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The Building Blocs for Peace for Kurdistan

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  The construction of the Kurdish nation is in its first stages. It has come remarkably far in a remarkably short period of time. It has paid in blood for the most recent period of national activity. It has been subjected to massive military campaigns directed against it by Saddam Hussein, by Ayatollah Khomeini and by the Turkish military. Every step forward is a new step and every action becomes a precedent upon which the next action can be based. 

 STEP ONE: Consolidate Southern Kurdistan through increasing defense capabilities, direct diplomacy and economic agreements with other nations in the region. This requires the establishment of a singular military and political command of all Kurdish military and guerilla organizations in Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria.   There is no reason for separate organization if the Kurds in the various territories are provided the proportional representation within a legitimate government. This may take time to take place, or it may already have taken place. The period of conflicts between PDK, PUK and PKK is past. No statements are needed to confirm this. When a government has the consent of the governed, it has the freedom to act in the interests of the people it governs. When the people establish social, economic and political institutions to validate their independence as a nation, they have the freedom to defend themselves. Issues in regards to the establishment of an agreed upon strategy among Kurdish political and military groups need to be worked out in established structures that recognize the mutual interdependency of the entire Kurdish struggle and all of its components.  

The current highest risk of conflict right now is between the Turkish military and the Kongra-Gel within the territory under control of the Kurdish Regional Government. Several steps are currently being taken to address this. One was a Unity Declaration of Kurdistan political parties in Turkey. Another is the cessation of military operations within Turkey by the PKK. Finally, just recently the KRG has proposed direct talks with the Turkish government. It is in the interest of all parties to address the immediate potential for violence and to work in the spirit of non-interventionism and non-violence. Recently, Turkey has presented itself as the representative of Turkmen residents of Kirkuk and has disputed the KRG's implementation of the Kirkuk referendum. The integration of Kirkuk is justified in its historical context and in the current alleviation of the crimes of Saddam Hussein that is taking place in the region. Further, the Kirkuk Referendum is consistent with a peaceful resolution of past crimes and injustices against the Kurdish peoples. "Kurdish Regional Government has repeated again and again that it has by no means any intention of unilateral claim to the rights or revenues on the Kirkuk oil fields. It honors the constitutions and agreement that the management of those fields is to be split by the central government and the region, and the revenues shared throughout the country."   

For the KRG, it is important to establish and maintain a safe region for all Kurds in the region. There is in this project their oasis in the desert. The day-to-day activity within Kurdistan needs to become a public demonstration of the peaceful intentions and just cause of the Kurdish peoples. The 60 Minutes show on Kurdistan was an excellent portrayal for American public to grasp the character and resiliency of the Kurdish people.

Kurdish-Turkish Conflict Stabilized 

It would represent a significant break from prior histories of Iranian-Turkish disputes for an Islamist movement to align with a secular state in the region or for a secular state such as Turkey to promote an Islamist state or to improve its regional position for short-term making it internally vulnerable to Islamist influence. The  recent demonstrations against the Turkish government saw hundreds of thousands and more Turkish people demonstrate against political Islamism. This represents a widespread opinion within both the Turkish military and political parties.  The current policies of the Turkish government of Prime Minister Erdogan are antagonistic to secular rule, as well as Kurdish peoples' democratic rights. This same Prime Minister has actively sought Turkish engagement against the PKK.

Within Turkey, there are advocates for a non-violent solution to the differences between Kurds and the Turkish population. "Nevertheless and as many Kurds today realise, the rapprochement between Turkey and the EU provides a unique chance for them, the chance to at last obtain adequate responses to their needs and claims. Therefore, the present circumstances are favourable for a satisfactory solution. Turkey has started negotiations with the European Union, and Europe has never paid more attention to the situation of human and cultural rights in Turkey." 

But, the Turkish generals who so adamantly oppose Erdogan are also in the group calling for the invasion of southern Kurdistan to attack the PKK, who appear to have demobilized or at least are standing down and not engaging in offensive maneuvers against the Turkish military. The generals should keep in mind that the price for Kurdish independence is the possible loss of some land but the cost of an Islamist political victory in Ankara is the destruction of Turkey as a state and its absorption into a new waqf for the political Islamists of Iran. Currently, Turkish strategic military policy is inherently forced to include the implications of an Iranian nuclear construction program to Turkish national interests. This conflicts with its adamant xenophobic opposition to Kurdish national aspirations.

Support of Iran by Turkey runs the risk that Iranian policy could very well be as aggressive towards Turkey in the future as it is currently towards Israel. From a military standpoint Iran could work towards a policy to neutralize Turkey in future activities by aligning with it. While this would be a profound change in the Turkish policy, there appears to be other forces within the region and outside of the region that are seeking to maintain attention on how Turkey is impacting on Iranian policies, including the US, the EU and Israel.   

STEP TWO: Resolutions of disputes between southern Kurdistan and other Shi'a and Sunni remain to be negotiated and resolved once the US withdraws. Currently, that is taking place in the context of an Iraqi Transitional Government. The Kurdish Regional Government has demonstrated good faith and worked to increase the stability of the region, improve economic relations and share its wealth with the rest of Iraq generated from the oil resources in Kirkuk. It continues to function in recognition of joint economic and political interests within Iraq. It maintains one-foot-in, one-foot-out as a regional government. This needs to be recognized as part-and-parcel of relations in the future. History requires that all peoples and regions recognize the necessity for a safe place for Kurdish peoples in the region. 

Within the region a statement from Moqtada al-Sadr is certainly challenging in regards to Kurdish prerogatives: "Asked about Kirkuk, Muqtada says that the Kurdistan Confederacy was established in the north because of the then dictatorship. He says that when the foreign occupation ends, and a democratic state is established in Iraq, with freedom of belief and freedom of peoples, there will be no reason to maintain a separate provincial confederacy. And it won't need to demand Kirkuk. Kirkuk belongs to all of Iraq and all must equally benefit from it. He suggests that it be kept as a province and an example of communal harmony, rather than being partitioned by ethnic group."   

This appears disingenuous and easily discredited because A) the Kurds are a nation, not simply an ethnic group; b) the Shi'a remain focused on maintaining a strong centralized government in which they are the ruling majority; not in building "a democratic state" and c) the KRG already rules a territory through a democratic government that is characterized by "communal harmony".  

There has not been anything approaching the current conflict between the Kurds and the Shi'a and Sunni. In spite of a history of Saddam's displacement of Kurds from Kirkuk, the Anfal campaign and the Halabja gassing, there has not been frequent or extensive violence between Sunni and Kurds. Recent Kurdish troop commitments sent to Baghdad on behalf of the defense of the Shi'a  were controversial within the KRG and were particularly unpopular among a broad spectrum of Kurds. The limited armed engagements with Sunni groups have not been a daily occurrence. Clearly, there is a desire both for stability and peaceful relations between the Kurds and the sectarian militias and a concern about the result of such conflicts in the long-term.  

The security of Kirkuk has been demonstrated in spite of a few attacks. What is not known from outside is whether this is simply a lack of Sunni impulse to do so, or simply the result of the difficulty in establishing tactical support for such actions on the ground in a region with a unified national identity that goes beyond any sectarian identity. The sectarian gangs in Iraq should recognize their own limitations and the KRG should continue to maintain a sound policy in relations with the sects that does not increase the risk to its people. The underlying presumption here is that the Kurdish nation is a distinct entity that has no stake in the sectarian warfare of the Shi'a and Sunni. Conflict based on ethnicity, Islamic sect or tribal affiliation should be avoided. Likewise, within Kurdish territory social and political institutions should be established that are not based on Sharia law.  

The Kurdish Regional Government's response has been focused and deliberate, both internally and externally. It needs to establish clear boundary lines regarding engagement in US military operations within the region to avoid the kind of conflict that would result in open Kurdish conflict with Sunnis and Shi'a. Their diplomatic activity needs to continue to avoid Turkish military incursion by appeals to the EU and the opening of direct negotiations. This is part and parcel of a carefully developed scenario that seeks to maximize the current circumstances and establish a stable, democratic and autonomous territory that increases its authority, builds its economic base and provides for its own defense. While the sects in other parts of Iraq attack each other and the US occupying troops, the peshmerga establishes itself as an army for the defense of its people. The region will be going through many re-configurations and olitical changes in the next twenty years. But the need for preserving national stability and cohesion will remain through it all.  

STEP THREE: Implementing a political/military/economic strategy of ADVANCE-CONSOLIDATE-ADVANCE for the Kurdish nation. The base area of southern Kurdistan stands today. Upon its shoulders lies the national task of consolidation. Maintaining soft borders is one way to promote economic exchange within the region and to establish migration that seeks to build off what is already in place and functioning. The concentration of Kurdish population can provide reasonable foundation for decisions made by international bodies in the future regarding diplomatic recognition and territorial boundaries. 

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Martin Zehr is an American political writer in the San Francisco area. He spent 8 years working as a volunteer water planner for the Middle Rio Grande region. His article on the Kirkuk Referendum has been printed by the Kurdish Regional Government, Another article was reprinted in its entirety by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) He is a Contributing Writer to Kurdish Aspect more...)

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