Kurdistan on the Rise

March 20, 2007 at 1:28 pm | Posted in Iraq | 3 Comments

Michael J. Totten, who normally writes about Lebanon, is touring Iraq, starting with Kurdistan, and his account of the north of Iraq is marvelous. I highly recommend this read. He takes some good pictures, and interviews local people to get a good sense of what they think.

Kurdistan’s rise flips Iraq on its head. The Kurds are ahead, but they started from nothing. Under Saddam’s regime they had the worst of everything – the worst poverty, the worst underdevelopment, and worst of all they bore the brunt of the worst violence from Baghdad. 200,000 people were killed (out of less than four million) and 95 percent of the villages were completely destroyed.

The Kurds seem happy and well-adjusted. Scratch the surface, though, and any one of them can tell you tales that make you tremble and shudder. Everyone here was touched by the Baath and by the genocide. If living well is the best revenge, the Kurds got theirs.

“You see this place now with its government, its democracy, and its system of laws,” my guide Hamid said. “It wasn’t like this even recently, believe me. Before, it was a jungle.”

Baghdad, the Sunni Triangle, and Shia South are still jungles. No one I know here thinks the Sunni and Shia Arabs will be able to reconcile and live with each other in peace – there is too much bad blood between them. I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s not. The Middle East is an unpredictable place, and I’ve made a fool of myself often enough by thinking I know what will happen.

What I do know for sure is that Baghdad is burning and Kurdish power is rising. The question up north isn’t whether Iraq will come apart, but only when, how, and into how many pieces.


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  1. Good for the Kurds. They definitely deserve some good times, after all they’ve been through.

    The only thing is, Turkey tends to look at Kurdish prosperity as a threat to its control over its own Kurdish population. I wonder how much the U.S. is keeping Turkish forces in check and how long Kurdish prosperity would last if the U.S. didn’t have involvement in Iraq.

  2. danithew,

    I agree. I think the US is exerting a lot of pressure on Turkey, as much as they probably can. Turkey has very valid reasons for their concerns about a strong, oil-rich Kurdistan. Turks are being killed by Kurdish terrorists. This is not something we would tolerate. As such, it is hard for us to ask them to tolerate it too.

  3. The Guardian has an article out on the problem seemingly getting worse.

    The US is scrambling to head off a “disastrous” Turkish military intervention in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq that threatens to derail the Baghdad security surge and open up a third front in the battle to save Iraq from disintegration.

    Senior Bush administration officials have assured Turkey in recent days that US forces will increase efforts to root out Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) guerrillas enjoying safe haven in the Qandil mountains, on the Iraq-Iran-Turkey border.

    But Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s foreign minister, MPs, military chiefs and diplomats say up to 3,800 PKK fighters are preparing for attacks in south-east Turkey — and Turkey is ready to hit back if the Americans fail to act. “We will do what we have to do, we will do what is necessary. Nothing is ruled out,” Mr Gul said. “I have said to the Americans many times: suppose there is a terrorist organisation in Mexico attacking America. What would you do?… We are hopeful. We have high expectations. But we cannot just wait forever.”

    Turkish sources said “hot pursuit” special forces operations in Khaftanin and Qanimasi, northern Iraq, were already under way. Murat Karayilan, a PKK leader, said this week that a “mad war” was in prospect unless Ankara backed off.

    Fighting between security forces and Kurdish fighters seeking autonomy or independence for Kurdish-dominated areas of south-east Turkey has claimed 37,000 lives since 1984. The last big Turkish operation occurred 10 years ago, when 40,000 troops pushed deep into Iraq. But intervention in the coming weeks would be the first since the US took control of Iraq in 2003 and would risk direct confrontation between Turkish troops and Iraqi Kurdish forces and their US allies.

    Interestingly, Turkey is not happy with the US because it appears that the CIA is secretly funding those very same Kurdish rebels to try and destabilize Iran:

    The firm Turkish belief that the US is playing a double game in northern Iraq. Officials say the CIA is covertly funding and arming the PKK’s sister organisation, the Iran-based Kurdistan Free Life party, to destabilise the Iranian government.

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