February 9, 2009

South of Kurdistan: Autonomy or Independent - By Mufid Abdulla
This is a response to the article by Maryam Abbasi printed by the Global Politician on 4th January 2009. The title of her article is “Kurds in Iraq: Independence or Autonomy?”

Firstly, I would like to rectify the title of the article which should reflect that we, the Kurds consider ourselves as a divided people but have never considered ourselves to belong to Iraq or Turkey, etc. Kurdistan is a country in its own right and we are living in Kurdistan , the land which belongs to us. People in each part are realistic about their own situation.

The first time Kurds claimed to have an independent Kurdish state was in the nineteenth century when Sheikh Ubaidullah in 1880 set up a tribal league in order to achieve his goal. In the beginning he managed to gather a lot of people and made a lot of progress in occupying many areas in the north of Kurdistan. However, in the end, Sheikh Ubaidullah was defeated. His defeat was mainly due to a lack of any external support, despite his requests for it, such as from the Russian and British who at that time demonstrated feelings of disunity towards the Kurds. Most leaders of uprisings are executed and Sheikh Ubaidullah was exiled and died in 1883 (1). Kurds have always been under some sort of external influence, especially when in 1919 Woodword Wilson made promises of national self-determination to stateless people like Kurds and this message gave more hope for the Kurds to strive for than ever before. That was another reason for tolerating the ambitious rules of Sheikh Mahmud in the south of Kurdistan in 1919. The flame of Kurdish nationalism has never stopped in their claim for independence and their own nation state.

In March 1944 the Kurdish political parties, Komala and Hiwa, prepared for a big meeting with representatives from all parts of Kurdistan. In August 1944 this meeting took place at Mount Dalanpar where the frontiers of Iraq, Iran and Turkey intersect. Kurdish delegates from the three countries met there to sign a pact, the Peman I Se Senur, or The Pact of the Three Borders which provided mutual support for a greater Kurdistan (2). This was a remarkable event when groups from the east, south, north and west united for this meeting on the borders of Iran, Iraq and Turkey.

On 22 January 1946 Kurdish leader Qazi Mohammed claimed and declared the Republic of Muhabad with the help of the Kurdish from the south and the north of Kurdistan such as Barzani. The Republic was set up with the help of Russia. The first speech by Qazi Mohammed was 15 minutes and he was able to thank Russia for all their support both morally and materialistically. The age of the Republic was only 11 months and the Kurdish nationalist dream for a homeland in the east failed mainly due to the withdrawal of Russian support for the Republic. Some other factors included.

The first Gulf War 1991

Maryam Abbasi stated that American administration had chosen not to support the Kurds in the south of Kurdistan for two reasons: “if the Kurds succeeded in the north, Iraq might break up with the Kurds seeking an independent state”. In the first Gulf War the Kurds did not want any involvement with any concept of declaring an independent state despite the help of French President Mitterand’s wife Danielle Mitterand and other international law makers. The United Nations Charter 1414 states that if any nation is threatened by a war of genocide, the UN can declare it as independent. Instead what we saw was the Kurdish leaders deciding to shake Saddam’s hand; something which deterred and disappointed a lot of leaders and friends of the Kurds in the world, such as President Mitterrand who told the Kurdish Institutes’ Kendal Nezan “for being so timid as to limit Kurdish horizons to mere autonomy. Your role is to plead the Kurds’ right to a state, he scolded. Now the Iraqi Kurds themselves had thrown away their best chance for statehood since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.”(3) Basically, we were not prepared for that demand and were much too scared of the existence of Saddam next to our door step. The US and the UK have since given us greater chances, with a no-fly zone and the creation of a safe haven. We had a defector state from 1991 which amounted to a very poor and penalised state which has only survived through foreign aid! You can not call it a state if the economy is not able to feed their people, I don’t want democracy if I am hungry. 

Toppling of Saddam and Ba’thist regime 2003

American administration made a political decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam’s regime. The main factors behind this decision were not the Weapons of Mass Destruction but the threat of Saddam, not only to his own people but to the whole region, and the evidence of the Iraq war with Iran and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Another factor is that America is clearly in favour of disintegrating a big country. They have contributed very much to setting up so many breakaway states in the former soviet state and Yugoslavia etc. The journalist Andrew Cockburn stated in his latest book on the Gulf War, a month before the Iraq invasion, that the moderate Shi’ite cleric Majid Al-Khoei had flown to Washington from London where he had lived since fleeing Iraq in 1991. On his return to London he told friends that preserving the unity of Iraq was no longer the American policy and therefore, the emergence of a Shia state in the south and Kurdish state in the north was a possibility (4).

The disappearance of Saddam’s era has given a big boost to the dream of the Kurdish independent state. As Maryam Abbasi stated in the beginning of her essay “Yet, independence will not be easily attained. Kurdistan’s not–so–friendly neighbours, its geopolitical position, are impediments to achieving complete independence.” (5) The primary engine of conflict in the region of Iraq, Iran and Turkey is about the Kurds. Kurdistan like any other nation in this world has a desire to escape from dehumanising poverty, underdevelopment and occupation.

The main weakness of the essay of Maryam Abbasi is that it shows a lack of awareness of the post Cold War world. The events of 1989 -1992 ushered in not just a new era in international politics but, perhaps for the first time in history, a new international system without a hegemonic war. The domination of American politics is obvious everywhere. The world has gone through two trends; one is integration and the other is fragmentation. The definition of a nation state has merely relied on the eagerness of the voice of people. The creation of states has become so easy and straightforward to the extent that in 1989, there were nine states in communist Europe. In the same area now there are 27 states. Each has established a nation state. But each state is wrestling with the two challenges of economic and national crises (6).

This new Kurdish generation has an even greater sense and flame of nationalism than ever before. But no longer is the nation state a symbol of expressing nationalism. For example Jewish people have scattered all over the world despite the nation state in Israel. Likewise, the Pakistani and Turkish nations all integrated all over the world despite the national state. Kurdish people have sacrificed a lot and shed a lot of blood for our own defector state which we have today. The Kurds are a very peaceful nation and have not attacked anybody unless in self-defence. Without exaggeration, the Kurds in the south of Kurdistan are experiencing a safer and more peaceful life than the citizens of Israel. We might not want the independence right now and instead want to prioritise on developing our infrastructure. How many billions of dollars has Israel spent on 26 days of the war on Gazza? Despite all the security the lives of Kurdish people in the south of Kurdistan are safer than ever before. There is no growing, no learning without pain and failure. The Turks and Iranians are aware of the fact that they cannot defeat the Kurds by military force and the solution has to be political for the Kurds in their parts of these respective countries.

Maryam Abbassi’s article not only struggles to define the new world order but has failed to recognise the fact that the era Kurds are living in today is different from the 1980’s. Since the early 1990’s most of the Kurdish leaders have been invited to the White House in the United States and most of the powerful countries in the world have got representatives in Arbil, the capital of Kurdistan. The cooperation between Kurdish Intelligences and the CIA on issues in the Kurdish regions is stronger than ever before (7). Basically, Maryam Abbasi has failed to grasp the reality of an independent Kurdish state which, next to Iran and Turkey, has actively worked for the last eighteen years to overcome the threat of invasion from these countries to our defector state. Kurds in the south are building the country from the ashes of the past. The Kurdish leadership includes international advisors and law makers and there is a great awareness of the current situation surrounding the nation state. As French Scholar Oliver Roea said “Kurdistan has its own independent state that is the reality but not legally. It has its own culture, language and their borders have been designated so far.”(8)  These developments have paved the way for the creation of a defector of the Kurdish state and Iran and Turkey have not been able to impede this progress for the last century.


1.McDowall, David. (2004) A Modern History of the Kurds, I .B TAURIS, London, third revised edition, page 53.
2.Eagleton, William, JR. (1963) The Kurdish Republic of 1946 .Oxford University Press, London, page 36.
3.Randal, Jonathan. (1998) Kurdistan After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness. Bloomsbury, page 109
4.Cockburn, Andrew. (2007) Rumsfeld an American Disaster .Verso, London, page 186.
5.Abbasi, Maryam. Kurds in Iraq: Independent or Autonomy? 04/01/2009.
6.Narain Roy, Ash. (1999) The Third World in the Age of Globalisation, Requiem or New Agenda? Zed Books, London, p 89.
7.Bodansky, Yossef. (2004) The Secret History of the Iraq War, New York Times bestselling author, Regan Books, page 381.
8.Roea, Oliver; his interview with Kurdish daily newspaper Kurdistani New, No 4167, 14/01/2007.


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