Kurdistan: The Elusive Quest for Sovereignty

Article excerpt

On March 16, 2006, angry Kurds in Halabja, Iraq, tore down a monument dedicated to the memory of the 1988 poison gas attacks by Saddam Hussein. Why would the Kurds destroy a monument with such symbolic importance three years after the end of Hussein's brutal rule? The Washington Post reported that rioters, mostly locals, were directing the violence at the governing party of the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The cause was the party's misuse of foreign aid funds dedicated to help the region recover from years of persecution by the repressive Baath party.

The destruction of the monument is a perfect example of the difficulty of the Kurdish situation, especially that of Northern Iraqi Kurds, at present. One would think that two years after being freed from the oppression of Hussein, undoubtedly their most violent persecutor, the prospects of a Kurdish state, especially in Northern Iraq, would be better than at any point in recent history. This is not the case. Political infighting amongst the Kurds, the structure of the current Iraqi government, and vehement opposition to Kurdish independence movements in Iran and Turkey are causing the Kurdish independence movement to wither.

In Iraq, Kurds have long been waiting for a chance at autonomous government, but that chance looks especially slim now. The delicate balance of the Iraqi National Assembly means that the Kurds do not have an opportunity to force their own agenda of independence or at least of more autonomy. In the Iraqi National Assembly, the Kurds have joined forces with the secular Sunni group in opposing the more radical Shi'a groups led by cleric Moqtada al Sadr. While the Kurds have become a critical swing group in Iraqi politics, the parliamentary system leaves them without the influence to push their regional political agenda. A strong political representation of the Kurd-Sunni alliance in the National Assembly would probably pave the way for some degree of Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq. However, many Iraqi Kurds do not trust their own representatives in the National Assembly and accuse them of corruption and of ignoring the pursuit of Kurdish autonomy and compensation for generations of persecution. Othman Ali Gaffur, a Kurd at the Halabja protest, said, "We were demonstrating because the government says we are martyrs but does nothing for us. We do not even have streets in Halabja but only laneways of mud." If Kurds cannot trust their own elected representatives, their quest for independence in Iraq will hardly become easier.

Prospects for autonomy for Turkish and Iranian Kurds look no better. From 1980 to 1999, Turkey categorically refused to negotiate with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), on the grounds that it was a terrorist organization. …