Toward the Independent Republic of Kurdistan.--

Michael Totten has a typically insightful piece on how things are going in Kurdistan:

In January 2005 the Iraqi Kurds held an informal referendum. More than 80 percent turned out to vote. 98.7 percent of those voted to secede from Iraq. Not only have the Kurds long dreamed of independence, when they look south they see only Islamism, Baathism, blood, fire, and mayhem. . . .

Arab Iraqis who want to "keep" Kurdistan ought to thank the heavens for Jalal Talabani, Iraq's new president and the party chief of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. He belongs to the 1.3 percent of Iraqi Kurds who want to stay connected to Baghdad. The Kurds love Talabani, whom they affectionately call "Mam Jalal" (Uncle Jalal), for leading the militarily successful fight against Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, Masoud Barzani, President of Kurdistan and party chief of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, is playing the "bad cop" role. While Talabani is busy in Baghdad trying to hammer out the best federalism bargain the Kurds could ever hope for, Barzani broods in his mountain palace and openly threatens secession.

Not one Iraqi flag is flown in Kurdistan's capital of Erbil, which doubles as the stronghold of Barzani's KDP. Only maps will tell you that Erbil is part of Iraq. The Iraqi flag is flown on government buildings in Suleimaniya, the stronghold of the PUK. But it's the old Iraqi flag, the pre-Saddam Iraqi flag, the one that doesn't have Allahu Akbar scrawled across the middle of it.

The Kurdistan Regional Government has its own ministers. They report to no one in Baghdad. The Kurds have their own military. They have their own economy. They have their own internal border, and they are its only policemen. The Kurds even have their own foreign policy. Their government is internationally recognized. When Masoud Barzani travels to foreign capitals he is recognized as the President of Iraqi Kurdistan.

I knew that most Kurds want independence, but I had no idea of the numbers.

Much of the article concerns Kirkuk, the oil city to which Saddam imported Sunni Arabs.

At the same time the Kurdistan Regional Government is trying to push one dangerous population out of what they say is their area [relatively newly arrived Arabs out of Kirkuk], they're actively recruiting a safe population to move north and settle in Kurdistan.

Arab Christians from the south and the center of Iraq are actually given money and housing by the KRG if they move north. Insisting on a purely Kurdish region or a purely Muslim one is the last thing on the establishment's mind. What they want is geographic federalism or sovereignty. And they need as many well-educated, competent, and trustworthy people as they can find. They don't care about race, and they don't care about religion. They are concerned strictly with numbers and security. It's just that some groups are more trusted than others. Arab Christians will never join an Islamist jihad, as everyone knows. And the Kurds trust Arab Christians not to join the Baath either. Arab Muslims can and do move north to Kurdistan as well, but they need approval from the KRG and they are not given incentives.

Fascinating stuff!

Thus Brandenburg/Prussia after the Thirty Years' War, with the French Huguenots and others. It's good to see what are essentially market forces at work. I only hope the Kurds' realpolitik goes far enough to avoid confrontations with Turkey and Iran. If that doesn't happen, we might actually see real allies emerge, both ideological and practical.
2.21.2006 3:01am
Cisco (mail) (www):
98.7% for independence? This reminds me of the informal referendums on FTAA at my university (UFRGS, in Brazil), where those promoting would get bitchy if you decided to vote "yay". I would be very much surprised if those 98.7% turned out to be even marginally representative.
2.21.2006 7:32am
nk (mail) (www):
Control of the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates is a touchier issue for Iraquis than Iran with nukes is for Israel. I will go the opposite direction and opine that Iraq's ability to keep the Kurds from seceding will be the real test of its strength as a viable nation.
2.21.2006 7:43am
AppSocRes (mail):
The Kurds are essentially an enlightened sect of Islam ( women are treated as the equal of men, the Koran is a book -- not something that pre-existed Allah -- and sharia is not the law of their land ) with some additional ethnic identity. Sallah al Din (Saladin) was a Kurd. His generally chivalrous behavior, intelligence, and learning have always characterized the group.

They deserve independence. If France and England hadn't been so intent on carving up the post-World War I mideast in a way that suited their colonial interests, we'd probably have a Kurdistan today and that country would be one of our firmest allies. They might even be friendly or neutral towards Israel on the theory that the enemy of my enemy is not my enemy.

The 97% figure is probably real. The Kurds are a very distinct and self-identifying group. The only scarey thing is that a significant portion of what should be Kurdistan is still in the rump Ottoman Empire that is today denoted Turkey. All this thanks once again to the geopolitical genius of Lloyd-George, et al.
2.21.2006 8:11am
An independent Kurdistan is terrifying. Not because of the Kurds' outlook on the world (which is not nearly as pro-West as many people believe), but because of Turkey. I honestly think Turkey would invade northern Iraq before they would accept an independant Kurdistan. The last thing the U.S. needs now--given the troubles in Iraq, Iran, and the West Bank--is more instability, this time from one of our staunch allies in the region.
2.21.2006 8:40am
SimonD (www):
Key term: Iraqi Kurds. This is because there are non-Iraqi Kurds.

The difficulty is that Kurdistan is not just an area of Iraq - it extends into Turkey and Iran, neither of whom, I suspect, are likely to be exactly enthralled by the idea of national self-determination, and either of which might be so vigorously opposed to it that they will fight to protect their interests. The prospect of Iraq's disintegration and the emergence of an independent Kurdistan - a blowtorch in a powderkeg - was one of the reasons I was keen on US troops on the ground, rather than simply an assasination.

On one level, it's pretty hard to argue against the principal of national self-determination, and how do you look 97% of Iraqi Kurds in the eye and say "sorry, chaps, but it looks like you're stuck with it, so make the best of it," but I am deeply worried for the practical consequences of the Iraqi Kurds declaring independence.
2.21.2006 8:41am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Concur with the difficulties presented by Kurd independence, but we are not exactly in a position to dictate what goes on. If the Kurds think it's worthwhile, I'm not in a position to argue.

If Turkey doesn't attack and the Kurds stay independent, then it's almost unimaginable that the Kurds won't begin agitating on behalf of their brethren in Turkey &Iran.

See "Kashmir."
2.21.2006 10:43am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> The last thing the U.S. needs now--given the troubles in Iraq, Iran, and the West Bank--is more instability, this time from one of our staunch allies in the region.

Turkey isn't a staunch ally. They're an ally when it's convenient for them. If they weren't worried about Iran and Russia and didn't want to get into the EU, they wouldn't give the US the time of day.
2.21.2006 10:57am
SimonD (www):
See "Kashmir."
Think Kashmir but very possibly worse: AFAIK, the Kashmiris are not fighting both India and Pakistan for independence.
2.21.2006 11:15am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Agree with you there, SimonD.
2.21.2006 11:29am
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Do you guys - whoever mentioned it - really think that Turkey would be so myopic as to invade Kurdistan? Not only would their EU dreams be shot, they would in all likelihood be embarassed militarily by the US.
2.21.2006 12:20pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Do you guys - whoever mentioned it - really think that Turkey would be so myopic as to invade Kurdistan?

Hm. Lots of invasions are myopic. Ask Napoleon. Ask Hitler. Ask George W. Bush.

Much would also depend on *why* Turkey invaded. Kurdish provocation is going to be a reality sooner or later.

As for the U.S., are we *really* going to be the guarantors of Kurd independence? For how long? Can the U.S. be so myopic as to get into a war with Turkey?

The situation sucks, is the only sure thing about it. We have lots of those under the present administration.
2.21.2006 12:48pm
Anonymous Jim (mail):
More likely than Turkey invading Iraqi-Kurdistan without U.S. support would be Turkey invading Iraqi-Kurdistan and enlisting the U.S. Unless the Iraqi Kurds completely disavow the Turkish Kurds and commit to giving them no support, then if the Turkish Kurds continue to engage in armed conflict against Turkey (I am not saying they morally should stop), the contiued support by an independent Iraqi Kurdistan would be an attack on a NATO member state.

It is easy to hold up the Kurds and say "they are more pro-Western than other Iraqis" and that "they stood up for themselves", but the real argument is not about values it is about resources. The Iraqi Kurds, who make up about 15-20% of the Iraqi population want to lay claim to resources that far exceed their numbers.
2.21.2006 1:13pm
BU2L (mail):
Anderson, I wish I had a violin small enough that could truly provide a soundtrack for your, umm, disappointment with Bush. But, let's see this not through your foggy prism of leftist hatred of Bush, but through - you know - what actually happened/is happening.

Napoleon had an initial tactical advantage - he used combined arms like no one ever had before. That advantage eroded when his foes caught on. Napoleon failed to take this into account.

His other mistake was the same as Hitler's - he underestimated Russia's vast size and manpower, as well as its ability to expend that manpower with no regard for the individual.

Bush on the other hand, is fighting a war that even the NY Times is starting to admit is, at least, winnable. But to paraphrase Glenn Reynolds, it's easy to tell the loser in a war. The loser is a guy asking for a truce on an audio-tape smuggled from a cave.

Still, the crux of our disagreement is not based on the difference in result - it's the difference in cause. Napoleon and Hitler fought expansionist wars. Bush, like him or not, is fighting because of a sincere good faith belief that fighting in Iraq is the best way to keep us safe. You can disagree with the strategy - I for one do, and you can read some back issues of StratFor if you want to know why - but I acknowledge that his heart is in the right place.

I'm writing this, and kicking myself for not being a bigger man - for not having the wherewithal to ignore knee-jerk Bush-Hitler comparisons. But don't you realize how you discredit yourself when you make - to be frank - ridiculous parallels? Dude... Come on...
2.21.2006 2:18pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Sigh. Bush can't be compared to Hitler (or Napoleon, for that matter) under any circumstances whatsoever? Can I borrow that tiny violin? Why are the Republicans trying to hard to take the Biggest Sissies mantle from the Democrats?

The point, ideologically neutral, was that political leaders do not always make behave like rational actors when deciding whether to invade their neighbors. Maybe I should've compared Bush to Mussolini, a more apt analogy.

So relying on the enthymeme that "it would be stupid for Turkey to attack an independent Kurdistan; ergo, Turkey will not invade Kurdistan" is not necessarily persuasive. The Turks are feeling rather put-upon by the U.S. and Europe. Unrest among their Kurdish subjects is not going to help the more liberal elements of Turkish government and society. Turkey might well decide it has more to gain than to lose. Wouldn't be the first time.

All this seems pretty obvious.
2.21.2006 3:32pm
nk (mail) (www):
Turkey is not going to give up one single inch of territory. Syria and Iraq find it bad enough to have one country (Turkey) in a position to mess with their water supply (Tigris and Euphrates) -- they are not going to allow a second one. And they are not going to give up any territory either. To Assyrians, Persians and Arabs, the Kurds are only another brand of Turk. Invaders who do not belong there. We (the U.S.) would be fools to support an independent Kurdistan. Talk about destabilization. But then again, we took the first step into allowing a nuclear weapon to be smuggled into the United States by giving our harbors to the United Arab Emirates. I sure hope Halliburton got sufficiently lucrative oil deals in exchange.
2.21.2006 4:08pm
Barb (mail):
Kurds have by far the most positive opinion of the U.S. and coalition troop presence of all Iraqi groups. See e.g. for a good compendium of statistics and polls.

My guess is that the U.S. favors a unified Iraq for this reason; if Kurds seceded, Iraq would be more anti-U.S. on balance. Personally, I think Turkish aggression fears are overrated, although I agree that a unified Iraq seems like a better idea.
2.22.2006 12:09am