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DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ

Soma - by Dr. Joseph Kechichian - February 28, 2007

It is not often that two respected publications, The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, circulate important essays on Kurds and Kurdistan within weeks of each other. Jon Lee Anderson first gave us a provocative “Mr. Big: Where is Jalal Talabani Taking Iraq?” [5 February 2007], followed by Christopher de Bellaigue and his “The Uncontainable Kurds” in the Review's post-dated 1 March 2007 delivery. Both are provocative, asking key questions about Kurdish leaders, and analyzing otherwise obscure motives. 

Yet, and despite undeniable difficulties, both fail to see how recent history contributed to the democratization process under way in Iraq. In fact, Jalal Talabani, Massoud Barzani and Abdallah Ocalan may, in their own ways be doing more for the creation of democratic institutions for the 27+ million Kurds and their neighbors than many assume.

Rather than summarize the two essays in detail - which readers can easily access on the Internet - a few points deserve attention to better answer this opinion.

First, de Bellaigue differentiates between Kurds who married Turks and decided not to teach their children Kurmanji in order to take their place in mainstream Turkey, from those who remained predominantly in the southeast where many drew strength from, and supported, the Kurdish Workers Party.

Courageously, he provides details on clashes that caused serious hardships and many casualties in 2006. He tells us, for example, how Diyarbakir became ungovernable for several days after “thousands of unemployed young men, many of whom live in the streets and survive by begging and shining shoes, trashed banks, police stations, and shops.”

The contrast between tragic developments in southeastern Turkey and Kurdish regions in Iraq, a country at war, are stunning indeed.

Second, de Bellaigue addresses “Turkey's longstanding fear, that the Kurdish federal region in Iraq will declare independence, adding to nationalist passions among its own Kurds.”

Naturally, the fact that Kurdistan was the calmest part of Iraq and that no Kurdish groups launched anti- American attacks, spoke volumes.

Moreover, even if de Bellaigue believes that Massoud Barzani’s recent declaration to The Wall Street Journal that “the parliament of Kurdistan has decided to remain within a federal, democratic Iraq” is a short-term option; few can ignore considerable institution-building throughout Iraqi-Kurdish areas. In fact, while some Iraqis as well as interested outsiders, may suspect that Kurds are determined “to gain ownership of the oil-rich governorate of Kirkuk” - a territory with a mixed population of Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, and Christians - Kurdish leaders have accepted that Kirkuk's final status will be decided through a referendum before the end of 2007 within the Iraqi constitutional framework. Kirkuk’s oil wealth would certainly enable Kurdish independence, but no land-locked "country" will long prosper, without access to secure export routes. That, inevitably, will require sophisticated statesmanship.

Third and as brilliantly analyzed by Anderson, President Jalal Talabani, assessed the long-term consequences of irredentist sentiments, and placed them in abeyance, to better protect Kurdish rights. In fact, Talabani found a lot more merit to an integrated Iraq, perhaps along a federal set-up, which would benefit from the goodwill of its Turkish, Iranian and Syrian neighbors, limited as they may be. Talabani was keenly aware that an independent Kurdistan would “cause Turkey to be even more repressive of its own Kurds,” and that “Iran would feel more threatened" and "would be more likely to intervene secretly and openly in Kurdish affairs.”

Therefore, not only are there strong economic incentives to cooperate "as Kirkuk’s oil will need to flow either to the Mediterranean via Turkey, or via outlets that will jut out through Syria, Iran and, of course, Iraqi ports, but, equally important, Kurdistan will probably gain much more within a unified and strong Iraq.

As Jalal Talabani and other Kurdish leaders are surely preparing for the day when American and British forces withdraw, it may well be that their safest option is a strong Iraq that will successfully defend the country - and Kurdistan - from any interventionist tendencies emanating in Ankara or Teheran. There is little doubt that an independent Kurdistan will be pro- Western in its leanings, but a better Kurdish contribution to itself, Iraq, and neighboring countries, is to further develop its proven democratic experimentation.

With the exception of Lebanon, the Kurdish region of Iraq is today the most democratically inclined area one is likely to find anywhere in the Arab World. Ironically, this new impetus comes from a land that gave Arabs and Muslims Salahadin, whose successors could add value by championing freedoms for all.

Printed with permission. From  Soma

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