- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

The United States neglected serious planning for governing post-Saddam Iraq. A steep price has been paid. The rule of law, democracy and secularism are highly doubtful; and, the Iraqi people have turned from United States cheerleaders into sullen critics or insurgent sympathizers.

The United States has similarly shut its eyes to the prospect of a partitioned Iraq after sovereignty is yielded on June 30 to as yet unidentified Iraqi appointees of United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. To ignore the probability of partition invites ill-conceived responses reminiscent of United States support for an undivided Yugoslavia ruled by Slobodan Milosevic against the independence aspirations of Slovenia and Croatia. Experience teaches that foreign policy by improvisation means failure.

Iraqi Kurds are likely to seek de facto or de jure independence. They have enjoyed sovereignty on the ground for 13 years since the United States established a no-fly zone in the north after the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s aggression against Kuwait in 1991. The Kurds have established a Kurdish Regional Government consisting of a National Assembly, Council of Ministers and judiciary.

They are sharply divided between tribal factions loyal to Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) sachem Massoud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talibani, respectively. As Soner Cagaptay of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has elaborated, the KDP has achieved financial independence by levying steep inspection tolls at the Harbur border crossing between northern Iraq and Turkey. The party dominates business in western Kurdistan, epitomized by the monopoly on telecommunications held by Sirwan Barzani, a nephew of Massoud Barzani. According to KDP’s prime minister, Necherwan Barzani, “If things deteriorate in Iraq, if there is a political meltdown in Baghdad for example, the KDP would go its own way.”

The PUK’s corresponding incentives for independence are twofold: fear of a theocracy imposed by the numerically dominant Shi’ites in the south; and loss of Kirkuk, which lies above 40 percent of Iraq’s oil.

Kurds profoundly distrust both Sunnis and Shi’ites. The former have oppressed Kurds both before and during Saddam’s dictatorship, for example, using chemical weapons to kill and maim thousands at Halabja and flooding Kurdistan with Arab immigrants. Shi’ite leaders generally disdain Kurdish secularism, and covet the Holy Koran and the teachings and practices of the Prophet as the supreme law of the land. Kurdish anxieties over a unified post-June 30 Iraq were heightened by Article 7(B) of the Transitional Administrative Law promulgated last March. It celebrates Arab above non-Arab nationalities in declaring: “Iraq is a country of many nationalities, and the Arab people in Iraq are an inseparable part of the Arab nation.” In other words, non-Arabs are akin to ink blots in Iraq. Thus, Kurds demanded that the TAL crown them with virtual veto power over a permanent Iraqi constitution, a concession immediately repudiated by Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

The pronounced Kurdish inclination toward independence will be strengthened by the illegitimacy of Mr. Brahimi’s appointees, who will attempt to rule Iraq indefinitely until free and fair elections are feasible. Mr. Brahimi no more represents Kurds or other Iraqi citizens than he represents the people of Iran, Jordan or any other country in the Middle East.

Finally, the 50,000 strong Kurdish pesh merga would crush an Iraqi army consisting of Sunnis or Shi’ites if civil war ensues in the wake of June 30. That military reality intensifies Kurdish independence ambitions.

A partition of Iraq into Kurdish and Arab states, however, is far from inevitable. Turkey would worry that a Kurdish nation might re-ignite secessionist forces in the southeast among ethnic Kurds there. Syria and Iran would similarly fear domestic Kurdish insurgencies. At present, the United States opposes Kurdish independence in deference to Turkey and the territorial integrity of nations. But the probability of a Kurdish declaration of independence post-June 30 surpasses any reasonable threshold for contingency planning by President George W. Bush.

For instance, should the United States unilaterally impose an arms or economic embargo on the Kurds if a civil war erupts? Should embargoes apply evenhandedly to all sides in an Iraqi civil war? Should the United States seek international isolation of Kurdish secessionists? Would embargoes be effective against circumvention by Iran, Syria, Jordan or otherwise? Should the United States military participate in opposing Kurdish independence? If so, would the United States be supporting a non-democratic government carrying no popular legitimacy? What yardsticks should apply for determining whether the United States should recognize an independent Kurdish nation: a renunciation of territorial ambitions in neighboring states; the actions or attitudes of the European Union or Turkey; the democratic credentials of the KDP and PUK and their respect for Turkmen; the probability of provoking independence demands by Sunnis in central Iraq? Should a de facto Kurdish sovereign be treated as an independent nation under domestic law, similar to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act?

If President Bush’s Iraq planning continues to pivot on the faulty certitude of summoning into being a unified and democratic country on June 30, then monumental foreign policy blunders will be inescapable.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant at Bruce Fein & Associates and the Lichfield Group.

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