Kurds welcome autonomy talks

May 15, 1991

By Peter Boyle

Kurdish people are hopeful about the prospects of achieving some form of autonomy within Iraq after current talks between representatives of the Iraqi Kurdistan Front and ministers from the Iraqi government, according to a spokesperson of the Victorian Kurdish Association.

"We think this agreement is good for the Kurdish struggle because this means that our people will not be stuck in refugee camps like the Palestinians in Lebanon. That is what the American and Turkish governments want, but we want self-determination and not just temporary protection by Western or UN soldiers", Naki Bekas, a member of the VKA management committee, told Green Left.

Bekas said talks were continuing, but the Iraqi government had already agreed to allow autonomy, to share some of the oil earnings from the Kirkuk region with the Kurds and to hold free elections throughout Iraq within six months.

In addition, the Kurdish delegation was demanding the right to maintain its own army and police force in Kurdish areas and to have some international guarantees of the agreement. Bekas said that if these demands were successful, Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime would not find it easy to break the agreement again.

"We don't trust Saddam, but he is in power and we have to deal with him. Whatever arrangement we make for autonomy, at least it will give us a base to continue our struggle to free the rest of Kurdistan — especially Turkish-occupied Kurdistan. All the groups agree on this, the Kurdish Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish National Front [PKK].

"The PKK, which has the most armed guerillas and is strongest in the Turkish and Syrian parts of Kurdistan, says it is for independence, not autonomy, but it too recognises that autonomy can be a stage."

Bekas added that the US was not happy with any arrangement that boosted the popular forces in Iraq. "America has close contact with the Iraqi regime, and they are trying to make it hard for the peshmerga [Kurdish guerrillas] to work with the refugees."

"We have to accept the American and anybody's help for the refugees to stop the people from starving, but we must remember that the American government wants to kill our people's struggle for self-determination."

A recent staff report for the US Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs has charged the US with deliberately snubbing Kurdish and other Iraqi opposition groups because it did not want the popular rebellion against Saddam to succeed. In this way, the Bush administration encouraged the Iraqi regime to carry out "wholesale massacres" of civilians and the instant execution of captured rebels, causing tens of thousands of death in the Kurdish and Shiite regions, the report said. US and allied forces have occupied a zone 120 km long and 60 km deep along the Iraqi-Turkish border and are building refugee camps within this zone. The Bush administration claims it will withdraw its forces when the United Nations sends a peacekeeping force to replace them.

Bekas said that the sooner the US troops left, the better. The Kurds wanted UN recognition and UN support in the form of observers or peacekeeping forces. These were needed because not one of the governments in the Middle East supported the Kurdish struggle.

I asked Bekas what his response was to those people who claimed that the Kurds were being used by the Bush administration as a pawn in their reactionary campaign against Iraq. He replied that the Kurdish movement was anti-imperialist but that did not mean that they should not take advantage of Saddam's military defeat at the hands of the US and its allies to press their legitimate claim for self-determination.

"We did not support the US and its allies or Saddam's regime during the Gulf War. All the peshmergas agreed to stop fighting against the Iraqi government while they were fighting the US and its allies. But we agreed to defend the territory we held from attack — whether it came from the Iraqi army or the Turkish army.

"Talabani [leader of the Partriotic Union of Kurdistan] tried to talk to the US government and Saudi Arabia when it was clear that Saddam's foolish adventure would fail. He had the right to do this, just as the Soviet Union had the right to make agreements with the German and other imperialists to defend itself.

"If the Kurds did not take advantage of Saddam's defeat to push forward our struggle, that would have been a big mistake. Then, we would have been asked why we were so stupid to have wasted such a good opportunity.

"Anyway, the Kurdish struggle it didn't start with the Gulf War. We were fighting for our independence before most other people in the Middle East, before the Iraqi Arabs." n

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