- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

The Iraq Study Group report states the obvious: “The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating… There is no magic formula to solve the problem of Iraq… Chaos in Iraq could perhaps spark a broader regional war… Pessimism is pervasive.” Yet from a Turkish perspective, the situation is promising.

The report lifts weight from the shoulders of Turkey, which for a long time has been accused of betraying its strategic NATO partner, the United States. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has long maintained the position that if Turkey had given the 4th infantry division passage into Iraq, “the insurgency would have been at a lesser intensity than it is today.” But the report makes clear that the real main obstacle to Iraqi security is corruption and a lack of national reconciliation.

“Iraq’s leaders often claim that they don’t want a division of the country,” the report states, “but we found that key Shia and Kurdish leaders have little commitment to national reconciliation.” That held Turkey back because the Turkish establishment was not convinced by U.S. assurances about the Kurds. Turkey opposes the division of Iraq because it would create an independent Kurdistan that could endanger Turkish sovereignty. Turkey did not believe that Kurds would be willing to keep Iraq intact. And the Iraq report does not believe it now. “The costs associated with devolving Iraq into three semiautonomous regions with loose central control would be too high,” it states. It also notes that Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, “has ordered the lowering of Iraqi flags and raising of Kurdish flags in Kurdish-controlled areas.”

On Sunday, Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish Iraqi president, reacted sharply to the report, saying it “is not fair, is not just, and it contains some very dangerous articles which undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and the constitution.” He singles out the recommendation for approval of a de-Ba’athification law that could allow thousands of officials from Saddam Hussein’s ousted Ba’ath Party to return to their jobs. Two things must be noted on this point. First, not all Ba’ath Party members were criminal. Second, the de-Ba’athification is a political decision to eliminate Sunni influence in the government. Therefore, Mr. Talabani’s statement is an example of the bad advice the United States had received. And it is poor politics. While Mr. Talabani refuses reconciliation with Ba’athists, he insists that Turkey should declare amnesty for separatist Kurdish terrorists. He sees it as his right to speak on behalf of the Kurds in Turkey, intervening in Turkey’s domestic politics and failing to acknowledge that Turkey chose diplomacy.

“The Turks are deeply concerned about the operations of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) — a terrorist group based in Northern Iraq that has killed thousands of Turks,” the report states. “They are upset that the United States and Iraq have not targeted the PKK more aggressively.” Kurds see their ethnic identity as far more important than their Iraqi national identity. They seek a weak central government and near-independent Kurdistan. Maybe the Iraq report will open a debate over how the United States has been used to bolster certain ethnic and sectarian interests. When President Bush acknowledges this, moves to end the dirty politics and wants to make clear that the United States did not invade Iraq with the aim of remapping the Middle East, taking action against Kurdish terrorists wouldn’t be that difficult.

What’s more, Mr. Talabani said the American military training program has been nothing but failure and boosted trainers with the Iraqi army would subvert the country’s sovereignty. It’s mindboggling to understand how the same man can argue both a need for U.S. military presence in Iraq and claim trainers are infringement on Iraqi sovereignty.

Furthermore, the report recommends central control over oil revenues and advocates ending regional governments’ freedom to sign oil deals with foreign countries. Mr. Barzani had called the proposal unacceptable, and had earlier threatened that the Kurds might consider breaking away from the rest of Iraq.

It is a crucial recommendation; if a central government controls the oil, Turkey should not care whether Kirkuk belongs to the regional government of Kurdistan. Yet the report warns that the December 2007 referendum on the future of Kirkuk should be delayed. However, Barzani said, “Any delay in the implementation of this article will have grave consequences and it will in no way be accepted by the people of Kurdistan.”

There is nothing new in the Iraq Study Group report. It is hard to see the report as a hope for accelerating reconciliation when Iraqis have no such will. They did not have it 10 years ago, when they came to Washington as the opposition to Saddam. There was no reconciliation among the groups back then — they showed up as Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’ites. It is already too late to expect them to be Iraqis first.

Yet, while the report does not portray anything about the region that is different than it was five years ago, it is gratifying to see that Turkey gave its ally honest answers. It would have been good if there had been someone to listen to them.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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