Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Kurds to Baker-Hamilton: Don't Sell Us Out Again

An old map of Kurdish lands, ca. 1992 (source: Perry-Castaneda Map Collection).

You can read Masrour Barzani's response to the Iraq Study Group Report in the Washington Post or on the Kurdistan Regional Government website. The immediate aim is clearly to prevent a cancellation of the popular referendum planned for Kirkuk. The long-term aim is to safeguard the autonomy of Kurdistan within Iraq - in other words to maintain the decentralized structure outlined in the constitution - and to protect the Kurds from hostile external intervention.

If you recall, the ISG Report warned about the violent fallout such a referendum might engender (see my previous post). Clearly, Baker and Hamilton want to stop such a referendum from taking place - ostensibly to prevent civil strife in Kirkuk but, more importantly, to keep Turkey happy. Turkey, it should be noted, claims that it is concerned about the safety of the Turkman population; it is probably most concerned about ceding any more oil-rich areas and powers to the Kurds. Barzani does not mention Kirkuk at all, but he objects vehemently to the ISG Report's "flippant" treatment of the constitution (after all, it guarantees the right of the Kurds to hold such a referendum). In the Baker-Hamilton report, the words "amending the constitution" often appear immediately before the phrase "settling the future of Kirkuk" (see for example ISG Report, p. 18).

The Baker-Hamilton report takes pains to portray the Iraqi constitution as a partisan document engineered by the Kurds and Shi'a at the expense of the Sunni. Yes, the constitution happens to reflect the interests of Shi'a and Kurds. There's a reason for that - as the report admits, "The Sunnis did not actively participate in the constitution-drafting process." Maybe if they hadn't been so busy killing Americans and other Iraqis, things would look different today. Why should the rejectionist forces be rewarded now? Is it all as part of the imperative to preserve a united Iraq? I think that if the ISG had visited Kurdistan they might have understood better that it's either this kind of Iraq or no Iraq at all for the Kurds.

What I like about Barzani's argument is that it points out the pitfalls of the "realist" bandwagon. The realists have been sharpening their knives against the neo-cons for years. Their current offensive builds on the demonization of neo-conservative visions of the Middle East. To be fair, when turned into policy, those visions have been disastrous. But to imply that Baker & co. represent a more moral approach is perverse. Let's not forget - lest we do, Barzani won't let us - that the report "was partly written by those who orchestrated the saving of Saddam Hussein in 1991." Let's not forget that this act of realism led to the deaths of thousands of Kurds. Yes, today, there are 3,000 Iraqis dying every month. But few of them are Kurds. Why should the Kurds have to pay for the mess that is Iraq? Why should their interests be sacrificed at the expense of those within Iraq and outside its borders who have consistently embraced the rejectionist and obstructionist policies that have led to the daily massacres of Iraqi civilians and the deaths of many American soldiers?

Against the logic of appeasement, which in this case means privileging the interests of regional powers over those of people on the ground, Barzani invokes democracy - he uses the word seven times. One, the constitution reflects a vote by the majority of the Iraqi population (true). Two, Kurdistan's autonomy is firmly anchored in the will of the Kurdish people. It seems bizarre that the only undeniably positive outcomes of the American invasion of Iraq should be sacrificed at the altar of a realpolitik that is likely to make things worse for America in the long-term. At the minimum, those championing this part of the Baker-Hamilton report should not be allowed to get away with presenting themselves as morally superior to anyone. It would behoove them to take note of Barzani's appeal:
Don't sell us out to our authoritarian neighbors and those who are terrorizing our communities. We agreed democratically to participate in this project because we were guaranteed the rights needed to protect our people. We Kurds are asking President Bush and America to remember the sacrifices we have made to keep your loved ones safe in Iraq. We are asking you to keep a promise where those before you have failed.
Unfortunately, in today's political climate, the opponents of Bush are likely to be so blinded by their thirst for revenge against the neo-cons, that they will dismiss this as mere rhetoric.

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