The Denial, Resurrection, and Affirmation of Kurdistan
Brendan O'Leary and Khaled Salih
"Nature knows neither an equality of individuals nor an equality of nations; equality is a creation of law and its greatest benefit for those subject to it."—Karl Renner (1918)
"There is no such place as Kurdistan"
In January 2004, one of us traveled from the city of Erbil, known in Kurdish as Hewlêr, the site of the Kurdistan National Assembly, into the Republic of Turkey to begin a journey to London. The border checkpoint is at Ibrahim Khalil in Kurdish, or Habur in Turkish. By prior agreement, he was not required to go through the usual rigors of inspection by the Turkish military, who are usually more discourteous, inquisitorial, and disobliging than the conventional border police and visa inspectors. No such luck awaited another traveler, a professional consultant who held a U.S. passport and had hitched a ride in the same vehicle. As he later explained in Diyarbakir airport, situated in what is officially southeastern Turkey, a predominantly Kurdish region, he had been detained for two hours. Two military officials had instructed the consultant, in English, to open and switch on his laptop computer, but not, as he initially surmised, as an instance of now routine international security procedures. Instead, they ordered him to use the "find facility" on his computer to search for the word "Kurdistan." To their evident satisfaction and feigned dismay, the term occurred in a number of the consultant's Microsoft Word documents. "There is no such place as Kurdistan," one of the soldiers declaimed. He repeated this assertion throughout the interview—despite the fact that, within two hundred meters of the unofficial hut where such interviews are conducted, there is a public sign, in English, Kurdish, and Arabic, that welcomes visitors to "Iraqi Kurdistan." The soldier ordered the consultant to replace every instance of "Kurdistan" in his laptop computer files with what he insisted was the "correct" expression: "northern Iraq." When this renaming was completed to his satisfaction, the soldier himself hit the "save" key. Thus the existential denial of Kurdistan was locally accomplished through an act of definitional extermination. Listeners to this story, after making the usual acknowledgments of Turkey's human rights record, immediately question the perversity of the officials: "Won't the consultant now be much more sympathetic to Kurdistan than before?" The technically minded insist on the futility of hitting the "save" key: "Once the consultant had his laptop back home, won't he just re-replace 'northern Iraq' with 'Kurdistan'?" These interrogations are entirely sensible, but they miss one of the points of this exercise. Turkish officialdom, especially its military, must keep itself in denial of Kurdistan, lest the state's founding ideas be jeopardized. These officials are saying their secular prayers, rooting out the secular heresy of Kurdistan.
Turkish officials are quite distinctive in presently insisting that there is no such place as Kurdistan; but they have never been entirely isolated in insisting there should be no such entity. The denial of Kurdistan's existence was normal, and normalized, throughout much of the twentieth century. Some Arab politicians on the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), and some American intellectuals who jointly counseled against an "ethnic federation" in 2002-2004, were not the first to seek to deny Kurdistan, great or small. "Greater Kurdistan," which encompasses the lands where Kurds predominated within jurisdictions of the Ottoman and Persian empires, is the dream of the Kurdish nation. This vision had a fleeting moment of partial political realization after World War I (McDowall 2000, 115-50; Edmonds 1957). One of its possible configurations, as presented to Woodrow Wilson by a Kurdish representative at Paris, is shown in Figure 1.1. Other visions of Greater Kurdistan in Figure 1.1. usually portray a state with a Mediterranean port and a fat crescent-shaped swath of land running from southeastern Anatolia to the Zagros Mountains. Carving out such a nation-state would have had a dramatic impact on its neighbors.
This geopolitical reality explains both the power of "Greater Kurdistan" and the fears the idea generated. It was not to be. In the decisive interval between the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and the Treaty of Sèvres (1920), which reflected the nadir of Turkish fortunes, and the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which registered Atatürk's successful revival of Turkish power, Greater Kurdistan was politically eliminated. Article 62 of the Treaty of Sèvres had envisaged "a scheme of local autonomy for the predominantly Kurdish areas," and Article 64 specified that within a year "the Kurdish peoples" within this scheme would have had the right to petition the League of Nations for "independence from Turkey." Instead, Kurdistan was partly digested by two independent rumps of former empires, Iran and Turkey. This was no historic surprise, because Kurdistan and its peoples comprised "march lands," mountains, and frontier tribes that for centuries had passed back and forth between Persian and Turkish overlords. But now, two additional newcomers dined on the body of Kurdistan, territorial constructions of empires new to the region: French-mandated "Syria" and British-mandated "Iraq" (Mufti 1996).
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's remarkable reconstruction of the rump of the downsized Ottoman Empire was ratified in the Treaty of Lausanne. It codified the defeat of the territorial ambitions of Greeks, Italians, and Armenians, as well as the plans of the French and the British. It extinguished Greater Kurdistan from the world's official maps. Greater Kurdistan is remembered, however, in the longings and banners of Kurds, especially Kurds of the diaspora, and in the nightmares of its potential neighbors. Greater Kurdistan haunts the states of west Asia in the way the idea of Poland once stalked the powers of eastern Europe: the Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns, and Czars. To stamp out the idea of Greater Kurdistan, the states which incorporated Kurdish populations have adopted the full gruesome repertoire of available strategies: genocide, ethnic expulsion, territorial partition, coercive assimilation, and hierarchical control aimed at disorganizing Kurds and organizing those who feel threatened by them.
Whether Greater Kurdistan will be resurrected just as Poland rematerialized after two world wars is not something anyone, including the authors represented in this book, can presume to know. But the mere idea that it might still matters. It is a "thought-stopper" that inhibits Turkish, Syrian, and Iranian politicians from reconstituting their regimes to make "their Kurds" feel at home. Although the realization of Greater Kurdistan was snuffed out in 1923, the idea often resurfaced in the successive eruptions of "little Kurdistans" in the twentieth century. Various Kurdish movements achieved these liberated territories through military self-help and political struggle. Some Kurds sought an autonomous Kurdistan under the British mandate in Iraq and fought for that objective in the 1920s, only to be defeated by Britain's Royal Air Force and the British-trained armed forces of the Iraqi monarchy. Ismail Agha Simko organized Kurdish resistance to Reza Shah's Iran in the 1920s. After World War II, in December 1945, the "Mahabad Republic," a Kurdish "people's government," was proclaimed in western Iran under the aegis of Qazi Mohammed and the generalship of Mustafa Barzani. It lasted almost a year, until its erstwhile leader, his brother, and his cousin were hanged by the government of the Shah after the Soviet Union decided to leave Iran within Britain's sphere of influence.
"Little Kurdistans" kept appearing despite Iraq's, Iran's, Turkey's, and Syria's nation-building programs. In the 1960s, peshmerga, "those who face death," sought, fought, and eventually won an autonomy settlement from Iraq's successive republican governments, including the Ba'thists. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Mustafa Barzani organized the initiative. "Iraqi Kurdistan" had a precarious status between 1970 and 1974, and was crushed when Saddam betrayed the promises he had made. In 1975 Iraq made a deal with the Shah of Iran that was endorsed by U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Giving realpolitik a bad name, the U.S. and Iran betrayed Barzani and the KDP, which they had been funding. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Kurds of Iraq regrouped now under two parties, the KDP, led by Masoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Jalal Talabani. During the Iran-Iraq war they fought Saddam. In the 1990s, the Kurds of Turkey gave extensive support to Abdullah Ocalan's ferocious PKK (the Kurdistan Workers Party) in an exceptionally bloody war that the state's military won after releasing itself from the limited restraints of Turkey's laws.[ . . . ]
The Hashemite monarchy was destroyed in the July 1958 revolution. In the republican decade before the Ba'th coup, serious divisions and rivalries among Arab politicians and military gave the KDP leverage in Iraqi politics, as communists, Iraqi patriots, Nasserites, and even Ba'thists successively wooed its leaders. Between 1958 and 1961, between 1965 and 1966, and in the early years of the second Ba'th regime, Kurds briefly won formal concessions on language rights, recognition as a constituent co-nationality in the provisional constitution, and promises of decentralization or territorial autonomy. Implementation was another matter. The very weakness of the Arab leaders willing to make deals with the Kurds led them to backtrack when concessions led to dissent or anger within their Arabist constituencies. But even after the Ba'thists returned to power in 1968 they tried to accommodate the Kurds, both in central government ministries and through far-reaching offers of autonomy in 1970. These efforts were, of course, undermined by their determination not to allow oil-rich Kirkuk become part of autonomous Kurdistan and by their deliberate efforts to take advantage of rivalries among Kurds.
The sustained weakness of the Iraqi state from 1920 until the high tide of Ba'thist ascendancy (1975-1990) created multiple opportunities for the emergence of Kurdish agendas and for a Kurdistan in "South Kurdistan." Iraqi leaders, interested in consolidating their power, found the idea of Kurdistan thinkable, negotiable, and even sensible. The political and administrative implications of an Iraqi Kurdistan, while unwelcome to Arabists, were not beyond the pale. Some would even contend that intra-Kurdish divisions contributed as much as Arab hostility to blocking the emergence of a functioning Kurdistan before the mid-1970s (that is how we read McDowall 2000). The emergence of Kurdistan after Saddam Hussein's defeat in the Kuwait war in 1991 was thus not an accident. It had its roots in the prior development of the state of Iraq. In 1992, Kurdistan's leaders were able to elect a National Assembly to sit in an Erbil parliament building. It had been commissioned by none another than Saddam Hussein, who had staffed it with collaborators.
The third answer to the question of why this Kurdistan emerged and has proved more durable than its historical precursors lies in the sustained organizational continuity of Kurdish nationalist groups within Iraq. Again, this is a comparative evaluation. No nation, manifest or latent, is a homogeneous monolith. Kurdistanis, like people of other nations, vary by dialect, region, and religion (Shi'a , Sunni, Feyli, Yezidi, Christian, and Jew). Kurdish society has urban-rural cleavages; in the recent past deep-rooted conflicts between landlords and peasants arose from monarchical Iraq's encouragement of an exploitative Kurdish agha class. Moreover, tribalism, factionalism, and splits correctly constitute the standard historical narratives of organized Kurdish nationalism. The traits these stories manifest have been the major internal obstacles to the creation of both Greater and lesser Kurdistans. Emphasis on the fissiparous nature of Kurdish organization is as common among observers of the Kurds today (Randall 1997; van Bruinessen 1992, 2003; McDowall 2000; Stansfield 2003) as it was during the early twentieth century (Edmonds 1957; Wilson 1930, 1931). This factionalism may be seen as rooted in the paradoxical but nonetheless intimate connection between particularistic "tribal" loyalties and universalistic "modern" nationalist ideologies. Anthropologically speaking, nomadism in a mountainous topography is conducive toward segmentary lineage systems, which in turn may facilitate both the generation of egalitarian warriors and the salience of kin and clan loyalties over statal dispositions (Gellner 1969, 1981, 1991, 1994a). The "tyranny of cousins" has certainly been part of Kurdish culture, along with fratricide, feuding, and fatuous divisions. The bewildering alphabet soup of historic Kurdish party organizations bears some semblance to the parody of left-wing national liberation movements in Monty Python's Life of Brian. Even today some Kurdish militants, on minimal evidence, are very quick to categorize outsiders as supporters of the KDP or the PUK, displaying a party sectarianism worthy of Mao's last disciples in Europe. Kurds of all classes, both sexes, and various age-cohorts tell outsiders that the disunity of Kurdish organizations, whether in the diaspora or within each of the host-states, makes the Kurds their own worst enemies. Being divided renders a people vulnerable to being ruled and further divided. Turkish, Iranian, Syrian, and Iraqi leaders have been adept at taking advantage of these divisions, through intrigue, funding, bribery, and assassination. Kurdish nationalist movements might be said to have two natural equilibrium conditions: no leaders, and too many leaders.
But it is precisely by these standards of disunity that the Kurds of Iraq have differed from Kurds elsewhere. They have been better organized both to conduct armed and political struggle and to nurture and maintain their constituency. Even their infighting has, in the end, been less crippling than have the conflicts among their counterparts. Mustafa Barzani, the first powerful leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), whether under house arrest or in exile in the Soviet Union, dominated the politics of the Kurds of Iraq from the 1930s until his death in Washington, D.C., in 1979. Even though his roots lay in tribal power configurations, which often adversely affected his conduct in the eyes of his critics, he nevertheless institutionalized his charismatic authority and achieved discipline, especially military discipline, among contentious Kurds. Many other Kurdish parties emerged among the Kurds of Iraq, most notably Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), but Barzani and his peers had pioneered an enduring organizational capability, especially party cadres and peshmerga, that all its potential rivals were obliged to emulate. In uneasy cooperation (and sometimes open conflict) with Ibrahim Ahmed and Jalal Talabani, Barzani led Kurds toward a post-tribal and modern nationalist politics.
From 1961 until 1975 Barzani and his peshmerga were occasionally bloodied, but they avoided devastating defeats though astute marshalling of resources; and in 1966 they routed the Iraqi army in a full-scale engagement at Mount Handrin. Even though the Ba'thists eventually defeated the KDP in 1975, after the Shah of Iran and the U.S. withdrew their support, the KDP reappeared in the 1980s, after Mustafa Barzani's death, as a sustained opposition force, along with the PUK. The KDP, led by Masoud Barzani, and the PUK, led by Talabani, have often put their respective parties first in intra-Kurdish struggles, but sufficiently often enough they have put the interests of the Kurds of Iraq first—as when they ruthlessly dropped leftist Iranian Kurdish organizations in the 1980s in return for a free hand against the Ba'thists, or when they cooperated with Ankara against the PKK. These two party organizations, with established social bases, ideologists, mythologies, and military capabilities, with all their limitations, and their past histories of schism, were ready to be parties-of-government in 1991-1992. The voters of free Kurdistan, with obvious enthusiasm and in an almost even allocation, gave the two of them 89 percent of their votes.
Free Kurdistan, 1991-2003
The creation of a safe haven by the U.S. and the UK in April 1991, a military exclusion zone and a no-fly zone north of the 36th line of latitude, allowed this free Kurdistan to emerge from Ba'thist Iraq. The safe haven was an ad hoc response by the UK, U.S., and Turkey to the presence in Turkey and Iran of over two million refugees who had fled from Saddam's revenge on Kurdish and Shi'a rebels. Saddam subsequently withdrew his forces and his administration from Kurdistan, hoping that a sustained economic boycott would bring the land-locked Kurds to their knees and encourage infighting between the Kurdish parties. Uncertain of continuing American and British support and fearfully determined to avoid a repetition of genocide, Barzani and Talabani sought to negotiate recognition of the new entity directly with Baghdad. They also sought the inclusion of Kirkuk, Khaniqin, and Mandali, as had been previously anticipated in negotiations with Mustafa Barzani in March 1970. Even though Saddam was deeply weakened, no deal was done. Armed conflict soon resumed, only to reach a rapid stalemate. A line of control was consolidated, separating free Kurdistan from the rest of Iraq with a de facto border that ran from near Zakho on the Turkish border to the Iranian border and encompassed the three major Kurdish cities of Dohuk, Erbil, and Sulaimania (see Figure 1.5). Freed from Saddam's direct rule, the Kurds of Iraq elected a Kurdistan National Assembly in May 1992, in the first free and fair parliamentary elections in the history of Iraq, and arguably in any part of historic Kurdistan. The election was closely contested. It was won by a whisker by the KDP in what proved to be a two-horse race; third parties and independents garnered just over 10 percent of the vote between them (there were separate Christian minority lists). The distribution of the vote showed that the KDP was totally dominant in Dohuk, the PUK enjoyed a three-to-one advantage in Sulaimania, and Erbil was evenly divided between the parties. Agreement was reached to establish a power-sharing Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), although both party leaders avoided taking executive positions.
The story of free Kurdistan in the dozen years between the war over Kuwait and the war to remove Saddam may be told in two ways, the malign and the benign (for one extensive field report, see Stansfield 2003). Taking the malign perspective, one can contend that the division and near balance between the parties and their failure to create unified security forces facilitated disastrous episodes of civil war in the mid-1990s. It seems unfair to blame power-sharing itself for the breakdown into conflict, as some observers do. Both parties had expected to win, and the marginal loser, the PUK, found losing or not winning very difficult—as in Ireland's 1922-1923 civil war, voices were heard to say that the people had no right to be wrong at the ballot box. Past schisms between the parties produced widespread distrust between the parties' respective cadres that their leaders were unable or unwilling to control. Fighting that began in the lower ranks over trivial disputes was insufficiently controlled by the senior party leaderships. Each eventually stooped to bring in Tehran and Baghdad to aid their respective causes, before sanity prevailed under the pressure of local civil society. The inter-party conflict had to be mediated by the United States—in conferences held in Drogheda, Ireland, Rambouillet, France, and Ankara, among other efforts. The repercussions of these conflicts were approximately three thousand dead and a territorial division of free Kurdistan into two executive jurisdictions, KRG (Erbil) and KRG (Sulaimania), dominated by the KDP and the PUK respectively. The two executives coexist with a single legislature, the Kurdistan National Assembly. Each unit now provides its part of free Kurdistan with a government and a prime minister, cabinet, and ministries. Currently, Nechirvan Barzani in Erbil and Barham Salih in Sulaimania are respectively the KDP and PUK prime ministers.
There has been no serious internal fighting since 1997, and Kurdistan has had none of the major crime or terrorism problems associated with failed states or other unrecognized entities, such as Somaliland or Abkhazia. Indeed, it seemed in late 2003 that conflict had finally been resolved with an agreement to recreate a unified government of all Kurdistan, but to date that has not happened. One of the diasporan Kurdish web sites runs two competing count-down diaries: on one side it displays the number of days since the KDP and the PUK agreed to form a unified government, and on the other it displays the number of days until the U.S. restores sovereignty to Iraq (see ). This conjunction is meant and received as a telling criticism. The division between political parties and the territorial division of the two executives make it easier for opponents of Kurdistan to deny that it is one entity, and to reject the idea that it should be treated as one entity in discussions of the constitutional future of Iraq. The descent into civil war meant that the renewal of the Kurdistan National Assembly through fresh elections was postponed, and postponed again after the onset of the Gulf War in 2003. The mandate of a parliament elected in 1992 is less and less credible, domestically and internationally. All this constitutes the malign downside of this experiment in self-government.
The benign perspective on free Kurdistan peeks through, however, even in the darker picture painted above. Since 1991 it has been much better for all, minorities included, to live within Kurdistan than in the rest of Iraq. All the cabinets of Kurdistan have included members of religious and linguistic minorities and members who do not belong to either of the two dominant parties. Even the Arab opposition party leaders spent time in Kurdistan in the 1990s. UN data suggest that Kurdistan has performed better across a range of key human development indicators, as emphasized by Molly McNulty in her chapter on children. The deleterious impact of UN sanctions on the rest of Iraq is not the sole cause of this disparity; it has also been due to better governmental performance in Kurdistan. There have been no government-organized or government-sanctioned human rights abuses of minorities or women in Kurdistan. There are two ministries of human rights, led by able men and staffed by many women. There are female ministers. The Kurdistan National Assembly recently criminalized "honor killings," a rare move among the Muslim countries of the Middle East.
Although frequently satirized as embryonic "Barzanistan" and "Talabanistan," both the KDP- and the PUK-led governments have, we argue, proved to be more than the "eighteenth-century tribal confederations" suggested in a moment of exasperation by one of their most astute long-time observers (McDowall 2000, 462; see also Stansfield 2003). In the executives they control, the two parties temper patronage with merit and, contrary to stereotypes, they draw upon highly educated personnel to fill both ministerial and administrative positions, independent of lineage, region, or prior commitment to the existing leaders. Both have partially differentiated party from government, a feat often not successfully executed by many European parties. Both have allowed and nurtured judicial independence. There are female judges and lawyers. The rule of law and economic freedom have encouraged small and medium-sized enterprises. Kurdistan is networked, both with mobile phones and by the internet. Its electricity supplies are far more stable than those in many allegedly more developed countries. The Kurdistan National Assembly has remained in being as the common parliament of both executives: a symbol of the desire for unity and a plausible center of unity once fresh elections take place.
It may reasonably be claimed, despite the civil conflict between them, that both parties and their executives rose to the challenge presented by Saddam's blockade. They have developed Kurdistan. We might even argue that the division into two governments gave each KRG executive incentives to perform at least as well as the other. There are no significant allegations or evidence of corruption, and none is so far suggested at the senior level, among the prime ministers, ministers, senior civil servants, and top party leaders. The two regimes have been fairly frugal and honest. The land they inherited was charred, scorched by Saddam's deforestation, environmentally damaged, bombed out, ravaged by decades of war, deportation, refugee movements, and displacements. A large proportion of the population of Kurdistan had lost their economically active heads of household to war, genocide, disappearance, or exile. The Kurdistan Regional Governments succeeded in bringing back some of the prosperous residents of the diaspora to invest in the rebuilding of their country. They negotiated successful development programs with the United Nations, through their share of the "Oil-for-Food" Program. They did the same with NGOs and international nongovernmental organizations (INGOS). They have developed their own administrative capacities. For the first time in its existence, Kurdistan has generally smooth, functioning roads that link and integrate its major cities and villages. Customs on commerce—and smuggling—funded government revenues, but a low tax and reduced oil-welfare environment have encouraged self-help in place of the dependency encouraged during Saddam's ascendancy. The landscape is being restored and reforested. There is plentiful evidence of private entrepreneurial activity. Local agriculture benefited from boycotts by the government of Iraq and has progressed to meet local urban needs, though it remains underdeveloped. Refugees and internally displaced persons are looked after and being resettled. Schooling is organized, free, and compulsory, although implementation varies. An educated generation has emerged with English rather than Arabic as its world language. Universities are developing technical and engineering capabilities. Hospitals and medical services work. The two governments are secular and have not allowed Muslim zealots to have their way on the sale of alcohol, the dress of women, or so-called honor killings. The police are uniformed, disciplined, and trained to be civil; foreigners usually complain that the traffic police are too relaxed! The peshmerga are being partially demobilized and reconstructed as police officers and border guards, and may be converted into a trained national guard or mountain rangers. Free media criticize the governments and parties; although the two main television stations are still too close to the two main parties, their partisan tilt results from their own deference rather than the instructions of the respective party leaders. There is no widespread or palpable evidence of destitution or begging in the major cities, though the housing stock leaves a great deal to be desired. Until the twin Erbil bombings of February 2004, Kurdistan was a haven of tranquility by comparison with the rest of Iraq.
Actually existing free Kurdistan is no paradise. It has a long way to go to develop the full capabilities of its men, women, and children. Its economic development cannot continue on its previous path. Kurdistan's governing institutions can no longer expect funding through special UN programs or irregular customs. They must develop their own fiscal capacity, and sought to do just that in the negotiation of the Transitional Administrative Law. The region needs to be able to develop its own natural resources—water, minerals, oil—and its hydroelectric power industry in a secure legal environment that will encourage inward investment in and diversification of the regional economy. It will benefit from free trade with the rest of Iraq, although some of its enterprises will suffer. Understandably, its talented and well-educated professionals too often seek to emigrate along the diasporic family chains built during several decades of political persecution, exile, and economic exigency. The political turmoil of the mid-1990s casts a shadow of apprehension, though it also serves as dire warning that the consequences of division include the possible loss of Kurdistan. Some suggest that the territorial division of Kurdistan between the two party-dominated executives is a resolution of conflict. It has created two legitimate governments with tolerated opposition (an argument along these lines is developed in Stansfield 2003). If so, it is an ad hoc resolution, not one for the long term: fresh regional elections will oblige the parties to produce a durable institutional settlement.
On 6 March 2003, shortly before launching the invasion of Iraq and the forcible overthrow of Saddam Hussein, President George W. Bush made a rare statement in a press conference about the regime change he wished to see: "I'm convinced that a liberated Iraq . . . will provide a place where people can see that the Shi'a and the Sunni and the Kurds can get along in a federation. Iraq will serve as a catalyst for change, positive change . . . replacing this cancer inside Iraq will be a government that represents the rights of all the people, a government which represents the voices of the Shi'a and Sunni and the Kurds" (Bush 2003, 7-8 of 13-page transcript, emphasis added). Although Bush did not elaborate on what kind of federation he had in mind, many took him to have been endorsing a tripartite federation built on Arab Sunni, Arab Shi'a, and Kurds as the major constituencies of territorial units (Gelb 2003). This interpretation, however, was soon resisted within his administration. His advisors started to gloss over his statement and to declare that a recognizably American version of a federal arrangement was what the President had in mind, especially after the creation of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), memorably glossed by its critics as "Can't Provide Anything."
Expatriate Iraqi intellectual activists and some American-educated academics spelled out this American model publicly (Makiya 2003; Dawisha and Dawisha 2003). They sought a nonnational, or nonethnic, federation in which all citizens would just be "Iraqis"—a model of "territorial" or "administrative" federalism which allegedly would resemble that of the U.S.. Brendan O'Leary and John McGarry critically evaluate these arguments in their essays that follow. The resonance of these arguments among others flowed from America's commitments to its alliance with Turkey. Turkey's fear of the secession of Kurdistan matched America's fear of a pan-Shi'a state built through the expansion of Iran into southern Iraq. On the part of some Arab liberals, by contrast, the motivation for territorial federation presents itself as a difference-blind constitutional patriotism. But, however they are put, the arguments of the Arab liberals, such as the honorable Makiya and the naïve Dawishas, as well as those of the anti-Kurdish and anti-federalist Turks with whom they are in de facto alliance, are propositions for the reextinction of Kurdistan.
Consistent with the theses of the Dawishas and Makiya, L. Paul Bremer III, "The Administrator" of the CPA, in "papers" and "non-papers" circulated in December 2003 and January 2004, advocated a federation based on the idea of Iraq's 18 governorates that dates back to Saddam Hussein (see Figure 1.6). These papers were circulated shortly before the making of the Transitional Administrative Law of March 2004 (for further discussion, see the chapters by O'Leary and Peter Galbraith). The relevant governorates, including jurisdictions that Saddam had expressly reengineered for purposes of ethnic manipulation, especially in Kirkuk, were, remarkably, presented as "nonethnic" or as ethnically neutral. The implication, which also remained undeclared, was that "actually existing Kurdistan" should accept its dissolution into the preexisting governorates and bits of governorates that its current territory encompassed. Some Arab liberals and some within the CPA may even have naively hoped that the divisions between the KDP and the PUK executives could be resolved through a formula based on the old governorates, creating two or three mini-Kurdistans. Bremer himself expressed difficulties in understanding why the Kurds were not happily embracing a federal model based on Iraq's governorates. Some Arab politicians, who had previously supported Kurdish demands for their own federal unit in Iraq, returned from exile and started to air their opposition to the existence of Kurdistan from new positions in Baghdad.
The coalition-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) collectively had started to proceed in the same direction, with encouragement and steering from Bremer. On 15 November 2003, in a quickly arranged agreement with the CPA, Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and a Kurdish rotating president of the Governing Council, was persuaded to sign an Agreement in which it was declared that an element of the fundamental law would include "federal arrangements for Iraq, to include governorates and the separation and specification of powers to be exercised by central and local entities" (CG-CPA 2003). Talabani subsequently repudiated the relevant clause, by publishing a qualification; he had recognized that the Arabic version of the text might be read as an endorsement of Saddam's governorates and therefore of the dismemberment of Kurdistan's integrity. The CPA's web site summary on a "timeline to a sovereign, democratic and secure Iraq" excluded any reference to this controversial clause (CPA Agreement 2003). Thereafter, the joint Kurdish leaderships made it plain that while, the rest of Iraq was entitled to have governorates, Kurdistan qua Kurdistan would, by contrast be a unit in the future federation, or there would be no agreed transitional law, let alone any prospect of an agreed permanent constitution.
Despite the existence of free Kurdistan between 1991 and 2003, and despite the fact that the peshmerga were the sole forces to assist the U.S.-led coalition in the liberation of Iraq, it had become thinkable, within six months of declaring victory in Iraq, for the American occupation authorities to contemplate, by oversight or design, the re-extinction of Kurdistan. This thinking, or indifference, had several sources. First, Arabists and Turkists were often preeminent in the U.S. State Department and UK Foreign Office and present in the Coalition Provisional Authority. The Arabists wanted to appease Iraqi and pan-Arab opinion as part of weakening the Ba'thist and Islamist resistance. (On 14 March 2004, a search of the CPA web site turned up zero—repeat, zero—references to "Arabization," whether in Kirkuk or elsewhere). The Turkists wanted to calm Ankara, even though Turkey had voted against joining the overthrow of Saddam, even by permitting U.S. forces to traverse its territory and air space. (Interestingly, when the CPA web site's own search engine is run, very little that is positive comes up on Kurds or Kurdistan, and nothing commensurate with Kurdish suffering; most of the results are about Turkish "sensitivities" toward Kurdish demands; and, tellingly, the CPA web site is published in English and Arabic, but not Kurdish; see .) Second, the CPA was fixated on its public international commitment to the territorial integrity of Iraq, which pushed them toward favoring a recentralized Iraq despite whatever knowledge they had of the history of Iraq's past treatment of Kurds, or of their recent alliance with Kurdistan. The displacement of General Garner by Ambassador Bremer was part of this commitment. Third, the CPA was influenced by some conventional wisdom in the American political science community that opposes ethnic or multinational federations, which John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary address in their chapters. Fourth, until matters reached this pass, the Kurdish leadership had presumed too much on its status as allies of the Americans. It then fought a successful rearguard action for recognition of the distinctiveness of Kurdistan.
The lesson of this episode remains pertinent. The denial or reextinction of Kurdistan remains thinkable, among both Arabs and Americans, and is still demanded by many Turkish politicians, as Sophia Wanche and Michael Gunter explain in their overviews of Ankara's perspectives. This constellation of interests would have preferred central and local entities, rather than federal and regional entities. They sought as many federal units as possible to dissolve Kurdistan and to avoid creating any potential "Shi'astan" and "Sunnistan," as O'Leary argues in his chapter. This strategy had been foreshadowed in a report written by the Democratic Principles Working Group (DPWG), Iraqis chosen and supported by the U.S. State Department to envision the transition to democracy in Iraq (DPWG 2002). They opposed both binational and multinational federation and concluded that "it is extremely unlikely that a federation of many national and ethnic groups would be any kind of an improvement on a federation made of only two [Arab and Kurdish] large groups" (DPWG 2002). Reasoning that such a division "will turn nationality and/or ethnicity into the basis for making territorial claims and counterclaims, especially with regards to high profit resources located in one region and not another," they proposed "territorial/administrative" federalism, arguing that the alternative to nationality is "territoriality," offering each separate region its share of "national resources" (oil revenues included), according to the relative size of its population. In this view, "territorial" or "administrative" criteria have "greater credibility" among Iraqis and the international community because national and ethnic divisions have acquired a bad name since the wars in Lebanon and former Yugoslavia, and because of the tendency among some Iraqi "nationalities to cloak nationalist arrangements in territorial garb" (DPWG 2002, 94). The convergence between these liberals and classical Marxists is interesting: both reduce ethnic, national, and religious identity claims to codifications of material interests. The DPWG did not say whether material interests played any role in arguments against a resource-rich Kurdistan or for a Kirkuk freed from the repercussions of ethnic expulsions and induced Arab settlements.
If trying to relaunch the governorates as meaningful public authorities was the practical Trojan horse to destroy Kurdistan from within, the ideological attempt to redeny the existence of Kurdistan was rather different. The standard discursive strategy among Arab liberals and some CPA officials has been to insist that there is but one people in Iraq, to refer only to the "Iraqi people," to Iraqi citizens and individuals, to "just Iraqis," as well as to make synonyms of state and nation in the word Iraq. The DPWG argued against the domination of Iraq by the (Sunni) Arabs and proposed instead that the future democracy must elevate "the Iraqi character of the state above all considerations of race, ethnicity and religion" (DPWG 2002, 95). As the author of those lines later explained, a democratic Iraq "will be one that by definition exists for all its citizens equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. And that means an Iraq that will not imagine itself as an Arab nation" (Makiya 2003, 9-10). Kanan Makiya believes that the new Iraqi constitution should "elevate the Iraqi-ness of Iraq over all other factors to express what we have in common" and should therefore "avoid formulations that prioritize one group over another." Makiya desires Iraq to be neither "an Arab nation with a Kurdish minority" nor "an Arab and Kurdish nation with other nationalities" (International Crisis Group 2003, 11). This argument is at once a reversion to old-style Iraq-first patriotism (wataniyya), as opposed to ethnic pan-Arab nationalism (qawmiyya), and an effort to advertise the commitment of Arab liberals to "civic nationalism," "constitutional patriotism," and "republican citizenship"—all the current buzzwords of Western liberalism deemed acceptable in polite company. Exponents of this argument obviously include those keen to prevent both Shi'a and Kurds from reconstituting Iraq in their national or religious interests. They also include those genuinely hostile to the recognition of ethnic and sect-based politics. Remarkably, however, those Iraqis so persuaded appear to speak Arabic (or Turkomen) as their first language and are usually secular or Sunni Arabs.
This liberal ideological argument, even when well motivated as in Makiya's case, is thin and corresponds to no ethnographic realities in Iraq. It may be possible to reconstruct a shared Iraqi citizenship and identity, but only on the basis of the explicit recognition and expression of dual or multiple identities, be they national, religious, or linguistic. Eventually this was the route taken in the Transitional Administrative Law, as O'Leary argues in Chapter 2. The liberal ideological argument is also doubly false in simple factual terms. There is not just one Iraqi people. Even the Ba'thists recognized this fact on their 11 March 1970 accord with the KDP in which they promised to amend the interim constitution to read "The Iraqi people is made up of two nationalities, the Arab nationality and the Kurdish nationality." Kurds and Arabs are members of different nations, each with a different language, history, and ethos. Second, it is false because it implicitly denounces Kurdistan as an ethnic entity. It is true that Kurdistan certainly contains "Kurd" within its name, just as England contains "Anglo," France contains "Frank," and Denmark contains "Dane." But Kurdistan and its parties are at least as civic nationalist in disposition as the English, French, Danes, and Arab liberals, and unlike the latter they have proved themselves to be such in government. Within Kurdistan, minority rights in language, schooling, and religion have been protected. All citizens under both of Kurdistan's functioning executives are equals and treated as such. Kurdistani is not synonymous with Kurd, any more than Iraqi should be synonymous with Arab.
For many Kurdistanis, the 15 November 2003 document and the arguments of the Arab liberals created anxiety, which dampened the joy they felt at the overthrow of Saddam and his subsequent arrest. They feared that another betrayal of promises awaited them. In several public meetings, Masoud Barzani, president of the KDP, repeatedly insisted on two principles for the future of a renewed Iraq: power-sharing between the Arabs and the Kurds, and treating Kurdistan as one geographic and political entity in the proposed federal system. Both were essential to achieve national rights for the Kurds. Barzani explicitly rejected the idea that a federal Iraq should be based on the old governorates, because in such an arrangement the Kurdish identity, distinctiveness, and existing rights would be lost (Khebat, 13, 15 November, 18 December 2003). Kurdistan's parties were not about to accept reintegration into Iraq on the terms proposed by the Arab liberals and their American sponsors. The Kurdistan National Assembly (KNA) had already in 1992 proposed, through a parliamentary bill, a draft constitution for a two-unit federation in a future Iraq, one to encompass Kurdistan and another to encompass the rest of Iraq. It had been drafted by the KDP but approved by the PUK (Kurdistan Democratic Party 1992a, b). The KNA renewed this declaration in October 2002.
Kurdish politicians and media reminded Arab politicians that the majority of the Iraqi opposition forces, with U.S. sponsorship, had adopted Kurdistan's proposal of a federal Iraq in 1992 and had reiterated this commitment in 1999 and 2002 (Khebat, 18 December 2003). Federation had been accepted in principle by a clear majority of the organized opposition groups, and as late as December 2002 the Iraqi opposition conference in London agreed that the permanent constitution of post-Saddam Iraq should be drafted in such a way that "the national composition of Iraq" was enshrined (Political Statement 2002). The Kurdish leadership insisted on these commitments to win concessions in the making of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) that was negotiated in February 2004 and ratified in March. Among other things, the TAL recognized multiple nationalities, made Kurdish an official language of the federation, recognized the existing territory of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan National Assembly, and the Kurdistan Regional Government, and granted the region its own internal security. As important, de facto, Kurdistan negotiated a veto on the ratification of the permanent constitution (for details see the three chapters by O'Leary; Eklund, O'Leary, and Williams; and Galbraith).
Kurdistan is, in short, legally secure for now. Its existence is official. Its status can be both secured and extended. Kurdistan can live within a new Iraq, and live well, but Kurdistanis will not be "just Iraqis." And the rest of Iraq will have to accommodate those changes if stability is to be achieved and maintained. The partners in the new federation might do well to start by designing a new flag and new currency notes. The current flag of Iraq has three colors: red for courage, white to symbolize generosity, and black to reflect the success of Islam in Iraq. In different ways all three colors are symbols of pan-Arabism. They are not inclusive toward Kurds, Turkomen, Christians, or Jews. The three stars on the current flag, contrary to a misleading anecdote that is given widespread credence, do not stand for Shi'a , Sunni, and Kurds; nor do they signify the three Ottoman wilayets of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. Rather, they are a legacy of a very different and wholly failed federalist project: one to unify Egypt, Syria, and Iraq under pan-Arabism. A new, pluralist federal flag will have to accommodate Kurds and Kurdistanis, as well as Iraq's smaller nationalities and non-Muslims. The new currency notes sustain the difficulty in treating Iraq as comprising just an Arab nation. The "Bremer dinars," as they are known, have symbols under which phrases including "Arab" and "Islam" are printed in Arabic, but when a famous waterfall in Kurdistan is displayed the Kurdish language is not used, nor is its location specified. Kurds as well as other minority peoples of the federation will no doubt argue for a pluralist as well as a stable currency.
We hope we will not be misunderstood. We editors, like most of our contributors, are liberals, but we are not difference-blind liberals. We think it is political fantasy for Kanan Makiya and others to ask Kurds—or Shi'a, for that matter—to forget the history of modern Iraq. Survivors do not forget genocide or deportation. It is utopian to expect the Kurds to abandon their long struggle to be recognized as a nationality in exchange for merely having their individual human rights protected by an Arab majority, or a Shi'a Arab majority. In contrast to the view that the new Iraq should be based just on individual human rights or on allegedly nonethnic governorates, and to arguments that deny the national and religious character of political conflicts in Iraq, the contributions to this book propose different concepts, arrangements, mechanisms, and rights to create a durable, democratic, and pluralist peace. These proposals are often based on the experiences of federations and power-sharing arrangements that have proved effective elsewhere, whether in transitional arrangements, or as durable elements of their political institutions. Essentially these proposals rest on a shared commitment to protecting and developing the autonomy of Kurdistan and the hope that Kurdistan may flourish within a renewed Iraq. If these contributions assist that process, the editors and authors will be satisfied.
The Structure and Contents of the Book
The rest of this book, like Gaul and Iraq, is divided into three parts. We begin with debates over the future. Part Two, "Federative Possibilities," contains three essays. Chapter 2, "Power-Sharing, Federation, and Federacy," by Brendan O'Leary, reconsiders and revises arguments made before and shortly after the war that overthrew the Ba'thists. The author argues that Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq would best be reconstituted in a binational, multiethnic, and multireligious federation. He maintains that plurinational federal arrangements are desirable, and that "consociational arrangements" in the federal government are needed to stabilize Iraq's fledgling experiment in democracy. The exponents of "nonethnic" federation, he counters, advance shallow arguments, which are overreliant on the distinctive U.S. experience and evaporate when exposed to any quantum of light. But, just because their claims are shallow, they cannot be politically dismissed. Bad arguments often win in politics. O'Leary analyzes the Transitional Administrative Law, evaluates likely difficulties ahead if Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq are to function separately and jointly, and makes recommendations on future electoral and party law arrangements and how Kurdistan might organize its internal governance. Chapter 3, John McGarry's " Canadian Lessons for Iraq," complements O'Leary's essay. McGarry shows that at least one binational federation, Canada, has functioned and flourished for a century and a half. He suggests persuasively that Canada, Belgium, and Switzerland provide better role models and road maps for Iraq than the centralized federation that American academics and administrators are overly prone to idealize. If the conventional wisdom of American political science on so-called ethnic federations were correct, then Canada would and could not exist. McGarry spells out the erroneous assumption made by the political scientists dispensing such advice. Envisaging Kurdistan as a future Quebec, McGarry draws on this comparison to offer informed advice on what may best stabilize Iraq as a functioning federation. In Chapter 4, "Negotiating an Iraqi Federation," Karna Eklund, Brendan O'Leary, and Paul Williams consider both the negotiation environment and the crunch issues that will make or break the drafting and ratification of the permanent constitution. They also place the prospective negotiation of the permanent constitution within theories of the origins and maintenance of federal bargains. The authors offer some hope—although readers are advised to follow carefully the numerous assumptions they specify, and the conditions they insist must be present, for a successful federal resolution. Skeptics are equally free to read this chapter as specifying the impossible conditions that Iraq will have to satisfy to make a viable federal bargain, although that is not the authors' intent. Molly McNulty, a specialist in international law, human rights, and public health, who has recently consulted in Iran, concludes our discussion of federative possibilities. She focuses on a typically neglected subject in post-conflict sites, the rights and needs of children in constitutional design and the affirmative duties of government in these respects. Extracting lessons from four federations—India, Canada, Switzerland and Belgium—she suggests the merits of incorporating the International Covenant on the Rights of the Child into the constitution and law of Iraq and Kurdistan, and makes recommendations on how the federal and federal units' affirmative duties might best facilitate children's development.
Part Three, "Legacies of the Past," contains four essays. Chapter 6, by Ofra Bengio, composed on the cusp of the 19 March 2003 war, provides a historian's perspective on Kurdish autonomy in Iraq. The author of a detailed analysis of Saddam's discourses (Bengio 1998), she considers the past, reviews likely scenarios for the development of Kurdistan, and concludes with fascinating reflections on a passage from one of "Saddam's" novels. The idea that the relations between Kurdistan and Arab Iraq resemble those of marriage was one of Saddam's less unpleasant fantasies. It was curiously apposite, because Kurdistanis regarded the marriage as arranged by the British and saw themselves as a battered wife held in thrall by a succession of violent husbands, passed to each brother in line after the violent death of his older predecessor. The metaphor of an arranged and coerced marriage is doubly appropriate because international law has no formal divorce procedures for regions. In Chapter 7 Sophia Wanche, a consultant to the International Crisis Group, reflects on interviews she conducted among Kurdistan's peoples before the March 2003 war. Wanche captures their mixed emotions of fear and anticipation: enthusiasm for deposing Saddam, and fear of being betrothed again to a Baghdad government. It is rare to have such timely research before a war; in the regrettable absence of resources for a proper survey, Wanche's work will remain the benchmark from which to assess the subsequent development of public opinion in Kurdistan. One remarkable development in public opinion was prefigured in her analysis. Nearly two million Kurdistanis petitioned their leaders to demand a referendum giving them the option of voting for independence. That figure suggests that there are limits beyond which representative Kurdish politicians cannot go and keep their jobs or their lives, in making compromises with potential Arab political partners in the constitutional renewal of Iraq. Chapter 8, by Gareth Stansfield, draws on his extensive field research in free Kurdistan. "Governing Kurdistan" is an insightful and astringent review of divisions between the KDP and the PUK which adversely affected the politics of free Kurdistan between 1991 and 2003. Stansfield then argues for the codification of the outcome of the conflict between the two parties: the organization of Kurdistan into two separate administrations. His prescription may prove an accurate prediction, although many friends of Kurdistan and many in the Kurdish diaspora will regret an enduring division. In Chapter 9, Michael Gunter provides analyzes of how the most powerful neighboring state has perceived the emergence of Kurdistan and an Iraqi federation that recognizes Kurdistan. Hostility and suspicion are paramount, as he shows, but interpreting the past and reading the runes does not lead him to believe that Turkey's elites relish a formal and extensive intervention in Kurdistan. To the contrary: he suggests that Turkey's candidacy to join the European Union may fetter its traditional animosity to Kurdistan and oblige it to follow a more imaginative post-Kemalist politics.
Part Four, "Immediate Issues," encompasses four current appraisals both inside and outside Kurdistan. In Chapter 10, "What Went Wrong," Peter W. Galbraith, former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, addresses one of the burning issues in contemporary U.S. and international politics. Irrespective of the merits of the case for going to war against Saddam, what went wrong in the planning and implementation of the U.S. occupation? Exactly how did the U.S. and the CPA so rapidly exhaust the goodwill they had earned among Sh'ia Arabs and Kurds in particular? Why has a policy mess and fierce resistance in Arab Iraq emerged? Originally the first of the John Kenneth Galbraith lectures, and previously published in the New York Review of Books, Galbraith's lecture has already stirred the waters within the U.S. foreign policy community. It has provoked thinking on a three-state future, which Galbraith carefully presents as the only realistic alternative to the loose federation that Kurdistan has sought and continues to seek. The editors believe Galbraith's essay will remain a key guide on the prospects now opening before the organizers of the US intervention. His appraisal nicely matches the independent evaluation by Karin von Hippel in Chapter 11. Von Hippel is a specialist both on U.S. efforts to export democracy in 1990s (von Hippel 199) and in the regulation of political violence. Her arguments will be of interest to all international relations scholars and students of interventions. Von Hippel's essay should be mandatory reading in the U.S. Congress when full oversight of the administration's intervention and occupation takes place. She nevertheless concludes by suggesting that for all its flawed nature this American intervention should "stay the course."
Most of the chapters here make analyses of—or recommendations toward—the constitutional design of any future federation in Iraq, and particular on Kurdistan's status in such a federation. In Chapter 12, "Kurdistan in a Federal Iraq," Peter Galbraith sums up the constitutional prospects facing Kurdistan. With Brendan O'Leary and Khaled Salih he was part of an international constitutional advisory team employed on-site by the Kurdistan National Assembly and the Kurdistan Regional Governments before and after the making of the Transitional Administrative Law. A long-time advocate of the Kurdish cause, Galbraith has professional skills in negotiation. He maintains that Kurdistan has greater leverage over the making of any final constitution in Iraq than some might suggest or fear. The leaders of Kurdistan respect his voice, so he is likely to be listened to as well as heard. Galbraith's essay is followed by a Postscript, "Vistas of Exits from Baghdad" written by Brendan O'Leary. It attempts to bring readers up to date with the fast pace of developments since these essays were finalized in the spring of 2004. It reprises the origins of the war to overthrow Saddam, the failures of the CPA, especially in constitutional reconstruction, and the strange death of the Transitional Administrative Law, and sketches likely futures and tough choices for Kurdistan.