Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Kurds Are Down but Not out in This Long, Long Struggle; Kurds Feel Abandoned by the World as They Strive for Independence, despite Their Courage in Defeating Our Common Enemy Isis, Says GARY KENT

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Kurds Are Down but Not out in This Long, Long Struggle; Kurds Feel Abandoned by the World as They Strive for Independence, despite Their Courage in Defeating Our Common Enemy Isis, Says GARY KENT

Article excerpt

KURDS seeking independence did not justify Iraqi violence but Iraqi violence now justifies Kurds seeking independence. The needlessly harsh Iraqi reaction clarifies the stakes for the world to see if it were paying any great attention.

The referendum was a long time coming. For most of the time I have visited Kurdistan since 2006, independence was on the backburner and they made Iraq work while insisting they would only stay if Iraq remained federal.

Baghdad never fully accepted equality but was relatively weak and the Kurds had a state in all but name. But the game was up when Iraq unilaterally cut Kurdish budget payments and lost a third of the country to Isis in 2014.

A desperate Kurdish people sought to escape a loveless Iraq. The referendum was not a unilateral declaration of independence but the beginning of the bargaining. Self-determination is rarely consensual but the Kurds gave it a try.

Baghdad could have responded politically but instead blockaded international flights - I took one of the last flights out - and then used violence as a first resort in which 60 Peshmerga were killed.

A sophisticated Iraqi ambassador once said that Iraq should emulate Switzerland, which keeps its neighbours at bay and its different ethnic groups together. But Baghdad's instinct is centralisation.

On the day of the referendum, I saw joyful crowds in their best and colourful clothes enthusiastically voting in Erbil, Kirkuk and Slemani, where the celebratory tracer gunfire was thankfully going the other way.

International observers joined the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk for lunch at his mansion, once the home of Saddam Hussein's notorious general Chemical Ali, who organised multiple mustard gas attacks against Kurds.

Weeks later Shia militia broadcast triumphalist videos insulting Kurds from the same offices with pictures of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in the background. They trampled on the Kurdish flag and the Iraqi commander stopped the police chief speaking Kurdish in a country where Kurdish and Arabic are official languages. The governor was whisked away to safety. 160,000 Kurds also fled from Kirkuk and elsewhere since the Iraqi attacks. …

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