By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
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|Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov|
Much of the left-wing press has been gnashing its teeth recently over the ongoing street demonstrations against the war in Iraq. The arguments against them basically boil down into two categories. The more persuasive is practical and addresses actions like the disruptions of traffic. These lie-downs in the middle of rush hour, this objection runs, simply alienate people and do nadato advance the cause of peace. It’s an arguable point, but has its sway.
The second objection is presented as if it’s just as simple, but it’s a trap that, if it convinces enough people, could simply leave the left in a state of inertia. According to this argument, since the war has started, protest against it or its coverage is useless. The left should stand by and wait for the U.S. to finish pressing the battle as quickly and as bloodlessly as possible and somehow take part in the reformation of Iraq. Specifically, it should help democratic elements take control of the government, aid the northern Kurds in their struggle to ward off the Turks, and protect the Shiah in the south from encroaching Iranian medievalists.
The problem with this argument is that it surrenders to a simplistic theory of history that is both extremely convenient and comforting to people in the developed world. It completely robs indigenous people of their (theoretical) rights and denies their abilities to form their own futures. It also puts supposed left-wingers in the position of ideological imperialists (hello, Joe Stalin!).
Take, for example, the argument about protecting the Kurds from the Turks. One might just as well ask who is going to protect the Kurds from the Kurds. Americans seem vaguely aware of the civil war fought between the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 1996, when the KDP invited the Iraqi army in to help them defeat their rivals of 21 years. But these two factions, which control the two enclaves of Kurdish northern Iraq, fought again in 1997.
At that time, the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, had made incursions from its base in southeastern Turkey into Iraq. The PKK, headed by Abdullah Ocalan, was locked in a decadelong guerrilla war with the Turkish army, a struggle that had seen gross human-rights violations committed by both sides. Underlying the struggle, of course, was the Turkish government’s brutal suppression of Kurdish culture, language and ethnicity itself.
That doesn’t explain why, once over the border in Iraq, the Turkish-based PKK murdered Iraqi Assyrians and Kurdish supporters of the KDP. The KDP, which was tied up fighting the PUK, invited the Turkish army onto its territory to take on the PKK, and the temporary alliance triumphed. With the job done, the Turks left.
Through all of this, the KDP has been helping to oversee the black-market trade in Iraqi oil to Turkey, keeping its roads safe for the tanker trucks and collecting fees at the Turkish border.
Not only are Kurdish relations far more complicated than generally acknowledged, but where has all this sudden American concern for the Kurds come from, anyway? They have been treated badly for decades, yet no one has lifted a finger to help them. Neither the American government nor the American right nor the American left has made human rights for Kurds an issue. These poor, war-encumbered people have lived in the shadow of hot-spot nations, a footnote that parachuted correspondents and cocktail-party experts use to bolster their worldly bona fides to a credulous audience.ä
The most hideous example of this Johnny-come-lately concern is the constant invocation of Saddam Hussein’s massacre at the Kurdish village of Halabja in March of 1988. I think it can be safely said that less than one-half of 1 percent of the people who keep invoking this ghastly event even knew of the atrocity at the time. Do you think George W. Bush stood and wept when he got the news? Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam just weeks before; did he plead for justice for the Kurds? And how about the leftists who now urge us to fly to the side of the Kurds — what was their response 15 years ago?
The “concern” for the Kurds now does, however, provide a plausible excuse for the Bush administration to maintain a lengthy occupation of the northern Iraqi oil fields around Kirkuk. Instant experts in the press can harrumph that the city is the Kurds’ “Jerusalem,” a Kurdish occupation a prelude to a revolutionary Kurdistan and a provocation for a Turkish military response. Hence, the neutral Americans will just have to sit there, on top of all that oil.
What, in the name of heaven, is the American left to do about this? First, it can stop falling for thinly veiled diversions from the central issue. The idea that somehow the American left (and a bigger bunch of softies you’ll never find) can or should somehow intervene in a situation as complicated as Kurdistan is absurd.
The left is falling susceptible to the same cowboy impulses it accuses Bush of harboring. What’s needed is a cold, hard look at what’s looming after the war. Thanks to Saddam Hussein’s suicidal resistance plan, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis seem about to die from bullets and bombs. Many will have their physical or mental health shattered. Because the Bush administration seems to have no plan for postwar medical and food aid, some untold number may die from disease and starvation after the shooting stops.