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As post-Baathist Iraq is formed, Kurds who were oppressed by the regime are fighting for as much autonomy as they can get from Baghdad.

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While Kurdish leaders gain power in Baghdad, many Kurds continue to demand independence. By Frman Abdulrahman in Sulaimaniyah (ICR No. 160, 19-Jan-06)


Every morning when the school day begins in northern Iraq, students sing an anthem and raise green, red and white flags with bright suns in the centre. Both represent Kurdish heritage, and neither have any connection to Iraq.

"No one should say the Kurds are dead," students chant. "Kurds are alive. They are alive, and our flag will never fall."

It has been nearly 100 years since British and French colonial forces carved up the Middle East and split the Kurdish territories among several countries. Despite the fact that Iraqi Kurds struggled for decades and still do not have their own country, nationalism - and a sense of Kurdish pride - is stronger than ever in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Schools are not required by the authorities to raise the Kurdish flag and or sing the anthem, but do so on their own.

"The ritual of raising Kurdistan's flag is a way to expressing our love and respect to our nation and our own flag," said Ibrahim Maruf, a primary school headmaster in Sulaimaniyah.

As post-Baathist Iraq is formed, Kurds who were oppressed by the regime are fighting for as much autonomy as they can get from Baghdad. And Baghdad does not push Kurdish authorities on such technicalities as naming border points with Turkey "Iraqi Kurdistan" as long as the Kurds don't push for an independent nation.

But for many Kurds, that is the ultimate goal. Years of oppression by Saddam Hussein's regime have led to a perpetual mistrust of Arabs.

The younger generation, which grew up under a semi-autonomous Kurdish government following a successful rebellion against Saddam in 1991, has even less connection to the Iraqi state than older Kurdish Iraqis. Many comprehend but do not speak Arabic and have never travelled to Arab areas in Iraq.

The only way to fully liberate Kurdistan is by declaring independence, said Gizing Ahmed, a 24-year-old teacher.

"The current agendas of the Iraqi Arab political powers are not much different than the ideology of the Baath Party," he argued.

The leading Kurdish political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party, have endorsed a unified Iraq by working as key players in drafting the national constitution, which voters approved in October. The constitution was controversial, particularly among young Kurds, because it does not allow for Kurdish self-determination.

An unofficial vote held by an organisation called the Referendum Movement during the January 2005 parliamentary elections also found 98 per cent of those who cast ballots wanted an independent Kurdish state.

"It has become clear to the all parties what the Kurdish people want," said Fatah Zakhoyee, a former culture minister with the Kurdistan regional government's Sulaimaniyah administration and an advocate of an independent Kurdistan.

Strong nationalist sentiments remain even though Kurds are seen less as victims and more as key political players in Baghdad. Jalal Talabani, a popular Kurdish leader and head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, is widely expected to be appointed to a second term as president of Iraq. But public confidence in Baghdad and local administrations is weak.

"People want to express their desire for an independent and separate Kurdistan," said Dyar Ibrahim, who has a stationary shop in Sulaimaniyah and reported that demand for Kurdish flags and maps are on the rise, particularly among young people. "They dream of this by raising the maps and flags of Kurdistan."

"People have little hope in political change," he maintained, "and they want to be independent from Iraq."

Frman Abdulrahman is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah.
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Last modified 2006-01-24 04:08 PM

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