Monday, August 18, 2008

Oh! Those Kurds!

What You Need to Know to Follow the Kirkuk Controversy

I'll post on the Iraqi bloggers' take on Kirkuk in a bit (if I can). But first...

Remember those days of optimism at the beginning of 2005, only a few weeks before the first unfettered national elections in an Arab country? Back then, the greatest danger was thought to be a war between the Iraqi Kurds and Arabs over secession centered around Kirkuk.

Everyone thought that elections would stabilize things in Iraq to allow the issue of Kurdistan indepenced to move to the front of the stove. I wrote about it here. In The New Yorker, George Packer predicted that the war for Kirkuk would be the "next Iraqi war". Well, the elections didn't stablize things (in the short run), as the great Kurd blogger, Kurdo, predicted.

Well, the most inarguable proof that Arab Iraq is finally beginning to get its act together, is that the status of Kurdistan and Kirkuk have been able to return to prominence among Iraq's issues. The Sunni Insurgency collapsed. Al Qaeda is beginning to return to the butt-hole of the planet (the Afghanistan/Pakistan borderlands) from which they originally scattered. And the two-bit racketeering Sadrist bullies are being thoroughly thrashed by Shi'a-Sunni-Kurdish unity government.

So, it is actually a good thing IMO that Iraqis can fight over whether Kirkuk is Arab or Kurdish (as though someone could pick it up and take it somewhere). It is *could be* a good thing that Iraqi Arabs feel cocky enough to think the Kurds need them more than they need the Kurds (it has been the opposite for the last 5 years).

Here are Kurd/Kirkuk issues as far as I can tell:

1) As George Packer explained:

"The process of emptying out the Kirkuk citadel was the climax of a forty-year campaign known to Iraqis as Arabization. Beginning in 1963, and continuing up to the eve of the American invasion last year, the Baathist regime in Baghdad deported tens of thousands of Kurds—some Kurdish sources put the number at three hundred thousand—from Kirkuk and the surrounding region, forced other ethnic minorities from their houses, and imported similar numbers of Arabs to Kirkuk from the south."

2) He also said:

"According to the 1957 census, conducted before Arabization began, the city was
forty per cent Turkoman and thirty-five per cent Kurdish."

3) But even if the Turkomen had slightly outnumbered the Kurds in 1957, it doesn't necessarily mean that Kirkuk was not historically and traditionally a Kurdish city. At the Middle East Forum, Nouri Talabany, lays out "The Kurdish Case":

"Writing of the ethnic composition of the city, the Ottoman encyclopedist Shamsadin Sami, author of the Qamus al-A'lam, found that, 'Three quarters of the inhabitants of Kirkuk are Kurds and the rest are Turkomans, Arabs, and others. Seven hundred and sixty Jews and 460 Chaldeans also reside in the city.'
[...]
"By long-standing tradition, the Kurds, Turkomans, Chaldeans, and Jews have had their own cemeteries. The Arabs, being a minority, buried their dead in the Turkoman cemeteries. However, in 1991, Saddam Hussein's government created special cemeteries for Arab settlers and banned Arab Shi‘ites from taking their dead back to Najaf for burial in order to bolster the Arab claim to the city. The Baathist regime subsequently began to rewrite Kurdish tombstone inscriptions with Arabic in order to retroactively alter the demography."

4) Throughout 2005 til now, the Kurds have been receiving Arab refugees from the rest of Iraq. While Sulemanya was not a popular destination for Iraqi Arabs while Saddam had cut it off from Iraq's power grid (allowing more Iraqi Arab cities to not have to go without electricity). But with Iraqi Arabs in Baghdad murdering each other for superficial sectarian affiliations, Arabs in Anbar being murdered by their friends the Sunni Arab insurgency and Al Qaeda in Iraq, and Arabs in Basra being murdered by racketeering followers the "firey nationalist cleric" Muqtada al Sadr, the relatively safe lands of the relatively liberal Kurds had become very appealing.

You might ask how the Kurds did it? With the rest of Iraq in a no-holds-barred bloodletting, how is it that northeastern Iraq has not had a suicide bombing since 2005? How is it that women doctors have always been able to practice their profession at all, let alone wearing jeans to work? This is how: No one immigrates to Iraqi Kurdistan without a current resident vouching for them. If the immigrant gets into trouble, both the immigrant and the resident could be evicted from the region. This is the case for Kurds as well as Arabs, but obviously Kurds are more likely to have contacts in Kurdistan than Arabs.

But Arab Iraqis want what they want (that's human nature). They say Iraq is Iraq, and they should be able to live where they want. Screw the uppity Kurds.

5) Arab Iraqi bloggers, who --four years ago-- were outraged that the Kurds would consider dividing Iraq are now feeling schadenfreude at seeing the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan violated by Turkey.
(I consider this response akin to a child being happy that his dad has lost his job, because now his parents won't be able to afford a divorce)

6) It has recently become politically incorrect among Kurds to spell Kirkuk the way I have been doing. Many Kurds consider the spelling to be a Turkish plot. The Kurdish way is "Kerkuk".




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