- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

A sense of shock and humiliation swept through Iraq’s Kurdish population this week following the New Yorker magazine report that alleges their sheep-like cooperation with Israeli intelligence and security agencies, ostensibly so the Kurds can “kill off the leadership of the Shiite and Sunni insurgencies.”

Ignoring any possible Kurdish motivations and depicting them as Israel’s “Plan B” guns for hire, the Kurds are accused of allowing their territory to be used as a base for covert operations to “target suspected Iranian nuclear facilities” and “incorporate anti-Syrian and anti-Iranian activity.”

To many Kurds, these allegations echo the fear-mongering conspiracy theories that have been floating around Iraq like stale smoke in a Baghdad tea house; conspiracies generally fueled by neighbors who’ve been doing their utmost to deprive Iraq of any possible post-Saddam success.

Any intelligent reading of the history of the Kurds and a reasoned assessment of their current situation would raise serious questions about the veracity of the information upon which the story is based.

Although there is no anti-Semitism in Kurdistan, it is simply illogical and unreasonable for the Kurds to become embroiled in covert ventures for Israel against their fellow Iraqis and neighboring countries.

The premise of the story runs contrary to the Kurdish strategy for their place in the region and in the new Iraq.

For better or for worse, the Kurds have made a concerted decision to be part of Iraq. Kurdish performance in Baghdad over the past year demonstrates that they are keen to forge a new relationship with their Arab compatriots.

Dodgy deals with Israel, which is roundly vilified by the Arabs of Iraq, would do little to encourage this new partnership.

Despite the noise the Kurds made about their exclusion from top government posts and of the U.N. Security Council resolution that lacked the guarantees they demanded, they did not pull out of the government. This illustrates their commitment to the project of building a united Iraq that is democratic, federal and pluralistic.

For now at least, Iraqi Kurds have eschewed a future as a tiny enclave surrounded by hostile neighbors. Independence, despite shrill media reports — usually instigated by the neighboring countries — is simply not on the Iraqi Kurdish plate.

Since the early 1990s, the Kurds have bent over backward to ensure good relations with Syria, Turkey and Iran. Going against Kurdish popular sentiment, the Iraqi Kurds went so far as to engage in armed clashes with outside Kurdish opposition groups to prevent them from using Iraqi territory to launch attacks against their respective governments.

Nothing in the geopolitics of the region has altered to the point where Iraqi Kurdish policy would need to become hostile toward neighboring countries. In fact, the leadership realizes that good relations with these countries today are key to a stable, prosperous and secure Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Kurds have been actively encouraging Turkish companies to locate in Iraqi Kurdistan — a deliberate plan to strengthen ties with Turkey, which they see as a gateway to Europe and the West.

Iraqi Kurds need Iranian cooperation on counterterrorism. The al Qaeda affiliate, Ansar al-Islam, was flushed out of Iraq during the war last spring, but hundreds of its members fled into Iran and are today kept in check by Iranian security.

But that could change tomorrow if the Kurds were instigating covert operations with Israel against Iran. The Kurds have no desire to see a return of those Ansar operatives, who tried to assassinate their political leaders and terrorized civilians with car bombs and armed attacks.

Aside from Kurdish need for stable relations with powerful neighbors and Iraqi compatriots, the Iraqi Kurds simply have nothing to gain by Israeli cooperation.

While it is true that the Kurds had deals with Israel in the 1960s and 1970s, the situation then was completely different from now. In their desperation for a powerful ally, the isolated Kurds saw Israel as a path to Washington.

At any rate, many Kurdish leaders who were involved at the time, today say they regret that relationship. In the end, they were sold out anyway.

Today, Washington is in Iraq and the Kurds are in daily contact. Any need for an alliance with Israel has vanished. Kurdish leaders are wise enough to see relations with Israel as a regional liability.

Painting the Kurds as patsies of the Israelis seriously undermines the credibility one of America’s staunchest allies in the Middle East. Sadly, it also plays into the hands of the hard-line Islamists who are trying to ignite a civil war in Iraq.

Hiwa Osman is a Baghdad-based journalist.

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