Friday, December 31, 2004


Today's New York Times has an article about the Kurdish provinces of Iraq, (Dohuk, Erbil, and Sulaimaniya), which are already independent in all but name, and are trying to stay that way. No Iraqi flags in sight, according to the times, but the Kurdish red, white and green with a sun in the middle is everywhere. The residents already call the place Kurdistan.
Much of the rest of Iraq, the Sunni portions anyway, is in chaos, but Kurdistan is doing quite well, thank you. The Times article says there's a building boom in Erbil (or Irbil), the capital, goods are in the shops, and investment is flowing in. The Kurdish diaspora is sending home cash from Europe and America, and the Kurds stand to come into some already appropriated US aid money that the Sunni areas of Iraq have opted not to accept (too many officials are terrified of being blown up if they use that money).
Erbil is old -- it is at or near this place, on 1 October 331 BC, where Persian Shah Darius III chose to make Persia's all-out effort to destroy the invading arimes of King Alexander III of Macedon (a.k.a. "Alexander the Great"). Shah Darius failed, his armies utterly defeated in what is known as the Battle of Gaugamela, leaving the heartland of the Persian Empire open to the invader, costing him his throne and his life.
Modern Kurdistan is well-policed and has a functioning, mostly democratic, government (it calls itself a "regional" government). Kurdistan also has the only units in the "Iraqi" armed forces which American generals have been able to consider at all dependable -- at least 80,000 under arms, tolerably well disciplined and equipped. Kurdistan enjoys relative prosperity and power mostly because the Kurds have been free of Saddam's regime (and Iraqi control) since their successful rebellion in 1991. The no-fly zone in northern Iraq, and American diplomatic and military pressure, (and a sometimes not-so-covert military presence) prevented Saddam from re-asserting control.
The 64 dollar question is what happens now. Under the temporary Iraqi constitution, given to Iraq by America, Kurdistan has "autonomy" which amounts to veto power over the applicability of Iraqi laws to them. The Kurds are afraid of what will happen after all-Iraq elections on 30 January. The Kurds assume that if they don't like the permanent constitution produced by the new Iraqi government -- they can veto that too. The other Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis, don't like that one bit.
What the Kurds really want, of course, is independence. None of the neighbors would like that, the Turkish and Iranians both have large Kurdish minority populations who might get dangerous ideas. The American State Department wouldn't like it either -- the US government, and governments in general, are instinctively against anything smacking of secessionism or changes in national boundries.
El Jefe hopes the Kurds go for it, and that somehow the cards, for once, break in their favor. Gypped out of a country in 1921 (sold out by the British), oppressed by Turks, Arabs and Persians forever, sold out by the US and the Shah of Iran in the 70's -- the Kurds finally got a break in 1991, and have been the only regional player that has fully and completely assisted the Americans in the effort to topple Saddam and his Baathist tyranny. They've earned their reward, and deserve the opportunity to make a go of nationhood.

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