Arabs act as if the partitioning of Iraq is a new idea, writes Ayman El-Amir*
The US invasion and destruction of Iraq has left one-fifth of its population dead or displaced but helped further the cause of an independent Kurdistan. The new Iraqi permanent constitution, negotiated and then adopted by referendum in October 2005 under the influence of the US occupation, moved autonomous Kurdistan as close as it can get to independence under a system of quasi- federalism. Under Article 53 of the constitution, Kurdistan has its own regional government, national assembly, constitution, security forces and Kurdish as official language. The Kurdistan Regional Government's authorities often find occasion to unfurl the flag of Kurdistan alongside the Iraqi national flag. It prints its own stamps and issues its own currency. It is now staking a claim to oil-rich Kirkuk and to Mosul as part of the region -- a claim that is disputable and strongly resisted by the two cities' Arab, Turkomen and Assyrian populations.
If claims to independence can be justified under circumstances of persecution, genocide or ethnic distinctiveness, why could not the Tutsis in Rwanda or the Muslim minority in Srebrenica claim independence? In terms of numbers and atrocities, they certainly suffered more than the Kurds suffered under Saddam. International law does not prescribe secession as a solution for ethnic cleansing.
Turkey's strong apprehension of a stronger regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan is understandable and justified. What is not understandable is the Arabs' squeamish reaction to the ongoing partitioning of Iraq, beyond rhetorical statements about preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq. Israel has been working hard on cloning itself in Kurdistan, and the Arabs are watching, leaving it to Turkey to protect their interests.
Al-Ahram Weekly Online : Located at: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/870/op1.htm