May 15, 2008
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Dancing with the Kurds

The Washington Times - By Julia Duin

This past weekend, I spent time with Kurds; the first event being an all-day hearing on the Hill involving Kirkuk, the much-disputed oil-rich Iraqi city known as the Kurdish Jerusalem. The Washington Kurdish Institute put together a very impressive line-up of speakers to argue for residents of the city being allowed to vote on their future. Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution allows for self-determination, but the vote allowing the city's residents to do so keeps on getting put off.

And the Americans occupying much of Iraq aren't doing much to help matters for their loyal Kurdish allies. The Americans and the Turks — who are also supposed to be our allies — don't want residents to vote to join the city to the already existing Kurdish Regional Government. The city historically was Kurdish until Saddam Hussein, starting in 1968, purged the city of much of its Kurds, moving Arab Iraqis into its precincts and splitting off the city's suburbs into adjoining provinces.

One interesting factoid dropped during the hearing in the Rayburn building was how the Kirkuk question is partly a Muslim vs Muslim argument. Some Sunni Muslims want the Kurdish government to take over Kirkuk because the Kurds are Sunnis themselves. This is far more preferable to the city coming under control of the Shi'ites who control Baghdad's government. Turkey's Muslims are also Sunnis but because of historic hatreds between the Kurds and the Turks, they don't want Kirkuk turned over to the Kurds.

The Kurds — whose flag I have included on this post — have called themselves "the Jews of the Arab world" because of the persecution directed toward them by both Sunni and Shi'ite. What happens to the Kurds will have a domino effect all over the Middle East, which may be why a yarmulkeh-wearing official with the Zionist Organization of America was seated in the back row quietly listening.

I was quite interested, being that I spent three weeks inside Iraqi Kurdistan (Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniya) and Turkish Kurdistan (Van, Sanli Urfa, Mardin, Cizre, Silopi and Diyarbakir) in July 2004, plus invested a year in learning the Sorani version of Kurdish. On Saturday night, my daughter and I attended a 20th anniversary banquet held by the Kurdish National Congress where we danced Kurdish dances until 11 p.m. There was such a joy to all that movement but at the same time, a banquet participant told me, a listlessness felt by all the Kurds.

"All the Kurds want is independence," he said. "They will never rest until they get it." Considering all the odds against them, this will be a long wait. But consider Israel, which declared independence 60 years ago this month. They too were surrounded by hostile neighbors, who invaded them the moment independence was declared. To paraphrase Jesse Jackson, they didn't wait for the right time. They made the time right and 60 years later, we're observing their anniversary.

The Kurds may need to make just as bold a move for themselves.

Julia Duin, assistant national editor/religion, The Washington Times


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