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NCF SECRETARY GENERAL PRIVATE REPORT:
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
Written from Suleimaniyeh
These personal notes are not for general circulation
So who is ready to die? Perhaps the Kurds are.
Khalid al Kashtiny, the great Iraqi satirist, sent me an e-mail three nights ago. It ran, "An hour ago, we spoke over the telephone (dish) to three people in Samarra. They gave us full accounts of the fighting. The foreigners ran away as soon as they saw the US and Iraqi forces advancing to the town, leaving the fighting to the local lads whom they managed to recruit. These suffered heavy losses. The people are quite happy with US/Iraqi action. They said they got rid of what they called 'the gang'."
But a question here, who are those courageous Iraqi troops ready to fight and die for freedom? The ordinary lads recruited on the streets of Baghdad? No. They are young blood Kurdish Peshmerga, raised on a tradition of fighting - and fighting to the death - for their homeland. These are the battle-hardened Iraqi troops we depend on to form the backbone of the new Iraqi army. Most of this younger generation of Kurdish fighter do not even speak Arabic. But they do believe in the new Iraq. At the moment . . .
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was in Kurdistan yesterday, except he chose to just call it "Northern Iraq" rather than offend the Turks by placing too much emphasis on Kurdish autonomy in a federated Iraq. Kurdistan is far too big a subject to digest at one session. Like a photographer, you have to choose a perspective then discard the rest. So let's deal with the big picture, by which I mean the staggering pressure being put on Kurdistan by both the Arab world and the West to secede from Iraq. There is a feeling of Cassandra-like glee as this is written. It is like some conspiracy, except this is not deliberate. More an accidental conspiracy of circumstance resulting in a coincidence that is uncanny. Someone once said there is no coincidence only Godincidence. But that is reckoning without a devil. There may be something Satanic about this situation, for the ultimate consequence may be civil war.
Essentially, there are five nations putting hard pressure on Kurdistan to go for independence and secede from a federated Iraq. These are America, Britain, Turkey, Syria and of course Allawi's Iraq. They are supported in this by almost every Arab government in the Middle East. The process is simple. It is summed up in one word: ISOLATIONISM. And it is magnificently effective. It has become sustained and almost unstoppable.
Briefly then, a few minor points to give you a flavour:
Turkey holds thousands of trucks in long queues at the Iraqi/Turkish border. They want the Kurds to allow them to build a second border crossing and associated highway that will focus traffic towards Mosul and away from Kurdish Regional Government controlled territory. Something the Kurds are reluctant to approve for obvious reasons.
Syria meanwhile also withholds final approval for a quite separate bridge from the Western border into Kurdish Regional Government territory and a new border crossing, in an act of solidarity with Turkey.
UK refuses to open a consulate in Kurdish Regional Government territory, preferring to locate their consul for Northern Iraq in the disputed city of Kirkuk, despite the worsening security situation there, because they wish to avoid sending out signals that they are backing a federated Iraq too deliberately.
USA has no consul at all in Northern Iraq - for similar reasons. The representatives it has operate out of Kirkuk and Mosul. The US has voted billions in reconstruction aid but not spent it because of the security situation. Where it could be spent, in secure Kurdish Regional Government territory, it is not spent because it would look bad to have a successful peaceful Kurdish region whilst the rest of Iraq was at war.
Allawi's Iraq does everything to hamper federalism. This is mostly the aftermath of the culture of anti-Kurdish racism fostered under Saddam. The little things are very effective. Refusal to allow the release of funds for the sewage system in Arbil. Refusal to allow Kurds to join international training programmes for medical staff. That sort of thing. The pressure from Allawi's Iraq to force Kurdistan to break away is consistent, unrelenting, and staggeringly deliberate.
And then there is the big issue:
Iraqi Kurdistan is composed of five regions: Mosul, Dohuk, Arbil, Suleimaniyah and Kirkuk. Saddam hived off Mosul and Kirkuk. In the 1991 uprising the Kurds achieved quasi-autonomy for themselves in Dohuk, Arbil and Suleimaniyah. In the 2003 war of liberation the Kurds took Mosul and Kirkuk back. Then, in one of the stupidest acts of the Western War supremos - yes, stupider still than demobbing the Iraq Army - we forced the Kurdish Peshmerga, our allies, to withdraw from Mosul and Kirkuk.
This insane blunder, the action of incompetents, meant that Mosul and Kirkuk became cauldrons of blood, and that is what they remain to this day, whereas Arbil, Suleimaniyah and Dohuk are battened down tight these days, the streets safer at night than those of London or New York. Proud "death before dishonour" style Peshmergas keep them that way and, to be honest, it's a breath of fresh air.
However, as a sop to the Kurds who, it must be remembered, have gone to war many times over Kirkuk, we passed something called the Transitional Administrative Law, better known as TAL. Article 58 of TAL, combined with other promises from the allies, effectively assured the Kurds of the following process. (And yes, before you ask, Kirkuk does have oil - but the Kurds have agreed that all Iraq's oil be treated as a national resource so that need not necessarily be a problem):-
1 The Kurds want the city to be officially named KIRKUK (Saddam changed the name to Ta'amin and that name is still used in some official papers.
2 The Kurds want all the districts and villages hived off from Kirkuk Governorate by Saddam and distributed to other provinces (some were given to the provinces of Tikrit and Diyala) to be returned. (Saddam did this in the first place to reduce the Kurdish ethnic dominance of that region).
3 The return of all Kurdish or Turkoman IDPs (internally displaced persons). Which means let the refugees, some hundreds of thousands of them, come home.
4 Send back all the Arabs who were forcibly settled in Kirkuk by Saddam. Now this is one of the contentious points because some of these guys have children born there. These are the so-called fifty-thousand-dinar Arabs, brought from the South by Saddam and paid money to build homes on Kurdish farmland, to alter the ethnic balance of Kirkuk. Any local Kurds whose homes were in the way (many many thousands) were evicted in the process.
5 A census to take place in Kirkuk.
6 A referendum in Kirkuk to see whether the people wish to be part of the Kurdish Regional Government, as provided for in article 58 of TAL.
I asked Massoud Barzani, the warlord who holds Dohuk and Arbil for the Barzan tribe, about the Kirkuk issue. We were in his mountain eyrie, high, high above Arbil. He had been chatting amiably with Ambassador Hambley and the other members of our delegation. Now his eyes turned harsh. He looked at me. "You understand what was done to our people in Kirkuk". Yes, I said, not wanting to provoke him further, but I believed that the policy of removing the Arab settlers was tantamount to reverse ethnic cleansing and two wrongs did not make a right. So I said as much. He gripped the arms of his chair and stared at me. And he said, carefully measuring his words, a hint of anger just below the surface, "The issue of Kirkuk is sensitive. After all these years it must be resolved. Many thousands of our people were expelled and replaced by Arabs ... Those brought after 1975 - it is best that they leave and are compensated. It will save lives because part of the thinking of every Kurd is that they do not want those people to stay. Later it will be natural for Arabs to come here and settle, but not under a program to change demography. As regards the Arabisation program, if one single Arab brought here by Saddam remains ..." his words tailed away almost menacingly. Then he added, "For those that wish to see Iraq a united Iraq, they will have to see to the inclusion of this item".
Well yes. He's right. Every Kurd, from street sweeper to minister, is united on this issue. But we intend to betray them in spite of article 58. It is our tacit policy. How clumsy can you be? Article 58 is troublesome and the thinking is why not let it slide. After all in time the Kurds will forget. For a start, who needs a census? Isn't the election a census in itself? Anyway, that's our thinking.
Furthermore, we have hitched our wagon firmly to the Sunni Arabs of central Iraq, the inheritors of the mantle of Saddam. They are the hardest fighters against our coalition forces. We call them "former regime loyalists" and "Al Qa'idah sympathizers". And we are getting into bed with them.
A civil war is brewing in which we will find ourselves defending the Sunnis, the very people who most hate us, from the Shiites in the South and the Kurds in the North. The Kurds will re-take Mosul and Kirkuk and the Shiites will take Baghdad. We will end up in a little enclave around Tikrit, where we have a modus vivendi. Falujah will become the new Halabjah. That city will be demolished brick by brick. Iraq will partition into two countries not three. We will withdraw with as much dignity as we can muster - and peace will reign for a day or two - until some idiot country like Turkey decides to invade and the whole catastrophe starts again.
Yes, it will take a while for the dust to settle in Iraq. If you want to be an imperial power and meddle in the internal affairs of another nation, you should behave like an imperial power and have some sort of grand strategy. But we don't.
But then who knows? Perhaps we'll rise up and honour our commitments after all, at least over Kirkuk. But just in case we don't, here are a few quotes for you:
"If there was a referendum in Kirkuk, the Kurds would win".
"Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan".
"The Kirkuk situation is delicate. But Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan. Though we won't deny the rights of other nationalities".
"The commitment to TAL is what we need from the USA".
"The Kirkuk issue should be resolved. If that is done we support a federal Iraq. If not, we will not tolerate a federal Iraq. There is another way ... we will have a war".
"Kirkuk for us is a red line".
"Kirkuk is within Kurdistan. But it is a multinational city. We cannot deny this".
"Give me Kirkuk. You don't need to deport the Arabs if you do that".
"We do not want Kirkuk separate from Kurdistan".
"We would be ashamed to let you see Kirkuk, because though Kirkuk is awash with oil, nothing has been spent on the civil situation in Kirkuk".
So, at risk of labouring the point, it is probable that we will refuse to implement article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law. Then the Kurds will invade and take Kirkuk. Will that trigger civil war? Your call. No one can be sure. But yes, maybe it will.