Legend has it that in A.D. 64 the emperor Nero (A.D. 37 – A.D. 68), last of the Caesars, set fire to Rome to see ‘how Troy would look when it was in flames’ and to serve as a suitable background for a recitation of his poetry while accompanying himself on the lyre.” Recent history in Iraq indicates that the Maliki government is seeking to fiddle while Kurdistan burns.
“TIKRIT, Iraq (AFP) — Thousands of Sunni and Shiite Arabs took to the streets across Iraq Saturday to defend Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against criticism from leaders of the country’s Kurdish minority. Demonstrations were held in the northern Sunni town of Tikrit — the hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein — the once-restive Sunni town of Hawijah, and the mostly Shiite southern cities of Karbala, Najaf, Nasiriyah, Samawah, and Hilla, AFP correspondents said.”
There is a rising tide of actions by both the government in Baghdad and the sectarian militias and political parties to provoke conflict so they can prevent the implementation of Article 140. “Kurdish Parliamentary President Adnan Mufti led the session [of the Kurdish Parliament] to discuss bringing regional armed groups into line with the Iraqi army as well as power-sharing arrangements with the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad. On the topic of the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia, Parliament noted the force is the legitimate protector of Iraqi Kurdistan, according to the state constitution.” It is vital for Kurds in the Diaspora and in the region to present the Kurdish issue to governments that have disregarded it far too frequently in their policies.
Political solutions are not forthcoming with the wave of a wand. There is a clear and unequivocal record demonstrated by Kurdish political leadership in attempting to work out amicable agreements that should continue. Just recently: “Kurdish [political] parties in Jalawla, Saadiya, Khanaqin, and Qartapa agreed to evacuate the governmental buildings that they use as offices”. The strength of the status of the Autonomous Region is that the Kurdish nation has been empowered to some extent to represent Kurdish peoples. The impact of actions in Baghdad appears to be focused on minimizing the ability of the KRG to govern within Iraq and raise new concerns for the future safety for Kurds. Surely, the demonstration in Tikrit is a clear warning for Kurds who endured so much suffering at the hands of Tikrit’s native son.
It is clear that the surge is empowering Ba’athists and Sunni militias. The consequences of this have yet to be addressed by either Congress or the President of the United States. While the Administration looks at only the reduction of US troop losses, the surge strategy has laid the foundation for a situation in Iraq that places Kurds’ safety increasingly at the mercy of strengthened sectarian militias. Increasingly, Kurds are being told to divvy up territory and political autonomy in the Kurdish Autonomous Region and within Kirkuk among Turkomen, Assyrians, and Arabs.
Kurdish Globe describes a maneuver by Baghdad to implement a new militia with the potential to threaten the Kurdish population in Kirkuk. “A plan to form a Kirkuk militia similar to the Sunni Awakening Council is being vehemently rejected by Kurdish party members. This plan is similar to the Sunni Arab tribal forces, where the government arms and pays tribes to establish groups of gunmen to support the Iraqi military and police forces in the fight against insurgents. Meanwhile, Kurdish powers see this project as a political play against Kurds. The Erbil meeting concluded with a statement: “once again, the issue of establishing Supporting Councils in Kurdistan and the disputable areas has been renewed by the Iraqi prime minister. The KDP, PUK, and other groups allied with the KRG have already expressed their position of rejecting such a dangerous plan, which is just another form of ‘Jashayati.’ We confirm the same position now.” Jashayati is a name used by Kurds given to Kurdish tribal battalions formed by Saddam Hussein to fight Peshmarga in the mountains in the 1980s. Elements of those battalions, who were called “Jash,” alongside the former Iraqi army fought against Peshmarga and took part in Anfal crimes, which victimized thousands of Kurdish villagers. After the 1991 Uprising, when Peshmarga took over most parts of Kurdistan, the Jash were forgiven according to a general amnesty; many of them joined the Kurdish parties.”
The KRG has never prevented multi-party representation. Neither has it sought to negate the vote of non-Kurds within the Kurdish Autonomous Region or as participants in implementing Article 140. Proposals that presume to carve up Kurdish regions, while increasing Baghdad’s centralized control seek to minimize the gains of the Kurdish nation and promote ethnic conflicts in the region. Those who advocate Turkish military occupation of southern Kurdistan strike at the critical right of self-determination for Kurds.
Now is the time for implementing the right of return for Kurds and others forcibly displaced from Kirkuk by Saddam Hussein. Priority needs to be given to housing for the returnees. A recent article presented how 2,500 people, mostly Kurds, were currently residing in mud and cinder block huts underneath the Kirkuk Stadium.
Recent attacks in Mosul are indicative of the dangerous scenarios ahead facing the Kurdish nation. It is important to note that 2,200 families fled Mosul earlier in the month because of an upsurge in anti-Christian violence in the city. Hassan Alaf of the Islamic party proclaimed that “Mosul is an Arab province.” Harem Kamal Khurshed, the Mosul head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has warned: “We want to coexist with everyone,” he said, “but there are elements in the new parties like Hadba that want to monopolise the whole provincial council and bring back the Ba’ath regime”. The recent confrontation between peshmerga and Iraqi national troops in the city of Khanaquin is a harbinger of things to come in Mosul and elsewhere.
Peter Galbraith says the ethnic factions have started taking on distinct roles in Iraq. “We have, in the north Kurdistan, which is, in all regards, an independent country with its own army and its own government. And now between the Shiites and the Sunnis there are two separate armies — there’s a Shiite army — it’s the Iraqi army, but it’s dominated by the Shiites — and in the Sunni areas there’s now the Awakening — a 100,000-man strong militia. And it is because of the Awakening, and not so much the surge of U.S. troops, that there’s been this decline in attacks by al-Qaida.”
World events present a new context in which the situation in Iraq evolves. We have seen a new President elected in the United States and also the election of Turkey to the UN Security Council. We have more than 19,000 South Korean troops stationed in Irbil withdrawing by the end of the year. The recently elected Vice-President in the United States has long advocated a federated solution in Iraq that is supported by many Kurds. There is concern about the ramifications to Kurds of a rapid withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
“Turkey‘s election as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council by a considerable majority (151 out the 192 member states) reflects Turkey’s importance in the current international system. Resolution of the issue of PKK presence in Syria and the events in Iraq have helped relations between Syria and Turkey thaw in recent years. Some claim that a new axis is currently evolving between Turkey, Syria, and Iran based on a shared interest in the future of Iraq.” Newly seated non-permanent members of the Security Council include Austria, Japan, Mexico, Turkey and Uganda. They join Burkina Faso, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and Croatia as non-permanent members.
The planned withdrawal of South Korean troops eliminates a buffer between Kurds and the Turkish military and sectarian militia. It raises new issues in regards to Turkish military intentions and capabilities. The potential of conflict with Turkey means strengthening Kurdish armed forces.
There are diverse forces within the states inhabited by Kurds. The organizations range from the DTP, PKK, PJAK, PDKI, the Kurdistan National Assembly-Syria, the KDP, PUK and others within Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Within the regional states the broadest unity of Kurdish political forces in a minimum of parties is needed to strengthen influence and organization. The task of strengthening Kurdish unity of action remains a strategic matter for the Kurdish national movement.
Unifying with other political and national forces as possible is a matter of national survival for Kurds. This can be done in elections for Popular Unity governments around particular candidates and campaigns. It can be done through power sharing as has been demonstrated in southern Kurdistan. It can be done at the provincial levels after careful reviews of the goals and objectives by the parties involved.
So once again the Americans leave Kurds without following through on their commitments made to Kurds. Once again Saddam’s henchmen raise their heads and seek to legitimize their status at the expense of others. Once again world powers are oblivious to the future of Kurds. Once again Turkey is afforded power to make decisions regarding the future of Kurdish peoples.
Leadership provides clarity of purpose and decisiveness of direction. It means establishing how to shape the future and not just be shaped by the decisions of others. This is no time for sophistry and no place for Nero.