Thursday, December 29, 2005

Germans and Kurds

Long breakfast, pouring over the New York Times. Several things of interest.

First, the Justice Minister of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony), Herr Uwe Sch√ľnemann, told the German newspaper Die Welt that “known Islamic militants” should be “electronically tagged so their movements could be tracked.” Niedersachsen is one of the sixteen German States.

I think the good Herr Sch√ľnemann has an excellent idea, and in consequence I acquit him in advance of any malicious intentions. Keeping tabs on “known Islamic militants” and other people who want to blow us up seems pretty sensible to me. Too bad the Germans didn’t have such a program in place when Mohammad Atta called Hamburg home.

Still, am I the only one that sees a touch of, well, irony, in such a proposal coming from a German Justice Minister ? Mind you, it’s not a bad idea, and El Jefe in general likes Germans and Germany, but these are, after all, the people who invented the yellow stars-of-David from not so long ago. Stars of many other colors too.

Even more interesting is that such a proposal is in the back pages of the New York Times, and escapes entirely without comment from this journalistic beacon of civil liberties. Today’s editorial on foreign affairs is on Mubarak’s Egypt. You can bet your bottom dollar the editorial pages would be positively bleeding ink if the Governor of Texas or a pro-US foreign government such as Egypt or, God forbid, Israel, aired such a trial balloon. Of course, the Germans, as opponents of US Iraq policy, are in the Times’s good books…

A good story on page A-12 of the Times about the city of Kirkuk. That city, in northern Iraq, sits on lots of oil, and consequently, everybody wants it. The Kurds and Turkmens have a historic claim, but Saddam moved in Arab settlers because they were supporters of his government, and displaced lots of Kurds. Bottom rail on top now, and the Kurds are bussing in settlers as fast as they can: both former residents and new folks, trying to position themselves for a referendum on provincial status in 2007. The Kurds want the city included in their autonomous portion of Iraq.

The developing situation is interesting. The Kurds want independence, but neither the rest of Iraq nor the Turkish or Iranian neighbors want them to have it. Their only friends, for the moment, are the Americans. The Kurds have been the most reliable local US allies in the place.

The Kurds have, in practical terms, two choices. The first, and most rational, would be to grab all the autonomy they can get out of the central Iraqi government, and bend over backwards to get permanent US bases on their soil. Unlike the Shiites and Sunnis, the Kurds would probably like a long-term US presence, which guarantees their autonomy status and would keep the Turks and Iranians out. Control of the Kirkuk oil-fields would sweeten the pot. Neither the other Iraqis nor the neighbors would like this, but in the short term at least, there is little they could do about it. The joker in the desk is the willingness of the US to hang around long term. I would hope this would work: the US could do worse than having the Kurds securely in their corner.

The other choice is go full-bore for independence. Truly, the inclusion of Kurdistan in the Iraqi state, to begin with, was one of the greatest injustices of the post-World War I peace settlement, but outright secession at this point would be opposed by all non-Kurdish parties. Absent the total breakup of Iraq, I do not think this could be accomplished without US support, which, at the moment, is not forthcoming.

But the whole thrust of Kurdish policy seems to be autonomy now, and independence later, and this means Kirkuk will continue to be a flashpoint. An independent Kurdistan is not viable without the city, and the surrounding oilfields. The Sunnis and Turkmen are very, very upset about Kirkuk, which is possibly even more dangerous at the moment than Baghdad.

Watch Kirkuk. This city is the bird in the mineshaft. If Kirkuk can be pacified, the new Iraq, in whatever form it finally takes, will work. If not… it’s only a question of where the partition lines will be drawn, and how long the civil war will be.

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