U.S. should cut aid to Kurds until northern Iraq ceases to be PKK safe haven, Rubin says
A leading United States specialist on Iraq has accused Iraqi Kurdish leaders of playing the terror card against Turkey, of widespread corruption and of ruling their area with an iron fist, suggesting that such leaders would not be good allies to the U.S.
"[Massoud] Barzani's antagonism to Turkey undercuts any possibility of a U.S. alliance. Many Kurdish officials look at U.S.-Turkish relations as a zero-sum game: either Washington pursues friendship with (the Iraqi Kurdish capital of) Arbil or allies itself with Ankara," said Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank here.
His remarks came in an article to be published by AEI today, a copy of which was sent to the Turkish Daily News over the weekend. "Too often, Kurdish authorities tell visiting American officials that Iraqi Kurdistan would be a much better ally than Turkey," he said. "They understand neither the breadth of the U.S.-Turkish relationship nor how poorly received are Kurdish demands that Washington filter its alliances through the interests of any other state."
He said Barzani, leader of the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Iraq, had adopted the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as a lever against Turkey. "[Barzani] tells U.S. diplomats that the PKK threat would disappear if only Ankara offered greater concessions in terms of amnesty, broadcasting, and constitutional reforms, while at the same time encouraging PKK leaders to continue their attacks and, indeed, facilitating their terrorism," Rubin said.
He said that Turkish officials suspected Barzani's son of selling weapons to the PKK. "It is this knowledge that has forced Ankara to take such a hard line against Kurdistan and has convinced U.S. officials to support Ankara, even as Turkish warplanes bomb Iraqi Kurdish targets," Rubin added.
Fake Democrats: In the wake of escalating PKK attacks on Turkish targets in September and October, Ankara warned that it could send its army to neighboring northern Iraq, under Iraqi Kurdish control, to fight the terrorists there. To avoid a unilateral Turkish incursion into Iraqi territory, U.S. President George W. Bush then agreed to provide the Turkish military with actionable intelligence for limited operations against PKK targets.
In recent weeks, Turkish fighter aircraft have repeatedly hit terrorist targets inside northern Iraq, including the PKK's headquarters on the Kandil mountain region, some 100 kilometers south of the Turkish border. In striking PKK targets, the Turkish military is believed to have acted on U.S. intelligence.
Neither Barzani nor Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, another major Kurdish leader, are democrats, Rubin added. After the 2003 Iraq war, "many Iraqi Kurds expected that their region would liberalize and democratize. Rather than reform, however, regional politics have ossified. Barzani retains dictatorial control over the Duhok and [Arbil] governorates, and Talabani likewise dominates Sulaymaniyah," he said. "Barzani appointed his nephew as prime minister and assigned his 35-year-old son to run the local intelligence service. Other relatives control the regional telephone company, newspapers, and media," he said.
Rubin also accused both Iraqi Kurdish leaders of corruption. "While in office, both Barzani and Talabani have amassed fortunes in excess of $2 billion and $400 million, respectively," he said.'U.S. should re-evaluate ties' Rubin compared the typical Turkish and Kurdish approach toward American officials. "Local Kurdish culture also facilitated a relationship with the United States. Both Turkish diplomats and military officers often stand on ceremony, and rigid adherence to protocol undercuts rather than facilitates their relations. Few American diplomats like their Turkish interlocutors," he said. "The Iraqi Kurds, in contrast, shower visiting U.S. officials with hospitality, arranging lavish banquets and, in a few cases, even facilitating liaisons with women," Rubin added.
He said that also enhancing Kurdish influence in Washington was the Kurds' hiring of former U.S. military and political officials to represent them. Rubin said that in light of Barzani's critical flaws, the U.S. should reassess its relationship with the Kurds. "There should be no aid and no diplomatic legitimacy so long as Iraqi Kurdistan remains a PKK safe haven, sells U.S. security to the highest bidder, and leaves democratic reform stagnant," he said.
Rubin worked at the Pentagon from 2002 to 2004 as staff assistant for Iraq and Iran at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He was political adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq from 2003 to 2004.
Source: TDN, January 7, 2008