Iraqi Kurds: Waiting for another betrayal?

Imperialism will never solve national question it created

The Iraqi Kurds were the most supportive section of the population of Iraq towards the US/UK invasion of Iraq. The Kurdish people suffered terribly at the hands of Saddam Hussein, as well as under previous Iraqi governments, and so, understandably they were delighted to see the end of the Ba’athist dictatorship.

The main Kurdish pro-capitalist nationalist parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) judged that by supporting the US led invasion they would be rewarded. These parties represent the desires of the fledgling Iraqi-Kurdish capitalist class to gain power. They want to be the ruling class of their sector of Kurdistan. They lean on the legitimate national aspirations of the Iraqi-Kurdish masses, as well as a certain tribal base, for their support.

So far the Iraqi-Kurds have been patient towards the US led occupation and the ‘Interim Government’. Once it is clear that their national aspirations have been disregarded by the big powers this will soon change. The Kurdish elite, not the masses, will accept less power than they had previously demanded. They have enjoyed some distance from Baghdad rule during the ‘no fly zone’ years. This was essentially a US protectorate and existed as if it were a separate entity to Saddam’s Iraq. The Iraqi-Kurdish leaders are holding out for a federal Iraq with an autonomous Kurdistan. Crucially, they would very much like this to include the oil rich town of Kirkuk. This is unlikely to happen.

Break with Kurdish elite

Unfortunately for the Kurds, imperialism is never on their side for anything other than a temporary period – that is, of course, when it suits imperialism’s own self interest. Time and time again the Kurds will be betrayed by them. Yet still the wretched, weak and divided fledgling Iraqi-Kurdish and Kurdish elite look towards imperialism to solve the national question. The fledgling national-capitalist class in Kurdistan have arrived much too on the stage of history and will never succeed in creating their own independent capitalist-state.

Instead of looking towards imperialism and the rival ruling classes of the surrounding states for support the Kurdish masses need to look elsewhere. That is to the solidarity and practical assistance of the workers and poor masses of the region and internationally. This means that the Kurdish workers and poor peasants need to break politically and organisationally with their own fledgling pro-capitalist ruling class, as represented by the PUK and KDP.

These parties are more than prepared to be brought off and forget all about the struggle for a Kurdish homeland. They act in a counter-revolutionary manner even though it is supposedly ‘their’ revolution at stake.

Record of betrayal and corruption

The nationalist parties all have a record of betrayal and corruption. Notably, the PUK backed the Turkish state’s assault on the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party), and the KDP did a deal with Saddam’s army to oust the PUK from a section of Kurdish territory. Regionally, the Kurds, through their leadership, are being deliberately played off against each other by the ruling classes of Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Imperialism created this problem and it will never solve it. The division of the world under colonialism, especially after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, has created the national conflicts we still see raging today. The national question remains unresolved and explosive in many part of the world, for example, in Cyprus, Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, the Caucuses, and Indonesia. All these conflicts were created by imperialism and none of them will be permanently solved under capitalism.

Understandably the Iraqi-Kurds look on in dismay as the US led occupation in Iraq tries to persuade the Sunnis and the Shias on board the new puppet government, often with open bribes. The Kurds feel angry about how they are treated.

The new legislation behind the puppet regime formally recognises the Kurds and, in effect, allows them a say in major constitutional changes. However, when the UN gave its blessing to the new Baghdad regime, it made no reference to Kurdish rights. Understandably, many Kurds believe this is the real attitude of the powers towards their rights and that the new Iraqi constitution is just empty words.

Imperialism will not concede the Iraqi-Kurds their own independent state; they know that this would act as a spur to the Kurds in neighbouring Turkey, Iran and Syria. Turkish capitalism, backed by imperialism, is especially fearful of the division of the Turkish state.

Any attempt by the Kurds to determine their own future alone, arms in hand, would be met with hostility by the Turkish state. Perhaps using the defence of Turcoman rights (a minority in northern Iraq) as an excuse, the Turkish army could invade and occupy Iraqi Kurdistan if a viable Iraqi-Kurdish state incorporating Kirkuk were ever likely to materialise (Not that imperialism would willingly allow such a possibility to materialise, in the first place).

No capitalist solution

The national oppression of the Kurds will continue under capitalism. The power struggle between the ruling classes for control of markets and resources makes this fact concrete. Only by removing the ruling classes of the region, and by expelling imperialism, can the Kurds exercise genuine self-determination.

The urgent task is the building of independent workers’ organisations that can unite the peoples of Kurdistan and Iraq on a class basis. Such organisations must advance a socialist programme, incorporating defence of the right of the Kurds and other oppressed nationalities to self-determination. This includes defending their right to secede and form their own independent state, if they so wish.

With the support of the workers and poor peasants of the region, and internationally, the Kurdish people can gain national liberation. To avoid more defeats they must break with the past tactics that have led only to failure. By advancing the demand for a socialist federation of the region they can win much wider support. Linking up with the powerful working classes in Iran and Turkey is especially important. A socialist Kurdistan, as part of a voluntary socialist federation of the Middle East, is possible. A first step towards it is breaking with the Kurdish capitalist elite and their organisations and fighting for the first time as an independent class.

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August 2004