Steve Kaczynski looks at how imperialism has used the Iraqi Kurds
The Iraqi Kurds are the only ethnic group that is considered 100% loyal to the US–UK imperialist occupation of Iraq. So much so that when the US-backed
Governing Council tried to introduce a new flag for Iraq, it included a yellow line across the flag that was meant to represent the Kurds. No other ethnic group in Iraq was represented in symbolic form in the flag, though outrage at the flag’s similarity to the Israeli one caused it to be rejected by most Iraqis.
The Kurds have a special position in Iraq under the occupation. This is expressed by a letter that KDP leader Massoud Barzani and PUK leader Jalal Talabani wrote jointly to President Bush on June 1, 2004:
America has no better friend than the people of Iraqi Kurdistan, it began, stressing how safe US occupation troops are in the Kurdish north, as opposed to the abodes of those nasty Arabs.
How has it come about that Iraqi Kurds are the only truly reliable collaborators in Iraq?
Kurds are found straddling the international borders of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Kurdish tribesmen were bombed from the air by the RAF in the 1920s following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. However, Kurds have more recently been locked in conflict with Iraq’s Arab-dominated central government. They also have a history of colluding with foreign rivals of Arab governments in Baghdad. The KDP was founded by Barzani’s father and rebelled against Iraqi leader Abdul Karim Kassem in 1961. Kassem had led the overthrow of the Western-backed Iraqi king in 1958, and it is almost certain that Iraqi Kurdish rebelliousness was encouraged by the West. However, after Kassem’s death in 1963 at the hands of the Ba’athists, the KDP continued its conflict with Iraqi central government, with support from Iran. The withdrawal of support by the Shah’s Iran in the 1970s forced the KDP to surrender to the Iraqi authorities.
When the Shah was overthrown in Iran, war with Iraq broke out in 1980 and Khomeini’s Iran began supporting Kurdish rebels in Iraq. By this time the KDP had spawned a large splinter group, the PUK. Its differences with the KDP seem to be more tribal than ideological.
Saddam Hussein’s government cracked down viciously on the Kurdish insurgents, amongst other things using chemical weapons against the Kurdish town of Halabja. Large numbers of Kurds fled as refugees to Turkey, especially during the upheaval following the first Gulf War in 1991.
Kurdish autonomy under a Western air umbrella developed in the 1990s, but the KDP–PUK conflict turned violent in 1994. There is a saying in Turkey,
Use a Kurd to kill a Kurd, and Iraqi Kurds have been encouraged by foreign powers to rebel against Arab rule but also to turn on each other. The tribal nature of Kurdish society helps bring this about.
A truce between Barzani and Talabani was brokered by the British government and they prepared for a bright future of collaboration with the USA and Britain as they prepared to invade Iraq. Kurdish pesh merga militias took quite a few casualties as they attacked Saddam’s forces in support of the Americans near Mosul and Kirkuk. The pesh mergas collaborate with the Americans to this day in northern Iraq.
What this brief account shows is that Iraqi Kurds have long worked in unison with foreign powers against the Arabs in Baghdad. Sometimes this has come in handy for them, but sometimes it has left them exposed when their sponsors’ policy changed. Numbering only 20% of Iraq’s population, they could yet come to regret their close alliance with Washington.
A parallel with another minority springs to mind. In East Pakistan before 1971, a minority called the Biharis tended to support the West Pakistan army when it cracked down viciously on Bengali nationalists. When the latter triumphed with Indian support and founded Bangladesh, the Biharis were treated as traitors. This could be the eventual fate of Iraqi Kurds.