Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Undermining Kurdish Alliance Would be a Mistake

Kurdishaspect.com - By Ardalan Hardi

The recent collaboration between the US and Turkey regarding Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), leads one to question why the sudden change in US foreign policy. The Kurdish leadership has been a key foundation of US forces stabilizing Iraq’s government. A closer look into the Kurdish issue in Iraq, and the surrounding region, illustrates that the U.S. support against Kurdish issues is nothing new. The ISG report should have been a red flag for Kurdish leadership of the possibility of being used as a pawn.

The Bush administration was harshly critical of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report when it was first published. However, the recent actions of the White House, now paint a different picture. The Bush administration is silently implementing the recommendations of The Baker Hamilton report when it is very clear ISG report is opposed to Kurdish interests in the region.

The ISG recommends that the United States significantly increase the number of U.S. military personnel, including combat troops imbedded in and supporting Iraqi Army units. The military surge by the Bush administration in 2007 and the redeployment of Peshmarga forces from the north to the central part of Iraq accomplished exactly what the ISG repot recommended. It seems to have had a drastic affect in stabilizing Iraq which has led to decreased sectarian violence and increased stability across Iraq.

Now that Iraq is supposedly more secure, the Bush administration is slowly turning up the heat on the Kurds to further implement the rest of the recommendations by the Baker Hamilton Group.

One of the recommendations by ISG was that “The United States should support as much as -possible central control by governmental authorities in Baghdad, particularly on the question of oil revenues”. The oil dilemma has been one of the major obstacles in achieving the national reconciliation that is viewed by the U.S. as critical to a united democratic Iraq. While the Iraqi constitution fully supports KRG’s right to have a say in the oil revenues that are generated out of Kurdistan, the central government in Baghdad sees it differently. KRG recently signed more than a dozen contracts with foreign oil companies, but the Iraqi Oil Ministry Husayn al-Shahristani insists the contracts are illegal and has threatened to blacklist foreign firms who sign them. Furthermore, after the KRG signed a production-sharing contract with the U.S.-based Hunt Oil Corporation in September; the U.S. State Department spokesman, Thomas Casey, described it as a hindrance to a national oil law. "It's in the interest of everyone in Iraq to see a national set of laws governing the oil and gas industry...we don't think that these kinds of deals are helpful."

With regards to Kirkuk, the ISG recommends that “a referendum on the future of Kirkuk (as required by the Iraqi Constitution before the end of 2007) would be explosive and should be delayed. This issue should be placed on the agenda of the International Iraq Support Group as part of the New Diplomatic Offensive”.

According to article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, the vote on the referendum had been due to be held by the end of 2007 to decide whether the province of Kirkuk with its oil wealth should go under the control of the KRG. The Kurds have insisted on the referendum as a condition for their support of the Shiite-dominated central government in Baghdad. On her recent visit to Kirkuk, Condoleeza Rice deliberately avoided holding a meeting with the Kurdish leadership. This avoidance would seem to confirm the Bush administrations intent to put pressure on KRG to implement the ISG recommendations on national reconciliation. It would seem that some of these tactics have already forced KRG to make further concessions. The recent decision by the Kurdish administration to delay the public vote on the future of Kirkuk, confirms at least one of KRG’s concessions.

Fully aware of the hostility toward the Kurds by surrounding neighbors, the ISG recommended that a Support Group should be created that consists of the states bordering Iraq, including Iran and Syria. Despite the differences between these countries, they all share an interest in making sure that the Kurdish ambition for self rule is crushed. On February 27, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice confirmed that the United States has agreed to join high-level talks with Iran and Syria on the future of Iraq. The unexpected shift in the White House view is just more proof that Bush is silently implementing the ISG report, while publicly disagreeing with it. With the unleashing of the Turkish military on the Kurds, we can see that the ISG report has come full circle.

By opening Iraq’s air space to Turkish warplanes to bomb the Qandil Mountains, under the pretext of attacking PKK, the US is able to kill two birds with one stone. One “bird” is proving to Turkey that the U.S. continues to be their long term ally; unfortunately, the U.S. is alienating the Kurds at the same time. The second “bird” is forcing Kurdish leadership within Iraq into softening their position on article 140, with regards to Kirkuk and the passage of a national oil law. These are considered key issues by the U.S. that will help foster national reconciliation.

In a region where America finds itself with very few friends, the Bush administration is making a colossal mistake in alienating the Kurds who have been one of the strongest supporters of US government in the Middle East.

If the US continues to pressure the Kurdish people in the interest of keeping everyone else in the region happy, it will result in the further deterioration of a relationship that started out with high hopes. The end result will force the Kurds to align themselves with Iran. The Kurds are not interested in being Iran’s ally, nor is it in the benefit of US foreign policy.

The Sunni’s vehemently oppose America, the Shiites are very closely tied to Iran’s Islamic Republic and if we lose the Kurds as allies will loose what little influence we have in Iraq.
The Kurdish leadership should use all that is at their disposal to show that there is no safe Iraq without granting Kurdish rights. They should stand firm on their demands in securing the interest of the Kurdish people they represent. One of the first things that KRG should do is to pull back the Peshmarga forces that are currently helping the US to stabilize Iraq. The Kurdish government should also boycott the Iraqi government until a reasonable treaty is agreed upon by both Iraq’s central government and the US to assure Kurdish rights. Why should the Kurds fight for a secure stabilized Iraq when their rights as a nation are disregarded?

My hope is that the Kurdish leadership can see that what they think is the light at the end of the tunnel is actually a train headed toward wrecking all Kurdish accomplishments. There must be away to stop further implementation of recommendations from the ISG report even if it means sacrificing Iraq’s supposed stability.

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