With the “liberation” of Iraq comes the promise of democracy – unless, that is, the will of the people risks undermining US domination of the region. The Kurdish people of Northern Iraq are hoping their alliance with the US will bring them tangible rewards from the superpower. But even before the war began, Washington had ruled out the Kurds’ basic democratic aspiration – their own independent state.
For months, Bush invoked the plight of Iraqi Kurds, repressed under Saddam Hussein, as justification for invading Iraq. But from US imperialism’s point of view, the Kurds are just another pawn on the Middle East chessboard.
For weeks before the war, Washington repeatedly pressed Turkey to be the staging ground for US troops to invade Northern Iraq. As part of the deal, Bush would allow Turkish troops to follow US forces into Northern Iraq to put down any Kurdish move toward independence there. The Turkish ruling class fears Iraqi Kurdish independence would re-ignite a decades-long independence struggle by Turkish Kurds, which the Turkish government has brutally repressed at the cost of 30,000 Kurdish lives.
Under mass pressure, the Turkish parliament rejected the US demands. Pentagon officials then struck an alliance with Kurdish militias who hoped to gain favor with the US by acting as a proxy army under the lead of US Special Forces battling Iraqi troops in Northern Iraq.
The US is also attempting to build a coalition of Kurds and Sunni Muslims as a counterweight to the Shia Muslims, who make up 60% of Iraq. The US fears that a Shia-controlled Iraq would increase Iran’s influence in the region because Iran is also majority Shia. To win any Kurdish support, the US had to agree to Kurdish autonomy.
But Kurdish leaders hoping for a piece of the reconstruction spoils are setting their people up for yet another bitter betrayal by US imperialism. Kurdish leaders will be given token government positions and salaries on the condition that they effectively police their own people into compliance with Washington’s interests. Horrifying poverty and political repression fuels the Kurdish independence movement, but US plans for Kurdish “autonomy” will not address these underlying problems.
The Kirkuk Incident
On April 10, the day after the world’s press glorified the collapse of Saddam’s regime, Kurdish residents in the Northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk rose up. Iraqi soldiers fled as Kurdish militias descended on the city. The Kurdish capture of Kirkuk was not part of official US plans, and the US Special Forces supposedly “leading” the Kurdish militia were nowhere to be seen.
The Kurds have long sought control of the disputed 10 billion barrels of proven oil reserves around Kirkuk and Mosul, hoping that oil wealth would make an independent state economically viable. Turkey warned that Kurdish control of Kirkuk was “unacceptable” and would be opposed militarily. 70,000 heavily armed Turkish troops were amassed at the Iraqi border, held back only by US pressure, promises, and bribes. After the US pledged $1 billion in economic aid, the Turkish military promised not to invade Kurdish Iraq before “consulting” with the superpower.
To hold them back, Colin Powell rapidly announced the deployment of US forces to Kirkuk, promising to oust the Kurdish militias. Within several days, an interim deal was struck, and Kurdish leaders promised to hand over military control of Kirkuk to the US. This incident illustrated the dramatic regional tensions built up around the Kurds’ oppression.
While granting a certain autonomy to Iraqi Kurds, the US opposes independence. An independent Kurdish state risks raising the expectations and fighting spirit of repressed Kurdish minorities in Turkey, Syria, and Iran to demand their own rights and independence, which could potentially re-draw the map of the Middle East. This would be unacceptable to the ruling elites of Syria, Iraq, Iran and a key US ally – Turkey. Kurdish independence might also inspire other oppressed religious and ethnic minorities throughout the Middle East to struggle for their rights – a nightmare for Washington.
Yet even limited autonomy is still likely to trigger renewed hopes for an independent Kurdish state. The extreme regional tensions promise to boil over in the not-so-distant future, which US imperialism is incapable of resolving.
Through bitter betrayal, the Kurds, alongside the Iraqi Arab working class, will draw stark conclusions about the true nature of US imperialism. They will find themselves battling a new oppressor, a new occupying force. Socialists stand behind the Kurds’ right to self-determination and an independent Kurdish state, while recognizing that genuine Kurdish independence can be achieved only by a united working class struggle against capitalism and imperialism.