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What is in this war for the Kurds?

David Miller Online

What is in this war for the Kurds?

As the war in Iraq draws to a conclusion it is succeeding in presenting more questions than it is providing solutions. There is now a growing debate as to the fate of Saddam Hussein and the United States is already making plans for the reconstruction of Iraq’s economy and political structure once the fighting ends. However even though this rebuilding process is still very much in its infancy, questions are being raised as to the form it will take. For example is there going to be a role for the United Nations and if so, how much influence is the organisation going to have? One question that has so far been overlooked is what will happen in the northern part of Iraq and the Kurdish population living there.

The plan presented thus far by the United States and Britain is to establish a new civil authority in the south and then gradually extend northwards as the country becomes more secure. The authority’s first priority will be to distribute humanitarian aid and rebuild infrastructure. This will not only ensure US control of Iraq after the fighting has stopped but it will also be aimed at winning the confidence and trust of the Iraqi people. It is crucial that this ‘hearts and minds’ campaign succeeds or else the US runs the risk of appearing as though it is merely a conquering foreign army rather than a force of liberators.

The most difficult question facing the US and Britain is in the north of the country and the question of what spoils of victory should be offered to the Kurds. This is not only the most difficult question of all but the one that has the potential to be the one that threatens any post war recovery for Iraq and the stability of the Middle East.

There a roughly 22 million Kurds dispersed throughout six countries – Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Although they have been recognised around the world as an ethnic identity, there has never been a Kurdish state. The promise that Kurdistan would rise from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War was revoked as Britain and France drew up colonial borders in the pursuit of strategic advantage and the securing of the oil fields of Iran.

The Kurds were quick to offer their support for the United States’ war effort in 2003 as they were in 1991 despite the withdrawal of American support for their cause twelve years ago that left them at the mercy of the Republican Guard. Nevertheless, as soon as US forces crossed into Iraq just over two weeks ago, Kurdish rebels quickly began aiding US troops overcome Iraqi positions and have become allies of the Coalition once again.

It was inevitable that the United States would come into contact with the Kurdish rebels once this war began. It would have been impossible to overlook the Kurds as allies or even keep them from the fighting with the need to open a northern front. Given the speed with which the Kurds entered the conflict it is reasonable to assume that they quickly realised that this was their chance to overthrow Ba`athist rule and press their claims for independence.

It is going to be very difficult for the United States to ignore the Kurdish demands or brush them aside. This is not just because they are once again working as Washington’s allies but they represent an armed and powerful faction in this equation. The US will need to station troops in Iraq to oversee the post war reconstruction of the country and to maintain stability and the last thing it needs is to be drawn into a second conflict, this time against the Kurdish militias.

I believe the most likely outcome of this situation will be limited self-government for the Kurds within a post Saddam Iraq. Although the Kurds themselves will feel this is not sufficient reward for their efforts once again, full independence will not be forthcoming due to the fear that it will cause instability within Iran and Turkey with their own Kurdish populations. The US will not want to risk any unilateral military action on the part of Turkey who see the Kurds as a threat and who may wish to invade northern Iraq to secure their own borders and territory. A Turkish invasion of northern Iraq would be disastrous for any rebuilding effort and would surely lead to a widening of the Kurdish insurgency that has been simmering for the past three decades. The United States will not wish to be caught in the middle and unfortunately for the Kurds, Turkey is a more important ally. It is for this reason and the need for a quick extraction from Iraq, that even after Operation Iraqi Freedom, Kurdistan will remain a dream.

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