonomy of the Kurds in Iraq. In 1975 the U.S. ceased support for the Kurds and Tehran as well cut its supplies to the Kurds after signing the Algier Pact with Iraq. At that time Henry Kissinger was the Secretary of State and Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense for the first time. Due to this dramatic policy change by Iran still governed by pro Western Shah Reza Pahlavi, thousands of Kurdish villages were burned down, 200,000 Kurds were deported to other parts of Iraq and 1.5 million Kurds were forced to flee because their leadership regarded a military struggle as futile. They found a new home primarily in Iran and Europe.
From 1976 to 1991 the Kurds took up arms and fought against the brutal regime in Baghdad suffering losses of more than one million. In 1987 and 1988, Saddam even used chemical weapons (mustard gas, sarin, tabun, VX) against them several times to destroy the Kurdish population in a genocidal campaign. In March 1988 more than 5,000 people were killed in the city of Halabja in the largest use of chemical weapons against civilians ever.
During the First Gulf War (August 1990 – February 1991), the Kurds shifted all of their units to Kuwait in order to support the Americans. U.S. President George Bush Sen., with his team of then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Secretary of State James Baker III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powel, prompted them to begin a rebellion against Saddam Hussein, which was prepared locally by the CIA. Representatives of the central government from Baghdad were disarmed immediately and all Kurdish areas up to Kirkuk were liberated. The Shiites did the same in their area in the south.
However, out of a fear of more casualties, the burden of an occupation, and a strong Shiite state, President Bush Sen. halted the war at the gates of Baghdad. He was massively influenced by the Sunni Saudi Arabian Government, which had supported the presidential campaign of President George Bush Sen. and who also opposed a Shiite-dominated Iraq as they do today.
The U.S. went even further and in an agreement with Saddam Hussein to conclude the first Gulf War, they gave him a green light, ceding control over all of Iraq to the dictator once again. This decision was an invitation to put down the rebellion of the, for the most part, helpless Kurds and Shiites. From the perspective of Kurdish politicians, this was the first decisive major strategic mistake of the Americans. The U.S. had acted too militarily rather than politically. For the second time, the Kurds were threatened with deadly force and subsequently suffered massive attacks by Saddam as a result of the indecisive policies of the U.S. with millions of Kurds fleeing across the border into Turkey and Iran. It was above all the German government that rescued many Kurds from a massacre through an airlift. As a result of dramatic images in the media, a no-fly zone was soon thereafter put in place above the 36th latitude which made it possible for the Kurds to return in relative safety. This shield in existence from 1991 to 2003 provided extensive security and made a de facto autonomy possible.
To this day, the 31 million Kurds remain the largest ethnic group in the world without an independent nation state. The majority of 16 million continue to live in discrimination and oppression in Turkey; 7 million Kurds live in Iran, 3 million in Syria, and 5 million in free Iraqi Kurdistan. They were simply forgotten and abandoned by the former colonial powers when the borders of the area were drawn up after WW I.
The Kurds in Iraq have achieved something completely unique under the present American engagement in Iraq: extensive freedom and the reconciliation of Sunni Kurds and Shiite Kurds within their territory. While Kurds adhere to both Islamic faiths, they consider themselves to be first and foremost Kurdish as they have been forged together through their joint resistance and the decades-long threat of extermination through enemies such as Hussein, Turkey and Iran. There is also freedom of religion and tolerance in Iraqi Kurdistan with respect to the ancient Yazidi sects, 40,000 Christians and many Jews. The Kurdish language has now been finally officially recognized as a second official language in Iraq. Kurdish law accepts the Koran as one source of law but not as the only one, thereby allowing a maximum of freedom and tolerance to those of different faiths.
Their primary problem is Turkey. In economic terms, commerce between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan functions very well. Most investment comes from Turkey and numerous Turkish businesses receive contracts, in particular the construction industry. The political leadership of the Kurds in Iraq would like to see as many Turkish businesses as possible establish operations in Iraq and even to have these share in the lucrative income from oil production.
Their goal is true reconciliation between Turks and Kurds according to the example of German-French or German-Polish reconciliation following WW II. The German government in particular, due to its traditionally good relations with both Turkey and the Kurds, could now take on a decisive foreign-policy role, contributing to the stabilization of Iraq and the region. However, the primary problem is the high-ranking military in Turkey. General Yasar Buyukanit, who was named the Military Chief of Staff on 1 September 2006, served in southeast Turkey between 1999 and 2000. He is considered a hardliner and a “Kurd-hater” who still does not realize that the Kurds possess inalienable human rights and rights as a population group. He also does not understand that Iraqi Kurdistan is not a threat, but rather just the opposite; it provides a Glacis, a line of forward defense for Ankara, and should be considered a friend.
In spring 2003, the NATO member Turkey even blocked U.S. attacks on Saddam Hussein from Turkish soil. The U.S. operation had to be postponed for two weeks. They also threatened the Kurds with an invasion.
Every Turkish general who gets along well with the Kurds is transferred away from the Kurdish area of Turkey as a form of punishment. The Turkish military worked very well and successfully together with Kurdish forces in Iraq against the radical communist terrorist organization PKK. The PKK is also an enemy of the moderate Kurds in Iraq because it has continually torpedoed a liberation of the region and good neighborly cooperation.
Turkey continues to oppress the 16 million Kurds in its own country despite its ambitions to become a member of the EU. To date, there is not a single Kurdish school or media outlet or recognition of the Kurdish language and autonomy. As far as Turkey is concerned, its Kurdish inhabitants remain second-class citizens. Turkey has not come to terms with its past with respect to both the mass murder of Armenians, which officially never occurred, or with its present or future. This backwardness combined with the ideology of Turkish nationalism blocks the future of the country and damages Turkish interests and a possible membership in the EU as well.
The relationship of the Kurds in Iraq to neighboring Iran continues to be difficult because the dictators in Tehran pursue an opposing goal, namely the destabilization of Iraq and the defeat of Washington.
Even though the build up of its economy and infrastructure in the liberated Kurdish area of Iraq is now being pursued with enormous effort, the support of EU Member States remains far below what is actually possible. Take Germany for example: in spite of an outstanding friendly regard for the Kurds, Germany is only represented in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan with an Honorary Consul. Because of the resulting visa problems—visas for Kurdish businessmen can only be issued in Baghdad or Turkey—the potential for economic cooperation is in no way completely utilized. An additional problem is that the official security analysis of the German Foreign Ministry fails to recognize that there have been no attacks for two years in the area of Iraqi Kurdistan—and certainly not against foreigners. This analysis prevents larger German businesses in particular from investing directly in the economy of Iraqi Kurdistan. In contrast, the Czech Republic has, for example, successfully established a consulate in Erbil and Austrian Airlines has established a weekly airline connection Vienna-Erbil as of mid-December.
The protective shield of the Kurds in Iraq is their battle-tested army, of which 50,000 soldiers assisted in the U.S. invasion. They are further engaged with large special services units in operations against particularly aggressive rebels and comprise an estimated three divisions of 150,000 soldiers.
In Baghdad, the Kurds are well represented by the Iraqi President Talabani and the Foreign and Industry Ministers. The long and paralyzing conflict between the powerful families of the current Iraqi President Talabani, who represents a left-leaning party, and that of Barzani has finally been resolved.
Fortunately, Iraqi Kurdistan possesses oil reserves near the cities Erbil, Gluck and Zakho, which are currently being explored by Canadian, American and Norwegian firms respectively. It also has other natural resources (uranium, copper, iron, gold), so that a solid foundation for the establishment of the country exists. The primary emphasis of the Kurdish economy lies traditionally in commerce, agriculture and small industries. The country is booming, however hardly any Western companies invest in the lucrative segments of the food industry, infrastructure, hydroelectricity and energy.
Iraqi Kurdistan is the most secure location in Iraq. There has not been a suicide attack for two years. The borders to the rest of Iraq are very well secured. The soldiers have visual contact at the border in order to deter any destabilizing forces from seeping in. The Kurds work closely together with their security agencies as they want to maintain a secure country. No one wants to lose their freedom again.
The greatest historical goal of the Kurds is their full independence, preceded by a wide-ranging autonomy within the Iraqi Federation.
Last October, the Iraqi Parliament passed implementing legislation for the Constitutional provision of a three-state Iraqi Federation. The legislation envisions a two-year transition period, which will perhaps be cut in half. In the U.S., only Senator Joseph Biden, Senator Richard Lugar, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, former Clinton U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, former President of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and few other strategists support three strong federal states comprised of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis as a master plan for peace in Iraq.
It is indeed the only option left for making peace in Iraq and was unfortunately given no support by the Iraq Study Group. (see Hubertus Hoffmann on the Misleading Iraq Study Group Report and What President Bush Should Do Now and Hubertus Hoffmann on Iraq: Three Strong Federal States Comprised of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis Are Needed Now with a Division of Oil Income – or a Bloody Civil War Is Unavoidable)
It is only through a historical coincidence that the Kurds now find themselves in a country called Iraq together with an Arab population, even though they have nothing in common with them either culturally or linguistically—their independence is therefore a historically determined goal.
The U.S. and the EU should now provide massive political support for the Kurds, thereby finally using the golden key for peace in Iraq and stability in the region in a meaningful fashion:
- U.S. President George Bush should make his top priority the wide-ranging autonomy of the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites in a federal union of states in Iraq. The only path to peace and a face-saving withdrawal of the U.S. is not through a strengthening of the central government in Baghdad, but rather a maximum autonomy of the three population groups.
- The final status of the important oil city of Kirkuk should be decided in 2007.
- Step by step, U.S. forces should withdraw to Iraqi Kurdistan and construct a major military base there with an airport at Erbil-Mussol. A military agreement should also be concluded with Iraqi Kurdistan. President George Bush could at least realize a half victory in Iraq by stabilizing the fortress of Iraqi Kurdistan with the capabilities of a power projection vs. the rest of Iraq, Iran and Syria out of this important, safe and friendly geo-political pole position.
- Germany, during its EU presidency beginning in January 2007, should take on a leadership role in tandem with the U.S.
- Confidential negotiations should be started with both the Turkish government as well as the military command concerning an agreement of friendship between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan which would include actions against the PKK. The Turks should participate in the oil production, and a new oil pipeline could be run through Turkish territory rather than the insecure areas in Iraq or through Syria. Ankara must then finally respect the human rights of the Kurdish population in Turkey as a precondition for EU membership.