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Kurdish Human Rights Project: This is the legacy website of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, containing reports and news pertaining to human rights issues in the Kurdish Regions for 20 years.

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The Future of the Iraqi Kurds

The outbreak of war in Iraq has been accompanied by a blitz of theories and opinions regarding the intentions, prospects and fate of the Kurds of the region and of Iraq in particular. Expressions of genuine concern for the welfare of Kurdish people have been matched, if not substantially exceeded, by hubris, spin and insincerity. As we write, events are in constant flux; while it is not impossible that things will turn out well, the likelihood remains (as we pointed out in the Autumn 2002 edition of Newsline, p.3) that it is the Kurds of Iraq and elsewhere who will bear the burdens of 'liberation' while reaping few of the benefits.

It is incumbent upon the international community to ensure that it fulfils its obligations to the Kurds of Iraq and the region, not only for their welfare but for the stability of the entire Middle East. Despite the systematic efforts of the Iraqi state to eliminate its Kurdish population in both the Anfal campaign of 1988 and the crushing of the 1991 uprising, and the role of the international community in both arming Saddam Hussein and encouraging Iraqi Kurds to rebel against him, the post-Gulf War "safe haven" of Iraqi Kurdistan was never formally recognised. Many of the problems currently facing the Kurds of Iraq stem from their consequent lack of autonomous political and territorial rights.

It is essential, therefore, that the Kurds of post-war Iraq have a genuine opportunity to contribute to the new political settlement and have a legitimate say in their own future. In the present, however, given the incursions of the Turkish military and special forces into Northern Iraq under the well-rehearsed guise of "pursuing KADEK terrorists", it is critical that NGOs and independent observers are permitted entry to northern Iraq to monitor the situation on the ground. Amnesty International have already chronicled allegations of human rights violations occurring in Iraqi Kurdistan.

However, there are several crucial questions which cannot be fully answered while the war is underway. These topics will determine the future stability of the Middle East as well as the welfare of tens of millions of people in the region. They include:

The Impact of Turkey's Intervention in Northern Iraq

The recent parliamentary vote in Ankara to send several thousand Turkish troops into Iraqi Kurdistan only supplements the estimated 60,000 plus troops already in the area. Incursions by the Turkish army have been a regular feature of the last few years, and the worry is that the troops will adopt the same policies of village destructions, disappearance and human rights violations which have characterised their presence in the southeast regions of Turkey. Already allegations have been raised that over 2000 villages in Iraqi Kurdistan have been destroyed in recent years.

Moreover, the limbo status in which Iraqi Kurdistan finds itself, neither independent nor under regular scrutiny or governmental monitoring by either the Turkish or Iraqi states, means that there are relatively few methods by which to scrutinise the actions of the Turkish security forces. There are profound concerns that once installed in northern Iraq, the Turkish military, which still has a dominant role in the Turkish state, will be extremely hard to remove. Turkey's failure to strike a deal with the US means not only an absence of US troops in the area to restrain possible Turkish excesses, but that Turkey will use its presence in the region to extract grant concessions from the US. Already President Bush has proposed what the Economist tactfully termed "unexpected" loans of up to $8.5 billion to help the Turkish economy during the war.

Changes in the Power Balance and Oil Distribution in the Region

The balance of regional power after the war is as yet unknown, and will have a dramatic effect on the welfare of the Kurds.

As well as a variety of possible solutions to the post-war configuration of the Iraqi state, significant changes are likely in the roles and status of Turkey, Iran and Syria, all of which will be directly affected by the conflict and possess large Kurdish populations. There is also the question of the influence of the United States and United Kingdom in the region.

Turkey's policy of intervention is based on its well-known fear of Kurdish separatism, and in particular the assumption that if Iraqi Kurds gain control of the oil wealth concentrated in the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, they would have the wherewithal to establish an independent Kurdish state. While the KHRP hardly concurs with that analysis, the importance of the allocation of northern Iraq's oil wealth is self-evident.

Domestic Implications for the Region's Kurds
Even if some degree of autonomy is ceded to Kurdish political groups in northern Iraq, there is no guarantee that those entities will represent the desires or interests of Kurdish citizens. It is important to acknowledge that giving powers or rights to Kurdish political parties does not equate to giving them to ordinary Kurdish people.

Similarly, in Turkey, the military is using the war as a pretext for the reintroduction of the OHAL State of Emergency regime, whose harsh legislation was only recently expunged. Much of the tentative progress made in recognising Kurdish rights in Turkey over the last few years would be destroyed by the return of such a regime and its accompanying problems. Moreover, the possible arrival of a tide of Iraqi refugees into the southeast would only worsen the misery of the estimated 3-4 million Kurds internally displaced within the region by the village destruction campaigns of the Nineties.

Likewise, the significant Kurdish populations of Syria and Iran, both of which have been subjected to a well-chronicled array of human rights violations, would surely be detrimentally affected by a destabilisation of the region, particularly if allegations of intended Kurdish separatism were widely propagated.

The opportunity now exists for a genuine solution to the problems of the region's Kurds to be properly addressed. For the stability of the whole Middle East as well as the welfare of an often abandoned people, the international community must not abdicate its responsibilities on this occasion. Rather, consistent pressure must be applied to the governments of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and the United States to deal with the Kurdish situation in a genuine and effective manner.

Reports on the human rights situation within Iraq are available from KHRP.