The London based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported on October 29, 2012 that the Obama administration has rejected the notion of an independent Kurdish state. An article by Shirzad Shikhani in the paper headlined: “Kurdish Autonomous Region No-Go – US notes that ‘A Kurdish leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, revealed that the US administration has informed Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani that the US and Turkey will not support any efforts, on his part, to announce an independent Kurdish state’.” This raises the curious question as to why the Obama administration supports Palestinian statehood but finds a Kurdish independent state objectionable.
The Obama administration’s reasoning according to Shikhani is that Washington supports “dialogue with Baghdad, and recommended that he (Barzani) – along with Iraqi political leaders – seek to overcome this crisis and normalize relations between the Iraqi and Kurdish political forces in order to protect the democratic experience in Iraq.” Iraq however is not a Jeffersonian democracy nor could it ever be one, given that Iraq is an inorganic concoction created by the colonial powers post WWI. Iraq ceased to be a “democracy” of any kind as soon as the U.S. troops departed in 2011. Its Prime Minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, has increasingly assumed the authoritarian nature of other Arab leaders, to the deep dismay of true democrats.
The New York Times in a September 5, 2012 report on Nuri Al-Maliki noted that, “In 2011, as American involvement in his country came to an end, he was viewed as the country’s emerging sectarian strongman, whose aggressive actions have raised concerns both at home and in the West, where officials have long been uneasy with the prime minister’s authoritarian tendencies.”
Modern Iraq has always been ruled by authoritarian leaders. Its first ruler was the Hashemite King Feisal originally from the Hejaz in Saudi Arabia -a Sunni Muslim ruling over a majority of Arab Shiites-Muslims and Kurds. Then, in 1958, Col. Abd al-Karim Qasim seized power in coup that deposed the monarchy and murdered the royal family. The pro-Communist Qasim was deposed and killed in a Ba’athist engineered coup in 1963, that brought Qasim’s coup partner, Col. Abdul Salam Arif (Arab Sunni-Muslim) to power. When he died in a plane crash (most likely sabotage) his brother Abdul Rahman Arif became president in 1966. Another coup in 1968 brought Gen. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr to power. Al-Bakr stepped down (most likely forced to do so) from the presidency in 1979, and Saddam Hussein, al-Bakr’s cousin assumed full dictatorial power in Iraq. All of these strongmen including Saddam were Arab Sunni-Muslim. Al-Maliki is the first Arab-Shiite to rule Iraq.
The post WW I Treaty of Se’vres, (Aug. 10, 1920), between the victorious Allies and the defeated Ottoman Turkey, provided for an autonomous Kurdistan (and an independent Armenia). The treaty was rejected however by the new Turkish nationalist regime of Kemal Ataturk, and was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. The Kurds then declared independence in 1927 and established the Republic of Ararat, only to be crushed by the Turks three years later. Turkey now as then is opposed to any manifestation of Kurdish independence in Iraq or Syria, but champion’s Palestinian independence. This hypocrisy is regrettably endorsed by the U.S.
Britain, post WW I, received a League of Nations Mandate for the administration of Iraq and Palestine, and to consolidate oil resources, stripped the Kurdish area of northern Iraq from Turkey and combined it with the Iraqi oil rich Gulf region in the south. The Sunni tribal areas lay between these two areas. But while London sought to confer self-determination on Arab-Palestinians under the 1937 Peel Commission (which the Arab rejected) they have never provided the same opportunity for the Kurds. Mullah Mustafa Barzani (Massoud Barzani father) became the Kurdish figurehead who sought separatism, autonomy and ultimately independence for the Kurds. In 1946, along Qazi Muhammad, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, declared the Independent Republic of Mahabad in northwestern Iran. It lasted a mere six months and was crushed by overwhelming number of Iranian troops.
Barzani returned to his native Iraq in 1958 following the overthrow of the monarchy. Barzani’s call for Kurdish autonomy brought him into conflict with Qasim and the Arif brothers. A peace deal between the Baghdad government led by Saddam Hussein and the Kurdish Peshmerga under Barzani was signed in 1970. It recognized Kurdish self-rule in Northern Iraq, and the Kurdish language. But as the Al-Bakr-Saddam Hussein regime “Arabized,” hostilities in the oil-rich Kirkuk area (a majority Kurdish area) resumed.
The Iran-Iraq War that began in 1980 afforded the Kurds in Iraq an opportunity to push back the Iraqi forces in Northern Iraq. In 1983, Saddam ordered his troops into the area around Massoud Barzani’s home (now leader of the KDP following his father’s death in 1979) and mercilessly killed 8000 Kurds. As the war with Iran was waning, Saddam initiated the “Anfal Campaign” against the Kurds in northern Iraq. Saddam’s cousin-Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali,” used poison gas to kill 5000 civilians and injure 10,000 in the town of Halabja.
In 1991, soon after the Gulf War, President George H. Bush encouraged the Kurds to launch an uprising against Saddam but when Iraqi planes bombed Kurdish villages the U.S. did nothing. As a result, a million Iraqi Kurds became refugees. These events prompted the Kurdish Democratic Party, led by Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Jalal Talabani, to end their civil war and unite.
Considering that Americans are welcomed and safe in Iraqi Kurdistan, and that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) led by Massoud Barzani is the only stable entity in Iraq, where prosperity and democracy are emerging, the question that begs asking is why the Obama administration is not eager to welcome an independent Kurdistan. Joe Biden as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was quoted by Reuters on May 1, 2006 as saying: “Iraq should be divided into three largely autonomous regions – Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab – with a weaker central government in Baghdad.” Biden, in a NY Times Op-Ed warned against actions by the (George W.) Bush administration, saying: “the Bush administration’s effort to establish a strong central government in Baghdad had been a failure doomed by ethnic rivalry that had spawned widespread sectarian violence.” As Vice President and part of the Biden/Obama administration, Biden is complicit in doing exactly what he railed against.
The hypocrisy and double standards of the Obama administration regarding Kurdish independence can be best understood when one reads Obama’s Cairo speech of June 2009 in which he said, “For more than sixty years they (the Palestinians) have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”
The Kurds have endured great suffering, indignity, and humiliation over the last 100 years. The suffering of the Arab Palestinians referenced by Obama has been largely self-inflicted. Time and again they have rejected offers of peace and compromises. The 1937 Peel Commission and the 1947 UN Partition Plan offered the Arab Palestinians an opportunity to establish their own state alongside a tiny Jewish State. They chose war and the possibility of destroying Israel instead. The Kurds unlike the Arab-Palestinians have not engaged in terror, suicide bombing, and aircraft hijacking, and acts of terror by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have been condemned by most Kurds. And while there are 22 Arab states who share the same sense of collective nationhood including religion, culture, and language, there is not a single Kurdish state in spite of the fact that the Kurdish nation is 40 million strong, with its own culture and Indo-European language (Kurmanji and Sorani).
It is time the U.S. and the West support an independent Kurdish state comprised of the contiguous areas of Kurdish dominance in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria. Such support would be an act of true justice and fairness for a forgotten nation – the Kurds.
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