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Barham Salih: The Kurdish Dream

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"Today, we fight alongside you because in a world of cynicism, the U.S., and its genuine allies, understand that they cannot use the Kurdish dead to justify this war and then sell out the Kurdish living. We have been sickened to hear those who armed Saddam preach to us about the horrors of war, to listen to those who helped prop up the dictator prate about international law."
  • By Barham Salih

The Wall Street Journal March 21, 2003

Mr. Salih is the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government and a senior leader of the "Patriotic Union of Kurdistan"


Kirkuk matters to Kurds because it is a historically Kurdish city from which the Iraqi regime has ethnically cleansed tens of thousands of Kurds, along with Turkmens and Assyrians. The Kurdish regional governments assist these deportees from Kirkuk every day. The Kurds are not the sole victims of Baathist Iraq, but we are its primary casualties. Kirkuk is our Gorazde.

Finally, the great day has come. For Iraqis, the wait has been agonizing, the suffering great. "Operation Iraqi Freedom" will topple a tyrant and plant the seeds of democracy in the Islamic Middle East. In the coming weeks all of Iraq will enjoy the freedoms that are now only found under the cover of American and British warplanes in Iraqi Kurdistan, "Free Iraq."

On Wednesday it was announced that the peshmerga, the Kurdish resistance fighters whose name means "those who face death," will be under U.S. command. In truth, we have been cooperating with the U.S. for many months, preparing for the possibility that Saddam Hussain would defiantly subject the Iraqi people to yet another war. Old airstrips have been rehabilitated. A number of guests have arrived fresh from recent excursions in Afghanistan.

Diplomatically, we have worked closely with the U.S. to unite the Iraqi opposition around a viable program for the future. The Kurds have acted as mediators within the opposition because we seek nothing more than the right to be equal citizens of Iraq, not to rule others.

Today, we fight alongside you because in a world of cynicism, the U.S., and its genuine allies, understand that they cannot use the Kurdish dead to justify this war and then sell out the Kurdish living. We have been sickened to hear those who armed Saddam preach to us about the horrors of war, to listen to those who helped prop up the dictator prate about international law.

We are fighting for a federal, democratic Iraq that will be at peace with its citizens and its neighbors. For decades the Kurds have argued for a federal Iraq that would protect the rights and identities of all Iraqis. Federalism is now the goal of the Iraqi opposition and received the blessing of President Bush on March 6. Our brand of federalism will be geographically, not ethnically, based. We are not seeking to recreate Yugoslavia.

We fight for a state we can be proud of, not live in fear of. We want devolved government, not a centralized administration. The Middle East is too full of strongmen. Like the framers of the American constitution, we will not put our trust in just one man, no matter how good his intentions. Federalism will protect the persecuted peoples of Iraq and prevent the re-emergence of the brutal totalitarian executive that has been our misfortune.

To work, Iraqi federalism must be democratic and plural. We must hold elections quickly, to allow long-silenced Iraqis to speak. Of course, the true test of democracy is when people know that they can afford to lose elections. In a democracy, when you lose at the polls the worst that can happen is that you are a "has been." In too much of the Middle East, if elections are even held, lose them and you are a jailbird.

Free Iraq is a haven of pluralism, an achievement that visionaries such as Paul Wolfowitz have praised. In Suleimaniya, my hometown, we now have 132 media outlets where before there were just three: an official Iraqi government newspaper, an official Iraqi government radio station and an official Iraqi government television channel.

A core element of pluralism is respect for difference. The Kurds, a long-suffering people, are well aware of the rights of others. In Free Iraq, minorities have their own schooling and media outlets, freedoms that are there for all but the most dogged chauvinists to see, freedoms rare in the Islamic Middle East. Indeed, in Free Iraq minorities are represented throughout our government - we have Turkmen ministers and Assyrian parliamentarians.

It is because we Kurds have suffered that we respect the rights of others. Our culture, language and identity have been denied and suppressed. We are called a "martial race," or mere "tribes," chauvinism that our Turkish brothers have also endured. Perhaps that is why many Kurds like myself regard Turkey's secular democracy as a model.

Unfortunately, some issues, such as the city of Kirkuk, are misunderstood. Kirkuk is not about oil. The old, depleting oilfields around Kirkuk do not belong to the Kurds, they belong to all Iraqis, as do the giant undeveloped fields in Southern Iraq that will pay for reconstruction.

Kurds have loudly protested the maltreatment of all Kirkukis, whether Kurds, Turkmens or Assyrians. If there is one criticism that I would make of our friends in Turkey, who have facilitated our experiment in democracy by allowing Western air cover, it is that they have been too silent about the abuse of Turkmens by Saddam.

Elections and minority rights will be fragile if we do not cut out the financial heart of Iraqi fascism, the state-controlled oil sector, or fail to reform the armed forces. Oil needs to be demonopolized and then privatized. We must ensure that a Russian-style oil mafia does not emerge. Many in the Iraqi oil sector have clean hands politically, but they have sticky fingers.

We must build the army anew. The present Iraqi army's first "combat" mission was to butcher Assyrians. It soon turned its arms on the Kurds, attempted a pro-Nazi coup in 1941, attacked Israel and threatened Kuwait - all this before the Baath Party definitively seized power in 1968. Some want to preserve the army because Iraq is in a "tough neighborhood." But what rough areas need are not better thugs but good policing. A democratic Iraq will sign defense pacts with its neighbors and with the U.S.

In our rebuilding, as in our liberation, we will need U.S. support. Together we can add to the achievements of Free Iraq by transforming Iraq from the Middle East at its worst into a beacon of hope for a region that has been too long trapped in fear.


Comment: United Front against the warlords

Posted by: albert at 2003-03-29

This guy is really smooth. If Mao had an opportunity to write for the Wall Street Journal about his united front with Chiang Kai-shek against the northern warlords he couldn't had done it smoother.

The geographic federalism proposal neatly handles the Turkish and Arab opposition to Kurdish self determination by consolidating a situation that will eventually allow a peaceful secession like that of Norway from Sweden rather than forcing a bloody conflict earlier.

The demonopolization of oil proposal addresses the central problem of modernizing the oil rentier states. Bourgeois property rights and civil society are severely underdeveloped due to the state and the bureaucrat bourgeoisie being financed from state oil revenue rather than from civil society. Social status dependent on position in state power is similar to classic feudalism (also mixing ownership of landed property with military power) and also to social fascism rather than to a modern capitalist society.

Even Turkey has only recently begun to develop a hereditary bourgeoisie that owns property without depending on the whims of government/military officials. Iraq still hasn't got one.


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Created by keza
Last modified 2005-01-04 05:26 AM

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