Since the war on Iraq, the Kurds have stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the Middle East.
They welcomed the war, fought for the US, and celebrated the occupation as liberation. Their leaders even offered Kurdish fighters to help put down insurgents in the rest of Iraq!
The seemingly close relationship between the US and the Iraqi Kurdish leaders has so far benefited the US enormously, both by providing a fighting force and for propaganda purposes. But the socialist has warned throughout that it could all fall apart if the Kurds felt their aspirations being thwarted.
Since 1991 the Kurds have enjoyed autonomy in the ’safe haven’ in northern Iraq, protected from Saddam Hussein by western fly-overs. The US deliberately cultivated illusions in its ability to offer a solution. Standards of living have gone up. The Coalition Provisional Authority has put money into the Kurdish area; roads, schools and water facilities have been constructed.
But the US could never be trusted to genuinely help the Kurds. They were happy to use them as their advance ground troops against Saddam, but will only ever ’help’ oppressed nations when it suits their own imperialist interests.
The West fears a Middle East conflagration if Iraqi Kurds gain independence or even strong autonomy. Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iran would all fight to achieve the same. Already there have been clashes in Syria. Kongra-Gel, the new name for the PKK (Kurdish fighters) in Turkey, now threatens to return to armed struggle.
Now Kurdish members of Iraq’s new government could resign after the new UN resolution failed to recognise Kurdish autonomy. The resolution endorses the transfer of sovereignty by the end of June, but it does not endorse Iraq’s interim constitution, which enshrines the Kurds’ autonomy.
UN leaders fear the moderate Shi’ite leader al-Sistani would rebel at concessions to the Kurds. Kurdish leaders are furious. "This is not what we fought for, what we committed to and what we sacrificed for – we’re very disappointed in the US", said public works minister Nasreen Berwari.
When the constitution was first agreed in March, Kurdish areas rejoiced. One Kurd said "I am delighted. Kirkuk is Kurdish and the Kurds want Kirkuk. We want its oil. I believe the signing of the document today means that Kirkuk is now a part of Kurdistan." Another said, "This is what we always wanted. This is the first step towards independence."
IN TRUTH, though, even if the UN had accepted the March agreement, it still would not give Kurds these things. The three main sticking points are the peshmerga (fighters), which the Kurds refuse to disband, territory and the oil.
The Kurd leaders want to expand their borders to include cities with Kurdish majorities, and want the years of ’Arabisation’ of Kurdish areas reversed. Particularly disputed is the city of Kirkuk, ethnically mixed and the centre of oil production.
The amount of oil revenues set aside for the Kurdish region is also contested. The Kurds want oil revenues proportionate to their population size, unacceptable to the US who want to bag the profits for their own oil companies.
The mood amongst Iraqi Kurds is high. They won’t give up autonomy lightly, and many want a lot more. In March, 1.7 million signed a petition calling for a referendum on independence.
Unfortunately, though, neither Barzani nor Talabani, leaders of the main Kurdish parties, offer a programme that can galvanise the mass of the Kurdish population and also win over the region’s Arabs, Turks etc to fight for and achieve real liberation. Despite their words of protest, they sent a joint letter to Bush on 1 June saying: "We will be loyal friends to America even if our support is not always reciprocated".
In May a conference in London highlighted investment opportunities in oil, gas, communications, education and health for Western companies in Kurdish Iraq. Ensuring that Kurdistan is ripe for foreign investment means ensuring low pay, low regulation and privatisation.
For too long Kurdish leaders have put their faith in different imperialist powers to solve the Kurdish problem. The mass of ordinary Kurds, as with the workers and poor across Iraq, need their own organisations.
These could fight against privatisation and low pay, and develop a socialist programme with genuinely mass appeal. That is the only way to successfully fight against imperialism and for their national aspirations.
From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales.