mercredi 29 juillet 2009


For recent article "The Kurds Way" by Melik Kaylan please see:

In March 2003 Melik Kaylan wrote:


MARCH 19, 2003

Some miles over the border into the Saddam-controlled part of Northern Iraq, a local contact told me that Saddam Hussein has placed tanks and explosives in narrow streets to maximize collateral damage. He has also forcibly billeted troops and loyalist cadres in civilian homes in readiness for street fighting -- and to prevent the populace from fleeing. Saddam has done this in neighborhoods mostly populated by the Turkmen and Assyrian Christian minorities, whom he has repressed and decimated. His troops, though, are unlikely to survive their hosts' ire once the shooting starts.
* * *
Back across the border in the Kurdish zone I returned to Irbil, the stronghold of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) chief. (Barzani sports a silent-movie moustache above a chubby figure and has a way with native headwrapping that rivals Yasser Arafat.) I have been living here in the guise of a businessman. Not being registered as a journalist means I don't need a KDP minder "for my protection." In the age-old fashion, such minders have a distinct influence on what foreign journalists see and think. In this case, journalists have not noted the nefarious activities of the Kurdish authorities in charge of the northern "no-fly" zone. Perhaps the media think that it's all too inside-baseball for readers back home. That is a mistake. Within days, the Kurds could be in charge of the oil towns of Kirkuk and Mosul, and their habits of government will matter very much.

Here's a likely scenario: As the Turks agonize over their role in the imminent conflict, the Kurds are gearing up to go ahead without them. There are signs that the U.S. intends to use the Kurdish militias as a "Northern Alliance" to open a second front against Saddam. A number of such irregulars were recently caught inside Saddam territory in preparation for a Kurdish uprising around the oil towns. Saddam's northern 5th Army Corps is starving and demoralized, so it's likely to offer little resistance. (Top defectors try to come across daily, but no one wants them.) In short, the Kurds could succeed quickly.
If so, they would integrate into their northern zone a population of Turkmens and Assyrians that would almost match their own -- and for a while, perhaps for a long while, they would rule over them. Their treatment of those minorities to date in their own preponderantly Kurdish zone suggests it won't work, especially once the balance of numbers change. Result: a potential civil war and a major headache for the U.S.

Consider the Turkmens, whose total Iraqi population is not much less than the Kurds. I witnessed a "spontaneous" stone-throwing riot against their party headquarters by a Kurdish mob in Irbil, which the KDP offered to dispel by occupying the premises. The Turkmens refused, as the KDP have a passion for invading and looting their offices. Some nights later, KDP commandos occupied the high-points around Turkmen office buildings and pointed Kalashnikovs at the guards.
Turkmen officials are detained without charge, their homes looted anonymously. At times they are forbidden to hang their calendars or listen to their radio station in public. Fixated on the Kurds as the definitive minority of the region, the wider media notes nothing of the Turkmens' plight. Yet, they have perhaps suffered more than any other group in the region.

Saddam used them as cannon fodder in the Iran-Iraq war. Many were taken prisoner by the Iranians. Others escaped to Irbil, leaving behind relatives at Saddam's mercy. Saddam in turn has tortured and killed those unfortunates for having "foreign" connections. Now the Irbil exiles are stuck with Barzani -- dubbed "Mini Saddam" -- who also treats them as spies for the Turks.
Barzani's rival-cum-uneasy confederate, who rules the other official Kurdish zone as strongman of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), is a mite more civilized, though insidious. He refused minority-language TV channels, for example, on grounds that he couldn't protect them adequately. The Turkmens, for their part, dream of repatriation to Kirkuk and Mosul and for safer conditions in the interim, perhaps from their ethnic cousins the Turks. That help has not arrived for decades and may not yet, due to Ankara's indecision. And the outcome may be a nightmare for Turkey and Turkmens alike -- a Kurds' entity flush with oil money but with no checks on power in their region. The Kurds have moved to accomplish this by excluding Turkmen and Assyrian participation in Iraqi opposition conferences and by stoking fear of the Turks through state-ordered marches against the Turkish army's "evil designs" on Kurdish terrain. I say state-ordered because I have read the documents. (One would think that it's plain for all to see that, but for their American allies, the Turks want to dodge the whole matter, even at the cost of sacrificing the Turkmens.)
It's ironic that Barzani should incite such ardor for the "sacred Kurdish soil" which he occupied with Saddam's armor in 1996. Soon after, he rounded up Turkmen and Assyrian leaders and handed them over to Saddam's spies. None returned.

Behind the rhetoric, Barzani's new-found pan-Kurdish nationalism is pragmatic. Any change in the status quo brought on by Turkish or American forces breaks his monopoly on trade and smuggling revenues and threatens his financial hold over the mercurial Kurdish tribes. Until the trade in oil with Iraq stopped a few days ago -- after Turkey closed the border -- Barzani made nearly a billion dollars a month on transit "taxes." His family takes a cut from all trade in tobacco, textiles, tea, alcohol and medicines. None of this bodes well for his future governance in a wider Kurdish area. It is an open secret here that he has allowed Iraqi intelligence to operate under cover, and that Saddam's family and friends have regularly visited here -- after all, Barzani and Saddam's son, Qusay, co-own the local firm that traded in U.N.-sanctioned oil. Word has it that Barzani helped pay for Iraq's 5th Army around the northern oil towns in case he needed them again to prop up his regime. No wonder he opposes foreign armies on his soil.
* * *
Of late there's been a feast of finger-wagging among Western mea-culpa circles to the tune of "I tell you, in the end, we will betray the Kurds again." Barzani himself mentions it in speeches. It's certainly true that any tribal groups the West begins by romanticizing, it ends by spurning.
Their otherness first attracts, then repels. Witness T.E. Lawrence and the tribal Arabs, the mythologizing of the Afghan Pathans, and now the Kurds. Ultimately the truth sinks in and the West realizes that the natives were never ready for primetime. The Kurds are certainly in for a letdown if their brave new autonomous zone comes under proper scrutiny. The idyllic statelet-in-waiting we keep reading about is a venue for well-oiled warlordism. Telephone calls are monitored. Armed checkpoints pepper the roads. Property is easily confiscated. Loyalties are bought and sold by the tribeful. Rights don't exist except when forcibly backed by fellow tribesmen.
Often that is not enough: Just days ago Barzani purged the entire Hoshnave tribe southwest of Irbil, who, after a daylong firefight, left with their wounded to the PUK region in a convoy of 100 vehicles.
In the weeks I've been here, I've learned the last thing local leaders want, or intend to employ, is democracy and the rule of law. Western allies, and Turkey, would do well to anticipate the consequences.

Mr. Kaylan, a New York-based writer, is completing a history of Istanbul. He is currently in northern Iraq.

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