Sunday, September 03, 2006

Dangerous moves in Kurdistan

Sept.3, 2006
Dangeous moves in Kurdistan

THE MOVE by the Kurds of northern Iraq to replace the national flag with a Kurdish flag in their autonomous region is yet another move in the Kurdish campaign for independent statehood, which also implies the disintegration of the chaotic country along sectarian lines sooner or later.
In criticising Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani for the move, Sunni political leaders said only that it insulted Iraq.
However, it was implicit in Sunni Arab Member of Parliament Saleh Al Mutlaq's comment that the Kurdish move signalled more troubled times ahead.
"What will be taken by force today, will be returned by force another day," he said, without elaborating. "We can defend our dignity, our people and our land ... and no one should be under the illusion that he could take a tiny bit of somebody else's land."
Indeed, independence is everyone's right, and no one has the right to deny it. However, the dangers in a disintegration of Iraq are too grave for not only the country but also for the entire region.
It is unlikely that criticism or opposition would dissuade the Kurds from pursing their objective of setting up an independent Kurdistan in the three Kurdish-dominated provices of northern Iraq.
The Kurds did enjoy a fair extent of autonomous rule under the Saddam Hussein regime — indeed they were also subjected to brutal oppression and crackdown on and off whenever the regime felt they challenged Iraq's interests. They revolted and expanded their autonomous status immediately after the 1991 war over Kuwait, and the US protected them against Saddam's army. Since then, they operated their own system in three provinces of northern Iraq with US support. With the ouster of Saddam in 2003, the two main Kurdish groups — which used to fight each other but reconciled somewhat in the late 90s — settled their dispute and put up a joint front as another step towards statehood in the three provinces.
They have done their own "ethnic cleansing" act and, for all technical purposes, they have also secured what they see as the territory which would be the forerunner of Kurdistan. However, they are seeking absolute control of the oil-rich Kirkuk area. But they might not find it as easygoing as that as they move closer to their goal.
The US should be opposed to the idea if only because the Kurds seeking an independent state is bad news all around for Washington.
It would lead to a division of Iraq, with the Shiites of the south seeking their own autonomous entity (some of them have already moved along those lines) in the oil-rich southern areas but also control over central Iraq. How the Sunnis would react to such a move is only predictable.
In any event, a disintegration of Iraq would be the biggest humiliation that the US would suffer, given that it would prove that the world's sole superpower could not control and pacify the country and keep its people under check. Of course, there are other strategic and political imperatives at play for Washington in Iraq and they do not leave room for a divided Iraq, (unless of course there is a hidden agenda where Israel wants to deal with the Kurds on their own and source its energy and part of water from northern Iraq without having to worry out the Shiites and Sunnis of the country; all bets are off if that is the case indeed).
Turkey, which has a significant Kurdish content in its population, would fight tooth and nail the idea of Kurdish independence, which will also draw fire from Iran and Syria, both of whom have Kurdish minorities.
Kurdish leaders like Saddam successor Jalal Talabani and Barzani, the "president" of the Kurdish autonomus government, are maintaining that they would not seek to break away from Iraq and remain committed to Iraq's national unity and territorial integrity, but there is pressure from within their ranks for independent statehood.
Barzani's order to replace the Iraqi flag could be a balloon test for Iraq and wider Arab reaction. If the people of Iraq and all those Arabs and Muslim who want to preserve the country's identity and integrity are found wanting, then the danger of Iraq splitting would come much closer than the world expects it.