Socialist Worker

No liberation from the great powers

Issue No. 1845

THE US and Britain claim they are fighting in Iraq to liberate people like the Kurds. The leaders of the two factions that rule the Kurdish area in northern Iraq are cooperating with the US. But the whole history of the Middle East is one of great powers promising the Kurds liberation, and then betraying them.

After the First World War Britain promised the Kurds their own state, carved out of the defeated Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, at the end of the First World War. But in 1922 Britain betrayed that promise. It created the state of Iraq, including the Kurdish area of Mosul, ending the promise of an independent Kurdistan.

The RAF bombed villages to suppress a Kurdish uprising after Britain had discovered the enormity of the oil deposits around Mosul. The Turkish state also suppressed separatist moves by Kurds in Turkey.

After the Second World War The Kurds in northern Iran believed they had Russian backing for the tiny independent republic they briefly established in 1946. But the pro-Western Shah of Iran snuffed out the Kurdish enclave after making a deal with Russia.

The Iraqi Kurdish movement in the 1950s was led by Mustafa Barzani, whose Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is today led by his son Masoud. Mustafa Barzani cooperated with nationalist leader Abdel Karim Kassem, who overthrew the British backed Iraqi monarchy in 1958. Five years later the KDP welcomed a CIA-sponsored coup in Iraq that brought the Ba'athist party of Saddam Hussein to power.

Mustafa Barzani's support for the Ba'athist coup caused a split with Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, who today leads the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Ordinary Iraqi Kurds got nothing from the various regimes in Baghdad throughout the 1960s. At one point Jalal Talabani cooperated with the Ba'athists against Barzani's KDP.

In the 1970s the US and its client regime in Iran encouraged Iraqi Kurds to rise up after Iraq had signed a treaty with Russia in 1972. Barzani told the Washington Post in 1973, 'I trust the Americans. America is too great a power to betray a small nation like the Kurds.' Then in 1975 the Shah of Iran got what he wanted from the Ba'athist regime in Iraq - greater control of the Shatt Al Arab waterway.

The Iraqi army then crushed the Kurdish insurgency, after the US, the Shah and Israel all cut off aid to the Iraqi Kurds.

In the 1980s The US swung fully behind Saddam Hussein in the course of his 1980-88 war against Iran, where revolution had toppled the Shah. The KDP and later the PUK threw their lot in with the Islamist regime in Iran. For the KDP that meant helping to crush fellow Kurds seeking independence from Iran.

The US backed Saddam Hussein's brutal war against Iranian troops and Iraqi Kurdish villages, including the use of poison gas. In the 1990s The US again encouraged the Iraqi Kurds, and the Shia Muslims in the south of the country, to rise up at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.

The US and Britain then stood by as the Iraqi regime crushed the rebellions. They feared successful risings would upset US allies in the region like Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Turkey particularly did not want an independent Iraqi Kurdish state for fear it would fuel the Kurdish forces in Turkey fighting for independence. The KDP and the PUK emerged to dominate the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq. Both parties relied on their own militias, alliances with clan chiefs and security apparatus. Rivalry exploded into fighting in 1994.

Amnesty International that year compared the 'gross human rights violations' the Kurds had 'suffered for so long at the hands of the Iraqi government' to those they were now suffering 'at the hands of their own political leaders'. Over the next year 3,000 Kurds were killed in the fighting.

Today The US and Britain are happy to see Kurdish troops do their bidding in the north of Iraq. But they are determined Iraq's Kurds will not become a trigger for a Kurdish uprising in Turkey. The Turkish state has put large areas of the Kurdish south east of the country under martial law.

The US cynically points to Kurdish suffering to justify war on Iraq. Sections of the Turkish state cynically point to the condition of the Turkoman minority in Kurdish northern Iraq to justify their own intervention. The true motive is control of the oil rich cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. The terrible history of the Kurds across the Middle East shows that no liberation will come from the intervention of outside powers.

The only hope of liberation lies in a genuine uprising of people across the Middle East directed at US imperialist might and at the local rulers.

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Sat 5 Apr 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1845
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