Invisible Nation: How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood Is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East, by Quil Lawrence. New York: Walker & Co. 2008. xvi + 322 pages. Maps. Photos. Key events to p. 331. Notes to p. 350. Sel. bibl. to p. 354. Acknowl. to p. 356. Index to p. 366. $25.95.
Reviewed by Henri J. Barkey
Quil Lawrence, a reporter for the BBC/ PRI's The World program, provides an almost personal account of the Iraqi Kurds' struggle since the end of the 1991 Gulf War. Lawrence, who spent the better part of the last seven years reporting from Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan in particular, has not only closely observed developments on the ground but also has had a great deal of access to many of the struggle's protagonists.
He describes the continuous and yet contradictory aspects of Kurdish politics: the burning desire for independence tempered by the pragmatic realization that as Kurds they stand a better chance of obtaining both security and prosperity as part of a democratic and federal state of Iraq. The contradictions do not end with the national vision. Lawrence also points to the tension between the desire for democratic politics in Kurdistan and the stranglehold the traditional Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Masoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Jalal Talabani, have over the economy and the polity. Similarly, tensions simmer beneath the surface of the Kurdish administration that contradict the image of harmony and efficiency that the KDP and the PUK try to exude.
Still, the Kurds are no different from any other ethnic group or nation that has experienced the ups and downs and growing pains of coming of age. No such group has ever attained its goals without divisions and contradictions. Lawrence's book is an account of the difficulties and opportunities that stand before the Kurds. The complexities of Iraq, the impact of the invasion, the miscalculations that haunted the subsequent occupation, and the regional dynamics all conspire to make Kurdish decision-making an enormous task.
Lawrence details all the developments with a good eye for the surrounding tableau. He provides the reader with analysis and heretofore unknown anecdotes that help illustrate his points. Starting with the American role, one that never seems to have a real fix or anchor when it comes to the Kurds, everyone it seems is involved in complicated efforts at trying to project the future of Iraq. The Kurdish-American relationship goes through all the gyrations, from when Kurdish representatives are kept waiting at the US State Department entrance in 1991 by an official who did not have the courage to cancel a meeting with them, to the decision to deploy two Kurdish brigades to bolster the American "surge" in 2007. …