Socialist Worker

Northern Iraq - No example of liberation

Issue No. 1839

ONE OF the sickest and most dishonest arguments of supporters of Bush's war is that it is about liberating the people of Iraq, especially oppressed groups like the Shi'a Muslims and the Kurds. Commentators say that the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, which has been free of Iraqi government control since 1991, shows the kind of democracy and human rights the US will bring to Iraq.

Northern Iraq is far from peaceful. The Turkish army has repeatedly invaded the area over the last decade. And it will be worse if there's a war. It has bombed and shelled villages in an effort to destroy supporters of the PKK - a guerrilla group fighting for the rights of Turkey's Kurdish minority. The US did a deal with Turkey two weeks ago to allow Turkish troops to occupy the Kurdish area of northern Iraq during war against Saddam Hussein.

Turkey's rulers do not want any move to set up an independent state in northern Iraq. This would encourage similar demands among Kurds in Turkey. Turkish capitalists have their own interests in Northern Iraq.

The UN gave permission for the Turkish Petroleum Company to drill two dozen wells near the city of Kirkuk two and a half years ago. Turkish foreign minister Yasar Yakis repeated the Turkish state's longstanding claim for control of Kirkuk and the city of Mosul. They are in one of the biggest oil-producing areas in Iraq.

Northern Iraq is currently controlled by two rival Kurdish factions - the KDP and the PUK. They have pursued a bitter struggle that has resulted in repeated bouts of civil war. This erupted in 1994 in the so called international safe haven in northern Iraq.

At stake was control of smuggling through the border with Turkey which provided the groups' two leaders, Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani, and their supporters with enormous revenues. The US brokered a peace deal in 1998. But the territory remains divided into PUK and KDP controlled areas.

Each group is vying for favour with Bush. Last October the CIA set up two field offices in northern Iraq - one in each of the two areas. Each group's militias have arrested human rights activists, newspaper editors and other dissidents.

The mass of people live in appalling poverty, while a handful around the Talabani and Barzani clans have enriched themselves. Turkey has enlisted the support of the KDP and PUK in its war against the Turkish Kurds.

Both groups oppress an ethnic minority called the Turkomans, and have tried to crush Islamic groups and other oppositionists.

One of the most absurd pro-war arguments is that the presence of the radical Islamist group Ansar al Islam in northern Iraq shows the Iraqi regime is linked to Osama Bin Laden. Ansar al Islam is a tiny group that operates in the areas controlled by the PUK and KDP.

Ansar came out of a group which was allied to the KDP in the 1990s. Offering Turkey a slice of Iraq is not the first time Western powers have used the Kurds for their own ends.

The US and its client regime in Iran encouraged the Kurds of Iraq to launch military operations against the Iraqi government in the early 1970s. Then Iran and Iraq came to an agreement over disputed territory and Iraq began moving closer to the US and away from Russia. The Shah of Iran and the US government stood back while Iraqi forces butchered the Kurdish opposition.

Supporters of the war point to Saddam Hussein's use of poison gas against the Kurdish villagers of Halabja in 1988. Yet Western governments supplied the gas and the Iraqi regime continued to enjoy US support as it was at war with Iran.

The Kurds have ended up being victims of every outside intervention in the Middle East over the last 80 years, whether directly at the hands of great powers or local regimes. Another round of bloodletting by the US and Britain will bring them further suffering.


Who are the Kurds?

THE KURDS are the single biggest group of people in the world who lack their own state. Britain and France carved up the whole of the Middle East at the end of the First World War.

They broke their promise to give the Kurds independence. Today the Kurds are divided into territories in Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. They face national oppression in everyone of these states. Both the Kurdish factions in the north of Iraq have been happy to enlist the support of each of the oppressive regimes.


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Sat 22 Feb 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1839
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