By Tom Engelhardt
posted July 17, 2007 4:01 pm
The week in Iraq began with a particularly brutal triple bombing in the oil-rich, disputed city of Kirkuk — a truck bomb took out part of the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and subsequent car bombs hit a nearby market and a police patrol, with over 80 dead and more than 180 wounded. These were reminders, undoubtedly from Sunni extremists (possibly driven north by President Bush’s surge offensive around Baghdad), that the only relatively peaceful, economically prospering region of “Iraq” — Iraqi Kurdistan — may not remain that way forever. Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen are already struggling over who is to inherit the oil-spoils of Kirkuk, which many Kurds would like to annex and turn into the capital of what they dream may someday be an independent country. Kirkuk’s fate is supposedly to be decided by a referendum at year’s end.
The Way to Go in Iraq
By Peter Galbraith
[This essay appears in the August 16th, 2007 issue of the New York Review of Books and is posted here with the kind permission of the editors of that magazine.]
On May 30, the Coalition held a ceremony in the Kurdistan town of Erbil to mark its handover of security in Iraq’s three Kurdish provinces from the Coalition to the Iraqi government. General Benjamin Mixon, the U.S. commander for northern Iraq, praised the Iraqi government for overseeing all aspects of the handover. And he drew attention to the “benchmark” now achieved: with the handover, he said, Iraqis now controlled security in seven of Iraq’s eighteen provinces.
In fact, nothing was handed over. The only Coalition force in Kurdistan is the peshmerga, a disciplined army that fought alongside the Americans in the 2003 campaign to oust Saddam Hussein and is loyal to the Kurdistan government in Erbil. The peshmerga provided security in the three Kurdish provinces before the handover and after. The Iraqi army has not been on Kurdistan’s territory since 1996 and is effectively prohibited from being there. Nor did the Iraqi flag fly at the ceremony. It is banned in Kurdistan.
Although the Erbil handover was a sham that Prince Potemkin might have admired, it was not easily arranged. The Bush administration had wanted the handover to take place before the U.S. congressional elections in November. But it also wanted an Iraqi flag flown at the ceremony and some acknowledgement that Iraq, not Kurdistan, was in charge. The Kurds were prepared to include a reference to Iraq in the ceremony, but they were adamant that there be no Iraqi flags. It took months to work out a compromise ceremony with no flags at all. Thus the ceremony was followed by a military parade without a single flag — an event so unusual that one observer thought it might merit mention in Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi national security adviser, attended the ceremony alongside Kurdistan’s prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani, but the Iraqi government had no part in supervising the nonexistent handover. While General Mixon, a highly regarded strategist with excellent ties to the Kurds, had no choice but to make the remarks he did, Mowaffak al-Rubaie acknowledged Kurdistan’s distinct nature and the right of the Kurds — approximately six million people, or some 20% of Iraq’s population — to chart their own course.