Calamity is not a precise word for what has happened to Iraqi kurds. The world is a witness to vagrancy and eradication of the Kurds, this time, on a national scale. Millions of Kurds fled to Iran and Turkey. Hundreds of children and elderly fell victim to hunger, cold, and lack of basic necessities. But the real dimensions of this tragedy go far beyond its stunning immediate aspects.
This is not the first time that Iraqi Kurds have been victims of savage suppression. History of the last 75 years, after Iraq's independence, is full of harassments, collective executions, forced evictions, and mass destructive bombardments. But perhaps this is the first time the Kurdish people and their just struggle against oppression has ended in such a dramatic physical and psychological collapse.
The military balance between Kurdish resistance movement and the Iraqi regime had never shifted so much in favor of the Kurds. Never before had Kurdish Pishmerga forces controlled such a vast territory, including major cities in Iraqi Kurdistan, or commanded such a large number of fighters and arms. The Iraqi government, on the other hand, had never appeared so frail. Yet, with the first signs of Iraqi advance towards Kirkuk, the Kurds fled without much serious resistance. For those who have experienced any popular uprising, or have ever studied them, the flight of the Kurds, who had risen and demolished all vestiges of central power in Kurdish cities just weeks earlier, must have indeed appeared unexpected.
For all the decent people of the world who had condemned, and had campaigned against, US war efforts, for those who had opposed Bush's New World Order as a framework for a new round of hegemonism and militarism, it was no less than a shock to be confronted with a people who applauded US soldiers as their saviours and to find national leaders and "radicals" who condemn USA not for its military intervention in the region, but for halting it. "Desert Storm" appeared to find fervent supporters in most unlikely quarters. Even Bush would had not dreamed of hearing echo of Yankee Doodle in Kurdish mountains, hummed by these ex-anti-imperialist radicals.
Kurds and Arabs have never been so vigorously set apart by their own national aspirations. The split created between the two nations has become so deep that generations on both sides will fall victim to this enmity. Arabs found themselves betrayed by Kurds in what they felt was resistance to destruction of Iraq by US aggression. As far as anti-American Arabs were concerned, the Kurds stood alongside Israel and parasite Arab Sheikhdoms. For their part, the Kurds found themselves and their just struggle for a decent human life, once again being suppressed by a brutal and chauvinistic Arab government.
In order to analyze the Kurdish calamity correctly one must consider it i its full dimensions and go beyond its immediate human aspects. It would also be quite naive to see Iraqi government's atrocities against the Kurds as the only responsible factor in this dilemma. A tenable analysis of the situation in Kurdistan is not possible without a review of the role of all parties involved, and a positive attempt to analyze the events in Kurdistan in the context of the recent developments in the region as a whole.
It is a mistake to divorce the recent developments in Iraqi Kurdistan and in particular the Kurdish uprising from the spectacular events that had preceded it in the region. contrary to what our Kurdish nationalist radicals and the "objective" media want us to believe, history does not begin with the recent uprising in Kurdistan. It must be understood in the context of the Gulf crisis.
The occupation of Kuwait by Iraq gave the US a unique opportunity to reassert its threatened position in the world power structure after the end of the Cold War and to meet the challenge of a rising Europe. The New World Order was a concept that embraced this ambition."Desert Shield" and "Desert Storm" were operations designed to help realize this objective.
There was never any doubt that the US policy was to be pursued at the cost of death and misery of millions of people in the Gulf region. In this colonial intervention, as all previous cases, US drove right to the heart of very old problems in the region, problems which had been created and nurtured by British Empire and exploited by US previously. National and religious divisions and strife in the region, between Arabs and Jews, Kurds and Arabs, were exploited as elements assisting the US adventure in the Gulf.
To reduce "casualties", US hoped to internalize the conflict in Iraq. Any blood shed among Iraqis would not be counted on the balance sheet of casualties. Rediscovery of the previous crimes of Saddam against the Kurds was complemented with "signals to Kurdish leaders, pointing to requirements of an "acceptable" alternative government in Iraq, initiating a holy war of "free" media, such as Free Iraq's Radio organized by CIA against Saddam, were elements of such a policy.
Kurdish nationalism on the other hand, resorted to their classical strategy of basing their quest for a share of power on the splits between regional and global powers, and capitalizing on the national oppression of the Kurdish people, who were to become the future victims of the very same nationalists in power.
They welcomed the events which they thought would improve the balance of power with the central government. They sided, first in publicity and then in practice, with the US policy. They were ready to side with the devil if necessary, accept the brutal massacre of Iraqi people among them Kurds and the demolition of the whole country, if it furthered their case. They started to botch a coalition alternative government from Kurdish nationalist currents and the reactionary Shiite religious parties.
"Saddam is finished", was the picture that all the coalition, now including Kurdish nationalists, tried, with success, to convince the people with.
The defeat of Iraqi army and the protest of the people in the south gave the signal. Kurdish people in the cities turned all their just disgust from the previous brutalities of Iraqi regime against its military and administrative institutions. In less than two days form March 7th, all governmental headquarters were captured or destroyed. Kurdistan was "liberated". Hundreds of thousands of Kurds armed by the government changed sides and joined the forces of the parties. Opposition forces headed towards Kirkuk to convince Allies of their control over the Kurdish areas and their credibility as a pillar of an alternative government. They hoped for preserving what they could from the dead's inheritance for their own future advantage, and began to disarm the insurgent people and send them back to their homes. "Liberated" Kurdistan passed from the hands of Iraqi government into the hands of Kurdish nationalist parties.
Illusion came to an end when the "dead" started to move and "desert Storm" stopped behind the gates of Basra. Arab nationalism, humiliated by the Allies and agitated by a feeling of betrayal from the Kurds, facing with a vulnerable enemy, did what all nationalist do to the weaker enemy; extreme brutality.
Moving of supposedly dead Saddam brought just the same reaction among the people as when a supposedly dead monster comes to life again. Panic broke out even among the well armed nationalist parties who were unwilling or found themselves unable to defend the cities.
The uprising of the Kurdish people was not an outcome of a preceding process of political upsurge and did not reflect prior political advances in relation to the government and a breakpoint in real political balance of power, as is normally the case with other uprisings. A revolution creates a feeling of legitimacy in the masses, it engenders a sense of invincibility and a psychology and actual institutions which face and resist reaction and restoration. These were not characteristics of the Kurdish uprising. The people were led, with almost no intermediate stages, to armed confrontation with the Iraqi regime, under the influence of the false picture portrayed of the situation by the US and the Kurdish nationalist currents and leaders. What happened afterwards, hasty mass retreat in the face of Iraqi advance, was the natural consequences of this circumstance.
The tragedy is not yet over. Kurdish nationalists found in the misery of the people a new base to bargain for power. They dream of becoming the next PLO without caring that this would mean to reduce the Kurds to a people without a country like Palestinians, and changing the Kurdish problem, not only in Iraq but in the whole region, to the problem of Kurdish refugees. They welcomed the "Safe haven" plan in this context.
The fact is that these nationalists are leading Kurdish struggle against national oppression to a familiar situation. to reduce it to a campaign linked to imperialist interests, like those of Afghan Mujahidin, Nicaragua's Contras, UNITA movement in Angola, and others. Whether or not they will succeed in creating a Kurdish state at the price of misery and humiliation for other nations, the same as the case of Israel, the tragedy of Kurds will not yet be over.
Kurdish people are victims of competing bourgeois interests on a global level. They are victims of post-Cold War US hegemonism, wounded Arab nationalism, and desperate Kurdish nationalism.
The permanent end to the sufferings of the Kurdish masses depends, most of all, on whether workers and genuine communists will find enough energy to fill this deep split and enmity between Kurds and Arabs, tell the truth, and show that Arab and Kurdish workers have no interest in national oppression and instead of siding with their "national" bourgeoisie they should create their own united class barricades against capitalism and all its states and parties.
May 6th, 1991