In order to understand the current situation and to a certain degree, the internationalisation of the Kurdish question in Iraq, it is useful to go back briefly, to the First World War and look at various stages and the structure of such political events. The purpose of the review is to answer certain questions such as; which factors helped internationalization of the Kurdish question in Iraq? Was internationalization dependent or independent from the “Kurdish will “?
Due to the colonial division of Kurdistan and its forced annexation to four nation-states, the Kurdish question has, at the same time regional and international dimension, the first dominating the second.
However, after the fall of Hussein’s regime, this logic has changed drastically. As for the internationalization of the Kurdish question, in Iraq, from the World War 1, to our days, one can observe four main stages:
From 1918 – 1946. Colonial powers helped regional nation states, crushing all Kurdish revolts, and denied Kurds establishing their own state.
From 1946 – 1990. Under certain political circumstances, Kurdish question moved out of its regional framework to take an international dimension. As it happened during the Cold War. (1)
From 1991 – 2003. The emergence of the “Safe Haven Zone” following the second Gulf war.
The fall of Hussein’s regime in 2003, up to our day.
During the second phase, the Kurdish question fitted in and evolved around the bipolar logic of the cold war, it was used by USSR and to a lesser degree by the USA. The “balance of power” was a “fixed structure”, dominated by White House and Kremlin. The political game largely exceeded the Kurds. The alliance of the Kurds with a supper power during the cold war was an occasional and a short-term alliance. The great powers had not intervened directly and militarily in favor of the Kurds. Their intervention had a diplomatic and financial nature, with limited proxy military support. These tacit alliances were at the expense of the Kurdish people. The later were abandoned when agreements reached between the main actors, e.g.: Moscow – Teheran agreement in 1946, led to the collapse of the Republic of Mahabad, and USA-Iran - Israel abandoned the revolt headed by Mullah Mustafa Barzani in March 1975, after the Algerian Accord. The Westphalia Treaty (1648) was dominating the inter-state relations.
The fall of the Berlin Wall by popular action, the barrier separating West from East Berlin in November 1989, led to the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, and with it, the eventual collapse of the whole communist system in the Soviet Union and its empire.
Hussein did not grasp the new changes in the balance of power, he sent his armies to occupy Kuwait in August 1990. The President Bush could construct a coalition of sixty nations. In 1991, Hussein’s army was defeated and Kuwait restored its sovereignty.
The impact of Hussein’s defeat in Kuwait has brought radical changes inside Iraq. The Shia population in southern cities revolted, the Kurdish masses attacked Iraqi army garrisons, controlling nearly, the entire Kurdistan territory in Iraq. The Republican Guards crushed both revolts brutally. The Allied forces watched the cruelty in silence. Therefore, a massive exude of the Kurds towards the Iranian and Turkish frontiers started, it become the focus of media worldwide. European public opinion sympathized with the plight of Kurdish refugees. The Allies, enabling the refugees regain their homes, created the safe haven zone. An exceptional situation has emerged in Kurdistan. Gradually, the USA becomes the major actor in the Middle East politics.
From both areas: the “Safe Haven Zone” in Kurdistan, and “No fly zone” covering Shia populated southern regions, the USA sustained its political and military pressure on Hussein’s regime.
Thanks to the American pressure that, the internal bloody conflict among Kurdish chiefs has ceased. With the September 11, the USA interest on Kurds increased, particularly after Turkish refusal in 2003, to allow USA forces using its air and ground spaces to attack Iraq.
There are basis for mutual interest. The Kurds are a faithful ally to the USA, in a region where enmity to USA policies is the main feature. For the last 15 years, the Allies protected the Kurds from the tyranny of the Baath regime. The Kurds, according to their limited means, helped the USA forces to defeat the Baath regime and helped the capture of the fugitive dictator (Saddam Hussein), as well as some other outstanding criminals. Kurdistan is now, a safe area, no Ally soldiers were killed or harassed. Kurdistan is rich in oil, water and other minerals. Pipeline routes for oil and gas, passes through Kurdish territory to Turkey, then to Europe. There are, in general, no fanatics or dangerous extremism, despite the neighboring states’ attempt to radicalize certain religious factions among Kurds. South Kurdistan has a demographic potential of 6 million, out of 275 seats, representing the Iraqi National Assembly (INA), there are 52 seats for Kurdish Alliance, plus 5 seats for the Kurdish Islamic Alliance. Washington’s friendly approach to Kurds in Iraq, gained her the sympathy of millions of Kurds all over Kurdistan.
According to oil industry experts, Iraq has the world’s second largest oil reserves; new exploration may probably raise its reserves above 200 billion barrels of high-grade crude. The oil in Kurdistan and Iraq is attractive because: a- high quality. B- Plentiful, probably, it will become number one holder of oil reserves in the world. c- Costs of production are exceptionally low.
The USA, as an empire, with global strategy of domination, oil is at the core of its war against Iraq, and the support of the Kurds. Throughout the 20th century, major powers have battled to seize these vital sources of energy. The main international oil companies, based in USA and United Kingdom, were keen to regain control over Iraq’s oil, including the oil of Kurdistan.
With Washington, in control of energy sources in the Middle East, it can sustain enormous economic pressure against Russia, China and even against European countries which are unfriendly to USA policies. Further, Washington will influence the OPEC quota system, by pulling out one of its main producers. The Anglo-American heavy military presence in Iraq, form a warning factor against Iran and Syria, enhancing at the same time, the security of Israel.
In order to strengthen peace and stability in the region, the major oil companies should not be allowed to make high rate of profit, while the majority of people lives in poverty. The past errors of oil exploitation should not be repeated in Iraq and Kurdistan. Under the British and Arab rule from 1923-1991, oil in Kurdistan was a source of destruction and misery. Iraqi governments used oil profits for military equipment; the RAF and the Iraqi air forces bombed and destroyed thousands of villages, used chemical weapons. Iraqi army massacred thousands of Kurds, Shias and Assyrians. Oil is an effective weapon, either for good or bad, according to the desire of the owner, but extremely dangerous when it fall into the hands of a dictator. Let us take the example of oil-for-food program, handled by Hussein’s regime and the United Nations, The goal was to provide food to impoverished Iraqis, “the arrangement became spectacularly corrupt, with U.N. officials receiving kickbacks from the Iraqi regime and the humanitarian supplies never reaching Iraqis” (2)
Investors would buy oil at low market price and would sell it at higher price; Hussein used some of this money, externally and internally, to buy political influence. Some biggest business partners were Chinese, French and Russians. The oil-for-food program tarnished dangerously the credibility of the UN, and some of its top officers. Internally, Hussein who controlled vast sums of money from Iraqi oil, would choose his partners for money distribution, his policy in Kurdistan, supporting a Kurdish party against another, mainly, “divide and rule” policy, led to a bloody fighting among Kurdish ruling parties. The culture of silence, dominating Kurdish mentality, prevents shedding light on deals done in darkness, with certain Kurdish top leaders.
In order to build a civilised, democratic and a stable state, based on transparency, justice and equal opportunities for all, oil revenues must be taken out of individual and political party monopoly. This cannot be achieved without a strong USA intervention in favour of real democracy in Kurdistan. Unfortunately, up to now, we are far from such trend; hence, ambitions of millions of Kurds are undermined. Rubin Michael correctly pointed out: “When the West embraces stability instead of democracy, dictators triumph”. This is what is happening now in Kurdistan.
Historically, relations between Jewish and Kurds were good. The ancient Jewish of Kurdistan lived together in the same land and shared common life with the Kurds for centuries. When Hussein’s army was defeated in March 1991, he used his forces to crush the Kurdish upheaval. Traumatised by past chemical attacks, nearly 2 million people marched towards Turco-iranian frontiers. In the mid of harsh rainy and snowy weather, hundreds of children and elderly people died from cold. The Organization of Kurdish Jews in Israel begun to mobilize, protesting against the inaction of the USA. Me Haviv Shimon, the President of the Organization, declared to Jerusalem Post on April 8 1991: “This time, the Americans are to be blamed. They are advocating new world order and do not respect what they say”. There were serious attempts to make Israeli government move in favour of Kurdish refugees. (3).
In July 2003, two months after President Bush declared, his premature victory in Iraq, the Israeli intelligence was much less optimist about the outcome of the war, they warned the Americans that the insurgents had the support of Iranian intelligence and other foreign fighters. Israel has kept a watchful eye on Syrian and Iranian activities in Iraq. Fearful, that Iran and Syria will recruit armed militia among the Iraqis, and form an axe, linking Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hamas, Jihad and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hence, Israel has found the Kurds as a counter balance force against Damascus and Teheran policies. Israeli security vision necessitates its physical presence in the entire Middle East. Geographically, Kurdish land, borders Syria and Iran, from where Israel can have an observation on Iran’s nuclear efforts. In fact, the relations between Israel and Kurds are a delicate matter; the weak point in Kurdo-Israeli relations is that, it has no geographical connection between Kurdistan and Israel. The contacts cannot be established without raising Turkish suspicions.
Regrettably, there is no unified and coherent Kurdish foreign policy, based on long-term Kurdish interest. Each of the Kurdish ruling party leaders has his own hidden foreign policy and connections, without the knowledge of the other.
We know now for sure, that relations between Israel and the Kurdish revolt headed by late (Mullah Mustafa Barzani 1964-1975) were under Iran’s close control. It could not move beyond the red line drawn by the Iranian authority. When the Shah reached an agreement with Hussein in Algeria in 1975, the USA and Israel withdrew their support. Today, under different circumstances, Turkey may be playing the same role, as did Iran, three decades ago.
Despite conflicting interests between Turkey, Syria and Iran, their mutual wariness of the “Kurdish peril”, has always transcended their differences. For Israel, four major recent events rendered the Kurdish factor indispensable: The Shia majority have democratically dominated the Iraqi National Assembly. Hams will form the new Palestinian government, the election of a radical personality, Ahmedinejad as the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but more important, it seems that the USA in Iraq is in real trouble.
Meanwhile, Turkish authorities view the Kurds as a threat and the neighbourhood as partners, the Israelis, view the neighbourhood as hostile, with exception of Kurdistan. In many occasions, we have witnessed the eruption of mutual critics between Tel-Aviv and Ankara over Kurds and Hamas. The recent visit to Ankara, by a delegate from Hamas, exasperated Israelis. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, bowing to such concerns, called off plans to meet the Hamas delegation. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul held informal talks with the Hamas represantatives. It would be naif, if Kurds under estimate the security and trade ties between Turkey and Israel. It is unfortunate that in the Middle East, enter-state treaties are imposed by the logic of security and enmity. This is an offensive strategy, undemocratic and leads to distrust, antagonism and plotting in darkness.
At this historical juncture, where sectarian violence and terrorism, are the main features dominating Iraq and the Middle East. We, the Kurds should distance ourselves from enter- community wars, by calling for dialogue, peace and friendship between nations. It might be wise for the Kurds to remain neutral and embark on global political efforts, to convince states and international public opinion, to recognize “Kurdistan neutrality”. The Kurdish diaspora can play an important rule in such endeavors.