September 13, 2008


Strip of Iraq 'on the Verge of Exploding': Kurds Extend Role Beyond Autonomous Borders, Angering Arabs (Amit R. Paley, 9/13/08, Washington Post)

The long-cherished dream of many of the world's 25 million ethnic Kurds is an independent state that encompasses parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. All but Iraq adamantly oppose Kurdish autonomy, much less a Kurdish state. Iraqi Kurds continue to insist they are not seeking independence, even as they unilaterally expand the territory they control in Iraq.

The predominantly Arab-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in recent weeks has sent the Iraqi army to drive Kurdish forces out of some of the lands, ordering Kurdish troops, known as pesh merga, to retreat north of the boundary of the Kurdish autonomous region.

The face-off between the Iraqi army and pesh merga has stoked fears of Arab-Kurdish strife just as Iraqis begin to recover from years of sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis.

A week-long journey across four provinces that abut the southern boundary of the autonomous region illustrated just how pervasive the Kurdish presence has become. Pesh merga fighters were seen manning 34 checkpoints, most of them proudly flying the Kurdish flag, some as far as 75 miles south of the regional border. Kurds say they have historical claims to the territory, citing then-President Saddam Hussein's use of violence and coercion to drive Kurds from their lands in the 1970s.

Although officials in Washington and Baghdad have focused on the Arab-Kurd conflict in Kirkuk, the ethnically mixed, oil-rich city where more than 100 people have been killed in political violence this year, the animosities between the two ethnic groups fester throughout Nineveh, Tamim, Salahuddin and Diyala provinces. Arabs and Kurds in various areas often have unique grievances, confounding efforts to reach an all-encompassing solution.

Kurdish leaders have maintained warm relations with U.S. officials, who have seen the Kurds as allies in the effort to promote democracy and stability in Iraq. The Kurdish region, compared with other parts of the country, is a zone of relative peace and prosperity.

We can't try to deny the Kurds their own nation and be true to our own ideals.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 13, 2008 7:33 AM
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