- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 12, 2008


Since Iraq’s liberation, almost five years ago, the Kurds of Iraq have constantly mediated between Iraq’s various political factions, while also making difficult compromises of their own. At the same time, Kurdish soldiers have been helping their American allies to restore order in Iraq’s non-Kurdish areas, such as Baghdad.

Yet while all Iraqis struggle to pass outstanding pieces of legislation, including the elusive hydrocarbons law, some American policy analysts consider the Kurds the problem. A few liberal and conservative writers, in a rare moment of misguided unity, claim that we Kurds are self-absorbed, that America owes us nothing, and that our holding out on certain policies is bad for Iraq and bad for the U.S. efforts in the region.

It appears that when things stall, it is all too convenient to blame America’s friends the Kurds. Perhaps we are lectured and blamed because we actually listen to American advice. Perhaps, for all the admonitions that we Kurds are overly motivated by the past, these analysts want to play upon Kurdish fears of another catastrophic American betrayal.

Such reactions are particularly troubling in the month of March, which is bittersweet for many Iraqi Kurds.

Not only does this March mark the fifth anniversary of the liberation of all Iraqis from Saddam’s reign of terror but it is also the anniversary of the genocide against the Kurdish residents of Halabja, and elsewhere. As part of Saddam’s Anfal campaign 20 years ago, chemical and biological weapons were used against the citizens of Iraqi Kurdistan and close to 200,000 innocent men, women and children were killed or were never seen again - until they were exhumed from mass graves after Iraq’s liberation Halabja, once a vibrant center of Kurdish culture was, in a day, turned into a symbol of our tragedy. It is our ground zero.

Nobody in Kurdistan can also forget the disaster of 1991 when we rose up, with American encouragement, against Saddam only to be abandoned to the Iraqi dictator’s vengeance. Tens of thousands died, as millions fled to neighboring countries before help and protection belatedly arrived.

That is why we are determined to set a different tone in Iraqi politics. That is why we seek a decentralized state that no future dictator can control. That is why we seek a transparent and equitable management and sharing of Iraq’s natural resources.

Sadly, instead of being supported in our efforts we are vilified and told by some that we are inflexible. When we agree to have revenues earned from oil exploration in our region be shared with all Iraqis, we are attacked for wanting too much. When we deferred the Kirkuk referendum for six months, so as to deprive extremists of an excuse for violence, and give the UN time to provide the much needed technical assistance to ensure a transparent process, we are called maximalists. Indeed, the Washington analysts’ rap sheet on the Kurds boils down to the accusation that we are bad Iraqis.

So if to be a bad Iraqi means to defend the principles of democracy and the separation of mosque and state while abiding by Iraq’s democratically ratified constitution - we plead guilty. If fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq and associated Islamic radicals with your daring forces while promoting tolerance within our country and with our neighbors is bad, we stand guilty. If accepting and providing services in our region to Iraqi Christian families fleeing for their life from other parts of the country simply because they are Christian, while being proud that not one of your men or women, civilian or military, have been killed in our region, we again plead guilty.

The wars, ethnic cleansing and genocide of the past 20 years may seem like mere data points to some. To the citizens of Iraqi Kurdistan, who lived through, and in many cases barely survived, these events have created in us a burning desire to build a new future by strenuously avoiding a repeat of the past.

The inconvenient truth is that Iraq’s Kurds have every right to pursue their national self interests and to defend their hard earned gains. Moreover, unlike some Washington-based policy analysts, we face far greater challenges than a potential shortage of paper clips.

It is a sad day in American intellectual life when some American policy analysts tell us that they want the Iraq that was, rather than Iraq that can be.

Qubad Talabani is the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government to the United States.



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