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March 12, 2003

Kurds and the War

There was a debate yesterday on al-Jazeera between two Kurds, one pro-Saddam and one anti. Most of it went how you would expect, according to the account I read on kurdishmedia.com. Until this:

None of the participants called for a free and independent Kurdistan. The silence was broken when Adnan Kushah, a caller from London, told the programme, "I want to tell something to the whole world through this channel. Kurdistanis are not Iraqis and they don’t want to be Iraqis. Kurds are different from Iraqis. South Kurdistan is not Northern Iraq. Kurdistan has a population of around 40 millions and it has been occupied by Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Kurds are calling for an independent united Kurdistan."

Al-Jazeera has been accused in the past by Kurds of broadcasting wrong and false information about Kurds in south Kurdistan. Like many other television stations, Al-Jazeera regards south Kurdistan as Northern Iraq.

And who doesn’t refer to it as northern Iraq, I wonder? (By the way, in the language of the nationalist Kurds “South Kurdistan” is what we refer to as “Iraqi Kurdistan.”) It makes me wonder what sort of nationalism is fomenting among the Kurds of Europe.

The anti-Saddam Kurd was for the war, of course, just like his leaders are. Kurdistan is the wrong place to be reporting from if you’re against the war. I can argue with the people here about the immorality and dangerous precedent of an unprovoked war. Or about how attacking Iraq will be be a terrorist recruitment campaign than any Osama bin Laden could dream up. Or about George Bush’s naivete or his advisors’ shady intentions. But people here don’t care. They tell you about all the chemical weapons attacks on their people, about how 4,500 Kurdish villages were destroyed during the Anfal campaign of the 1980s. They still feel afraid of him, and many people here are afraid he may use chemical weapons again against the Kurds once America attacks.

I went to one village recently, Shekh Sherwan, which was destroyed during the Anfal campaign and is being partially rebuilt. They are just on the border with Iraq proper and so are the most vulnerable if Iraq retaliates against the Kurds. But every single person I interviewed wanted the war. Badly. One guy, Omar Kadir, told me “No one has suffered from Saddam Hussein more than the Kurds … Everyone who is a Kurd will support this war, and there are Kurds who have suffered more than me and they will want the war even more.” And I asked one of his neighbors, a fat, jolly guy named Mohammed Mustafa Ahmed about people in the west who oppose the war. “I’ve seen them demonstrating in America, Germany and France, but they haven’t seen the situation of the Iraqi people. If they’d seen what has happened here they would be demonstrating for the war, not against it,” he said.

Most of the journalists here are pretty moved by the stories of the Kurds. One guy I spoke with, an Italian communist, said he was against all war but that when he came here he started to support attacking Iraq. It is now time to trot out the quote that everyone uses about the Kurds, from Henry Kissinger: “Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.” He said this after backing out of a deal to support the Kurds against Baghdad in 1975.

Ironically, Kissinger’s argument is the same one that liberals in the west are now using to oppose the war. No one disagrees that Iraq would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and I suspect that if a fair referendum were held within Iraq a good majority of people would accept the humanitarian consequences of a war in exchange of getting rid of Hussein. But moderately liberal people in the west – myself among them – argue that this is not the point, that the geopolitical risks outweigh the humanitarian benefits. (People further to the left believe that the US will massacre thousands of people and oppose the war simply on humanitarian grounds. I think they are a little naïve about this. Though one thing that troubles me is that a UN report from Baghdad predicted that up to a million children could die in a war if the civilian infrastructure collapsed. I think this must be a worst-case estimate, but if it turns out to be true all those people who support this war on liberal grounds will regret it.)

In any case, there is something that troubles me about people’s rush to war here. For the last 12 years, while Kurdistan has been basically independent, Iraq has basically ignored Kurdistan. The Kurds’ life here is not bad, or at least it’s not going to improve that dramatically if Saddam Hussein is gone. Now recall what I said in a previous entry about the people’s opinions here deriving directly from their leaders’.

I happened to be in the luxury hotel suite of Ahmed Chalabi, head of the CIA-created Iraqi National Congress, the night that Colin Powell gave his big presentation on Iraq to the UN Security Council. With him were Barham Salih, prime minister of the PUK, which controls the eastern part of Kurdistan, and Kanan Makiya, a Chalabi advisor who is the most prominent Iraqi intellectual in the US, author of “Cruelty and Silence” and “Republic of Fear.” These men were positively gloating, and their only regret was that the INC and PUK were not properly credited with supplying the intelligence to the US. I have spoken to Makiya on a couple of occasions and believe him to be a good man who loves Iraq and who is uncomfortable about relying on the US so much but feels he has no choice. But Chalabi and the Kurdish leadership here are almost naked in their desire for power. Chalabi is already negotiating with oil companies, one top Kurdish official told me he’s aiming for an ambassadorship in Europe. And these are the people who are convincing the Kurds that the US-led war is a good idea.

March 12, 2003 in Kurds | Permalink

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Comments

Just a thought in response to this, from above:

But moderately liberal people in the west myself among them argue that this is not the point, that the geopolitical risks outweigh the humanitarian benefits. (People further to the left believe that the US will massacre thousands of people and oppose the war simply on humanitarian grounds. I think they are a little naïve about this. Though one thing that troubles me is that a UN report from Baghdad predicted that up to a million children could die in a war if the civilian infrastructure collapsed. I think this must be a worst-case estimate, but if it turns out to be true all those people who support this war on liberal grounds will regret it.)

I think my own biggest reservation is some of the weaponry the US is likely to use. I just don't know enough about the depleted uranium from both the Gulf War and the Afghanistan War, but what I hear makes me loathe to see the US inflict that on anyone, no matter how bad he or she is. I hear cancer rates are very high still from the Gulf War.

So yeah, civilian casualties are deeply troubling, even more so than on the surface. Add to that the environmental damage likely to occur, with health problems and damage to the planet, with ramifications that are global, and it is hard for me to consider any other position than opposing the war.

Miasma

Posted by: Miasma | Mar 13, 2003 12:56:56 AM

As a supporter of the war, this is the first objective report I have read in over a year from either side. Were the journalism in the West (yes, I include European news in that comment) this honest, then at least the dialogue on the level of the streets would be different, and I think that there would be enough people supporting and resisting the war demanding some answers of those in power.
I close with a reference to another entry, where you are 'saved from teh bell" from having to define democracy.
One half of it is institutional, where citizens (slipepry term) are both empowered and secure in electing and then influencing reprasentative decision makes.
The west has that part down failry well.
The other half is the psyhcilogical, inward part, which is oriented toward sorting facts from personal biases, and finding the power to act and decide even when fear or confusion are at work.
I feel that this part is mainly observable in the parts of the world where the insitution is being fought for or is freshly, non-stabally installed.
Hopefully the two will ocme togetehr, however thew ar plays out.
I feel that this entry was a small demonstration of the mindset that can one day acheive real democracy.
Great work, Josh.

Posted by: Benjamin | Mar 16, 2003 10:13:35 PM

" Kurdistan is the wrong place to be reporting from if you’re against the war"

Damn right

Posted by: Internet flat | Jan 21, 2004 12:49:39 PM

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