Honigman: Iraq, What Not to Do
America's very soul is at stake here.
Iraq: What Not To Do...
We actually lasted there longer than I had predicted. While I did not wish it, back in 2005 I saw us out of there by 2008.
This long and deadly experience deserves a review--so let's turn the clock back a bit…
While it's true that America can't be policeman to the entire world, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein deserved to be overthrown.
His mass butchery warranted a death sentence as well. I won't mince words...I preferred this to happen via poison gas, as thousands of Kurds and others died at his hands. He was hung instead.
I will never forget his laughing at the notion that he would actually get a real trial for his barbarism. His victims never got anything near that. So America can praise itself for showing the Saddams of the world that it truly is better than them--in numerous ways.
Sorry, but as disturbing as it may be to say, the more he could have squirmed while dying the better. A bullet or the gallows (as happened) was too quick a dispatch for someone with as much blood and anguish to his credit. The Anfal Campaign alone took almost two hundred thousand Kurdish lives…almost all civilians. And there were many others as well.
Having said this, there always have been problems with America's actions in Iraq. The sad news was that Great Britain's experiences in Mesopotamia during the first half of the last century should have telegraphed at least some lessons to the geniuses at the State Department setting policy. If those lessons were sent, they certainly weren't well received.
The anxieties regarding a renewal of increased sectarian and ethnic violence being expressed now by many folks in the wake of Obama's withdrawal announcement once again point to a cold, cruel fact of life…
Iraq has always been an artificial nation--no more real than the now extinct Yugoslavia.
Like the latter, which emerged at around the same time as a result of the collapse of another imperial power, Iraq was created out of the Mandate for Mesopotamia, which the Brits received with the breakup of the almost five century-old Ottoman Turkish Empire after World War I. The Turks chose the wrong side to be on and saw most of what was left of their already over extended, evaporating, multi-ethnic empire disappear as a result.
The Balkan wars of 1912-13 helped seal the Ottoman coffin. These were followed after World War I with the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Among the new states which emerged when the dust settled was the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, Slovenes and Croatians--Yugoslavia--which consisted of the two kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro, plus the former Austro-Hungarian territories of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia and Dalmatia.
After World War II, the multinational Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was created and lasted until the wars of 1991-95 which resulted in the breakup of the country. American foreign policy led the pack in bringing about that dissolution, ostensibly to stop ethnic cleansing and mutual massacres.
While America's ire (for a variety of reasons--including, very probably, the need to show support for another Muslim group while blasting away at specific Muslim targets in Iraq and Afghanistan) singled out Christian Serbs, the reality was that various Muslim and ethnic Christian populations had been at each others' throats and trading atrocities for centuries. Prince Lazar of Serbia fought the first Battle of Kosovo in an attempt to stem the tide of the Turkish jihad in 1389.
In modern times, the glue which held this non-nation together was Marshal Tito.
Tito was a nom de guerre. He was born Josip Broz in Kumrovec, Croatia on 7th May 1892 and died in Ljubljana, Slovenia on 4th May 1980. He ruled with an iron fist, and with Tito gone it was simply a matter of time before the non-nation nation tore itself apart. While some ethnic groups can and do get along with each other to the point of forming multi-ethnic nations, some groups should have never been thrust into such a creation. Yugoslavia was an example of the latter...and, unfortunately, so is modern day Iraq.
As I write this current analysis, Turkish troops and planes are fighting in Iraqi Kurdistan, blasting Kurds from Turkey taking refuge there who are not even allowed to speak their own language in their own native land where they pre-date the invading Central Asian Turks by millennia. In Turkey, Turks won't even call these folks Kurds but refer to them--some 15 million or more people (just in the Turkish portion of Kurdistan)--as "Mountain Turks" instead to deny them their very identity. Imagine if Israel was doing this sort of thing to Arabs…At the same time, Iranian Kurds are caught in a similar subjugating, murderous vise, as are Syria's as well.
In a region in which Arabs claim sole possession, some thirty-five million Kurds (the world's ancient Hurrians, Kassites, Medes, Guti, and so forth) also predate them by thousands of years. Yet, to date, Arab nationalism has been awarded almost two dozen states--conquered and forcibly Arabized, since the 7th century C.E., from largely non-Arab peoples (with these processes going on to this very day)--while the Kurds still remain without one.
The best chance many awakening nations had was after World War I, with the breakup of massive empires. Diplomats openly spoke of Arabia for the Arabians, Armenia for Armenians, Judea for Judeans (Jews), Kurdistan for the Kurds, and so forth.
Kurds were promised independence, and until the Brits received a favorable decision from the League of Nations in 1925 on the "Mosul Question" (involving massive oil interests) at the expense of Ataturk's Turkey, this remained an open issue. President Woodrow Wilson's famed Fourteen Points had addressed their plight. Afterwards, however, the Brits (whose navy--the main arm of their empire--had recently switched from coal to oil) feared Arab wrath elsewhere in the oil-rich region, so decided to abort Kurdish aspirations. Arabs regarded the creation of an independent Kurdistan in the same light as they did the proposed partition of Palestine, an independent, non-Arab, black African Sudan, and so forth: None but Arabs were to rule over what they simply refer to as purely Arab patrimony.
The ancient and predominantly Kurdish areas of Mesopotamia were thus added to the Arab center and south to help make the resulting nation more economically viable. The problem, of course, was that Arabs--Sunni or Shi'a--had no intention of granting fellow Muslim (but non-Arab) Kurds any semblance of equality. And forget about folks such as non-Muslim Jews, Christian Assyrians, and such. For them, issues related to dhimmitude and the Dar ul-Islam also came into the picture.
Over the decades, in Arab Syria as well as Arab Iraq, Kurdish culture and language were suppressed, Kurds were forced to embrace Arab nationalism, were forcibly transferred from strategically important areas such as oil-rich Kirkuk (the heartland of ancient Kurdistan), were repeatedly massacred, and so forth. And, as I've already mentioned above, the non-Arab Turks and Iranians were doing a similar number on their own Kurdish populations...which brings us back to the original problem.
Having been denied their one best shot at independence after World War I in Mesopotamia by a coalition of British petroleum politics and Arab nationalism, it was inevitable--in an era in which other formerly suppressed ethnic/national groups were reawakening and being granted political rights and real estate--that revolts born of such frustration would break out elsewhere...in Turkey and Iran, in particular. The consequences of this tragedy haunt us today...at least some of us. And the problems involving the militant PKK and PJAK arise from this ongoing tragic state of Kurdish affairs as well.
To put this into greater perspective, both Hamas and Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas demand a 22nd Arab state on the ashes of Israel (one sooner, the other later)--despite the whitewashing done by their defenders. Yet the Kurds' PKK and PJAK do not seek the destruction of their stateless peoples' Turkish and Iranian tormentors--just the same freedom and rights that all peoples deserve.
That brings us back to our starting point...President George W. Bush's overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
George the First's earlier war against Saddam (after helping to build him up previously) resulted in tens of thousands of Kurds being slaughtered with American military might sitting within a stone's throw of the action. Having answered the President's call to rise up against Saddam, the latter did nothing to stop their slaughter afterwards.
No fly zones set up later on were established too late to help prevent what was all too predictable.
In the '70's, the American State Department was responsible for yet another similar travesty involving the Kurds.
Having encouraged Mullah Mustafa Barzani to lead a revolt against Saddam (Hitler's soul brother was around for a long time), it pulled the rug out from under Barzani's forces when America's ally, the Shah of Iran, made his temporary peace with Iraq's Arabs. Saddam soon unleashed his wrath against the Kurds, and hundreds of thousands of them fell victim to Arab (largely British-supplied) aircraft and superior fire power decades earlier as well.
So, here we are today...The American death toll from the just war against Saddam (no weapons of mass destruction? ... just ask the gassed Kurds if he had them or not) is now approaching five thousand. This does not include the many others permanently maimed and the massive economic costs.
All of this seemed to have translated into America's exit from Iraq sooner rather than later...regardless of protestations of President Bush about "staying the course and completing the job."
The first time around--in part, not to further anger other Arabs--George the First allowed Saddam to keep both himself and the bulk of his forces intact. That was a big mistake, regardless of the excuses that were offered. The Kurds and others paid dearly for this, as we have already seen. We needed to have done the job right or not at all...or, at least have done it "as right" as possible. And please don't throw me the line about just needing to liberate that giant oil well, aka Kuwait.
Now, in the wake of President Obama's recent announcement, as we prepare an exit strategy that should have been more carefully thought out prior to our last invasion (there was, historically, no reason to expect that a Western power would be welcome by most of the Arabs, regardless of the actual good that it was accomplishing for them), someone needs to have the sense of justice to say that America cannot allow this to become yet another murderous déjà vu experience for the Kurds.
America must finally throw its previously perceived, immoral, and hypocritical practices of real politik out the window.
Too many Kurds died as a result of such earlier justice for Arabs only double standards.
The State Department has repeatedly told some 35 million stateless Kurds that they dare not dream the same dream that those very same folks demand for Arabs...independence. There is no American-sponsored roadmap for the Kurds. But, in the Arabs' case, state #22--and second, not first, to be created for them in "Palestine"--is considered a must and is promoted by the White House itself.
The Sunni Arab approach to the Kurds has been reflected in typically murderous, racist, and subjugating attitudes even prior to the rise of the Baath in Syria and Iraq. Shi'a Arabs--while still temporarily in need of the Kurds to help balance suicide/homicide-bombing Sunnis--offer Kurds a long-term future not much better. And, when America exits the picture, expect this situation to rapidly deteriorate.
Since 2003, the Kurds have adjusted to the absence of a Kurdish roadmap by promises of meaningful autonomy in a loosely-structured, federal Iraq. Those assurances, too, however, are not written in concrete, and the State Department continues to treat its most loyal friend and ally in Iraq not much better than the British did in an earlier era: it uses and abuses them--done not to anger Arabs, but also to not anger Turks who fear what an adjacent, independent Kurdistan might mean for their own huge, subjugated Kurdish population.
While Turkish fears and concerns must be addressed, their own selfish interests must not dictate Kurdish destiny. The existence of an independent, Muslim Albania did not stop America from promoting the cause of Muslim Kosovar Albanians at the expense of the true native Serbs. Remember that first battle of Kosovo in 1389? Or promoting the cause of a second state for Arabs in Palestine (Jordan sits on almost 80% of the original 1920 territory) at the expense of the Jews and their sole, tiny, vulnerable state, etc., etc., and so forth.
So, here's the deal.
When America withdraws in a few months, expect sectarian violence to increase as well as the attempts by the mullahs to the east to convert Iraq into the second Shi'a Islamic Republic in the region. Even with the Shi'a-dominated army in better shape now due to American blood and efforts, violence will likely experience a huge resurgence, increasingly pitting Sunni Arabs against Shi'a Arabs…which brings me back to non-nation nations.
Kurds deserve a fate better than having to be tied to murderous Arab chauvinists of any stripe; again, they pre-date Arabs in Mesopotamia/"Iraq" by thousands of years. And they also deserve a fate better than having to reinvent themselves as "Mountain Turks" or lined up for hanging because they cry out for human rights in Iran.
While Sunni and Shi'a Arabs continue to blow each other apart, leaders of both are on record denying Kurdish aspirations to equality. Various elements within the Shi'a--the Kurds' allies/ internal users for the time being-- have been trying to nix the earlier federal promises which have given the Kurds substantial autonomy. America's presence has helped to balance things somewhat up until now. But this will soon end.
America must reject its own State Department Arabist and Big Oil-dictated policies of the past and insure that before it leaves the scene this time, the Kurds won't collectively have to pay the ultimate price yet again. Again, Arab leaders are on record declaring that the Kurds will be targeted, since they have continuously been the staunchest supporters of America in Iraq.
There are a number of ways that we can accomplish a more honorable ending to our sojourn in Iraq.
Instead of demanding the integration of Kurdish forces into an "Iraqi"--i.e. Arab-dominated--army, America could allow Kurds the ability to better defend themselves. We do this for numerous Arab regimes which still have Israel in their sights.
It's time, for example, for Kurds to have air squadrons stationed in their own areas manned by Kurdish pilots, and for the establishment of Kurdish armored divisions as well. If all goes well--and this depends upon the Arabs, not the Kurds--these units will be local, national guard-type forces contributing to the overall security of a unified, federal Iraq. That would be the best case scenario--yet one highly doubtful.
But, if history repeats itself, and the Arabs seek revenge (as has been already promised) against the Kurds, they will have the means to defend themselves. This is the least that America can do for a people who truly deserve a roadmap but whom the American State Department--due to its Turkish and Arab-derriere kissing--still declares to be unworthy.
Another alternative (despite the now slated withdrawal) involves the establishment of major American military bases in Iraqi Kurdistan--similar to Incirlik in a now increasingly Islamist and hostile Turkey.
Such long term American bases in Iraqi Kurdistan would have several benefits. For one thing, they would help ease the fears of the Turks that Iraqi Kurds will in some way "infect" Turkish Kurds and could help prevent PKK militants from Turkey from taking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. It will also send a message to the Arabs to keep their hands off of the Kurds as well. Arab tanks, helicopters, and fighter bombers are less likely to attack Kurdish villages (as they did in the past) with American forces stationed nearby. And it gives America a valuable presence in a strategically important region at a time when that same American presence is increasingly unwelcome elsewhere. The disadvantage, of course, is that it will make the Kurds even more hated in the long run by the Arabs...so America must make this a long term commitment and must be willing to turn over such bases to the Kurds themselves if it ever withdraws from those bases. Or, America could follow my previous suggestion and at least create Kurdish air and armored corps before closing such bases down.
Minds better than my own may come up with other ways to deal with this issue. But one thing is certain...
America must not repeat its shameful policies of the past which have treated our Kurdish friends worse than Arabs who deliberately blow our soldiers apart. The same State Department, which rejected the Jews' right to a state in 1948, continues to see justice only through Arab and Turkish eyes regarding the Kurds as well.
It will take an American President strong enough to oppose the State Department to accomplish this.
Unfortunately, the President who overthrew Saddam (whom I voted for), belongs to a family intimately tied to Arab oil money and interests--as were/are some of his closest friends…his Dad's Secretary of State, James Baker III, in particular.
Recall that Baker's law firm represents the Saudis (including against America's own 9/11 victims).
Baker led a commission, the Iraq Study Group, to Iraq in 2006 for George II which was highly unsympathetic to the Kurds. Keep in mind Baker's multi-million dollar ties to Arabs. And Baker has plenty of other American Arabist company along these lines…
But America's very soul is at stake here.
It's time for the media, academia, and other would-be sources of ethical enlightenment to speak up as loudly and forcefully for Kurds as they have done repeatedly for Arabs. It's time for the cause of Kurdistan to constantly make the news the same way that of the Arabs has.
Where are those New York Times editorial and op-ed fulminations like those typically directed against Israel for the sake of Palestine? If, after the American withdrawal at the end of 2011, Iraq goes sour, will it not already be overdue for truly stateless Kurds to demand a vote on independence and recognition in the United Nations--the same way Arabs just did for their 22nd state a month ago?
If the original 1920 Mandate of Palestine is to undergo a second partition for Arabs (after Jordan made off with the lions' share in 1922), then why not a partition of the larger Mandate of Mesopotamia--which indeed was slated to yield a Kurdish state after World War I until a collusion of British petroleum politics and Arab nationalism nipped it in the bud? And, if not, why not?
Are Kurds totally ready for independence? Probably not… But are the Arabs of Hamas and the latter-day Arafatians ready for anything beyond killing Jews and spouting their hate? Probably not…
While the Kurdish experience in the areas of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraqi Kurdistan has certainly not been perfect and must make much more progress towards true democracy, it has been far more constructive and positive than anything the Arabs now making their one-sided demands on Israel have to show. Arabs had a chance to make such a start in Gaza several years ago after Israel's unilateral withdrawal. They chose to terrorize Israelis with thousands of rockets, mortars, and so forth instead. That's what Israel has to look forward to if it foolishly agrees to a total, unilateral withdrawal elsewhere as well.
Finally, to bring this analysis to a close, it will cause lasting harm to the greatness of America if the State Department and others tied to Big Oil are allowed to stain our nation's honor yet again with the abuse and blood of the Kurds…and remember that there is plenty of oil in traditional Kurdish lands in northern Mesopotamia.
Washington must illustrate--far better than it has up until now--how to treat a friend...in this case, friends who have willingly endangered their own lives even further by unabashedly allying themselves with the United States of America.
Gerald A. Honigman is a Florida educator who has done extensive doctoral studies in Middle Eastern Affairs. He has created and conducted counter-Arab propaganda programs for college youth, has lectured on numerous campuses and other platforms, and has publicly debated many Arab spokesmen. His articles and op-eds have been published in dozens of newspapers, magazines, academic journals and websites all around the world. Visit his website at http://www.geraldahonigman.com/