Par Siyamend OTHMAN (*)
There is a saying that in life there are only two certainties: death and taxes. Given that people with imaginative accountants can avoid even paying taxes, that leaves death as the only certainty in life! Therefore, any attempt to answer the question before our panel can only be speculative.
Having said this, and assuming there will be a change of regime in Baghdad, it is possible to discern inter-related factors that could influence the Kurds’ future in Iraq. I shall confine my comments to the contexts in which these factors operate.
In the first instance, there is the short term. In this regard, much will depend on how the demise of Saddam Hussein is brought about. Washington’s continuing infighting on this issue, which has in turn reflected on the whole spectrum of the Iraqi opposition, Kurdish and Arab alike, is public knowledge.
On the one hand, there are those who favour a revised version of the Afghan model. According to this scenario, the combination of massive American aerial bombardment and use of specials forces would lead to a mutiny within Iraq’s armed forces who would then do most of the fighting in the cities and rapidly take control of the country.
On the other hand, there are those who argue that such a model per se could lead to the disintegration of the country or, at best, to a grab for power leading to unpredictable consequences. This view contends that only by committing significant US or a US-led international ground force can Iraq be held together.
At the heart of this debate, is how much of a role should be given to possible last-minute defectors from the Iraqi armed forces and, pari passu, to Kurdish and Shi’ite paramilitaries. In the Kurdish case, the sticking point is Turkey’s vehement opposition to any significant role accorded to them. While some kind of a deal seems to have been brokered between the US and Turkey over this issue, the details remain unclear at the present time. What is clear, however, is that Turkey has established any Kurdish military take-over of the city of Kirkuk as a “red line” that must not be crossed.
The second instance is the long-term that relates as much to future US plans for Iraq as to the social and political polarizations that will unfold in the country in the aftermath of Saddam’s downfall.
There has been much speculation about the US agenda for Iraq and the region as a whole and I do not wish add my own prognosis here. However, we have heard little serious discussion of what Iraqis themselves think and aspire to. Will the Iraqis take refuge within ethnic, tribal and religious divides? Or will they be able to transcend these boundaries and articulate an all-inclusive vision for their country? Will the current oppositional forces consolidate their positions, or will we witness the emergence of hitherto unforeseen socio-political realignments?
It is the answers to these questions that will largely determine what the future ultimately holds for Iraq’s Arabs, Kurds, Turcomans and Assyrians. In other words, the future of the Kurds cannot be viewed in isolation from what might transpire in the rest of the country.
In all events, it is evident that the Kurds of Iraq stand at an historical juncture and face critical choices. The Kurdish leadership would be well advised not to allow political expediency and tactical alliances blur the long-term vision. And that vision, ladies and gentlemen, can only be a federal democratic Iraq.
(*) Analyste irakien indépendant, ancien vice-président de l’United Press International (Londres)