Friday, September 01, 2006

The Kurds Go Their Own Way The Kurds Go Their Own Way

Michael J. Totten in Reason: The Kurds Go Their Own Way: Can freedom flower in Iraqi Kurdistan? has a great article on the state of affairs in Iraqi Kurdistan. He has put together his postings from his visit there into this article. Some excerpts:
There are no insurgents in Kurdistan. Nor are there any kidnappings. A hard internal border between the Kurds’ territory and the Arab-dominated center and south has been in place since the Kurdish uprising at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. Cars on the road heading north are stopped at a series of checkpoints. Questions are asked. ID cards are checked. Vehicles are searched and sometimes taken apart on the side of the road. Smugglers, insurgents, and terrorists who attempt to sneak into Kurdistan by crossing Iraq’s wilderness areas are ambushed by border patrols.

In a region where rule by reactionary clerics, gangster elites, and calcified military dictatorships is the norm, Iraqi Kurdistan is, by local standards, an open, liberal, and peaceful society. Its government is elected by a popular vote, competing political parties run their own newspapers, and the press is (mostly) free. Religion and the state are separate, and women can and do vote. The citizens here are tired of war, and they’re doing everything in their power to make their corner of the Middle East a normal, stable place where it’s safe to live, and to invest and build...

Only 200 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Even those are mere tokens. The Kurdish armed forces, the Peshmerga (“those who face death”), are in charge of security. They do a remarkable job. Since Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime was toppled, only a handful of violent attacks have taken place in their part of the country...

If Middle Easterners had drawn the borders themselves, Iraq wouldn’t even exist. Blame the British for shackling Kurds and Arabs together when they created the post-colonial, post-Ottoman map. The Kurds do. Like the English, they refer to a toilet as “a W.C.”—but they insist that stands for “Winston Churchill.”..

Some Middle Eastern countries—Egypt, for instance—are grim, depressing places that feel like they’re circling the drain. Iraqi Kurdistan is optimistic, full of hope, infused top to bottom with a go-go, build-build attitude. Vast tracts of lovely new housing developments are under construction all over the major cities. Suleimaniya, the region’s cultural capital, has doubled in population in the last three years. It’s up to around 800,000 now, although no one is sure how many people actually live there. Like all cities that undergo rapid urban migration, most of the newcomers live on the outskirts. Unlike most Third World cities that explode in population, the outskirts of Suleimaniya are more prosperous than the old inner city...

It’s hard to say what will come next. The Kurds seem to know what they want, but even they have no idea what their next move is. If they declare independence today, Turkey very well may invade; the Turks dread nothing more than Turkish Kurdistan attaching itself to Iraqi Kurdistan. Or open war could break out between Kurdistan and what’s left of Iraq. No one wants to lose the black gold mine in the earth beneath Kirkuk. Even the U.S. might not recognize an independent Kurdish state for the trouble it may cause if Ankara and Baghdad aren’t persuaded to go along first.

The Kurds are patiently biding their time. But make no mistake: They aren’t waiting to decide if they want to remain part of Iraq. They’re waiting for just the right moment to jump.


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