US Policy and the Kurdish Nation

If one recalls the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US and UK, they will remember the Turkish legislature’s refusal to allow US ground troops to use Turkish territory as a staging area. The reasoning behind this vote was twofold. Not only did the vote represent the way the Turkish people felt about the impending war, it also served the strategic needs of Turkey, in that it made it more difficult for the US military to seize and control the massive Kirkuk oilfields.

As it turned out, it was the Kurdish forces that ended up in control. This is a mixed blessing for the Turks. On the one hand, the Turkish military has military superiority over the Kurdish forces, thanks to the largesse of the US defense industry, yet at the same time, the Turkish government’s mortal enemy now have more power than ever before thanks to their military control of the traditionally Kurdish region in northern Iraq. It is this power that makes the Turks nervous, out of a fear that it could be the beginnings of a genuine Kurdish state.

Already, the two main players in the post-Saddam Iraq-Kurdish milieu— the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), under the leadership of Mustafa Barzani and Jalal Talabani, respectively—have made deals with various US and European oil companies regarding the Kirkuk and Mosul oilfields. Of course, these deals cannot go far without the approval of the US occupation authorities. This is one reason why the aforementioned Kurdish leaders are doing whatever they can to keep on the good side of the Americans. Of course, it’s not like the relationship between these two men and the US is something new. Both groups took CIA money and assistance after the First Gulf War, under the guise of operating a safe haven for the Kurdish people. As it turned out, this safe haven was in reality a staging area for US attacks on the Iraqi state. Because of this, the Iraqi military, along with the PUK, launched a military assault on the KDP and defeated them. Over 200,000 Kurds died in this war. A power sharing agreement was worked out between them in 1998.

If it weren’t for CIA and other US monies going to these men and the groups they head, they would not be in the position they are in. Suffice it to say that the primary differences between the Kurdish leaders and Ahmed Chalabi is an arrest warrant or two. Neither Talabani or Barzani are what one might call men of great integrity. In fact, the Barzani family has been on the CIA payroll since the 1960s and Talabani openly collaborated with Saddam Hussein’s government in the 1980s and 1990s, a historical fact that renders his current patriotic fervor quite hollow. They are, however, men who know how to profit from the Kurdish grassroots desire for a homeland. This isn’t to say that they have no patriotic emotions; it’s just that it is more pecuniary interests that truly drive them.

As local and western media speculate on the identity of the February 1 suicide bombers in Irbil that killed dozens of Kurds, another news item slipped past the notice of most. During the last week of January, Paul Bremer (Colonial Overseer in Iraq), gave notice to another group of Kurds that the United States would begin military operations against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), a formerly Marxist-Leninist organization dedicated to armed struggle in the name of Kurdish independence. In terms of the public mission of the US military in Iraq, there is no real reason for this move. Instead, this decision by the US reflects a deal that Washington worked out with the government of Turkey, which has fought this organization and Kurdish independence since time immemorial. In return, one assumes that Turkey will not move troops into Kurd-held territory in Iraq, at least for now.

For those who are not familiar with the PKK, let me briefly surmise their history and political philosophy. In their over quarter century of existence, this group has waged a consistent struggle for a Kurdish homeland. Unlike the other two parties, they are not on the CIA payroll and consider Turkey to be as great of an enemy of the Kurds as Iraq. Consequently, their primary struggle has been against the Turkish government—a government which until recently forbid the teaching of the Kurdish language in predominantly Kurdish schools and has fostered an ultimately racist attitude on the part of the Turkish people against the Kurds. Originally of a Marxist-Leninist economic and philosophical nature, the PKK has modified its approach towards Kurdish liberation over the years. It continues to proclaim its desire for a just and democratic Kurdish land—either via some type of autonomous arrangement with other governments or through a true independent nation.

Despite its long history of armed struggle, the PKK declared its desire to proceed peacefully towards its goals in 1999 after the arrest of its leader Abdullah Ocalan by Turkish, Israeli and US security forces (and an agreement between the PKK and Turkish government). In the subsequent years, Ocalan avoided execution and the PKK began organizing itself as a mainstream political party in Turkey. Unfortunately, their drive for legitimacy was denied by various elements within the Turkish government and society, which led many of its members to once again take up arms. In addition, the manest did not include the PKK leaders who were understandably hesitant to go along with the plan for this reason and from a concern that they might see their power diminished. These guerrillas are currently living in the mountains of northwestern Iraq and are the target of the US military, which has promised the Turks that they will deal with these forces. All of which brings us back to the essence of the US war in the Middle East—Israel and oil.

Israel wants to see the pipeline between Hiafa and the Kirkuk oilfields reopened.This pipeline was built by Britain during its colonial occupation of the region and has been closed since the creation of Israel in 1948. The US, Israel and Turkey have a defense agreement which means that these governments will try to work together to get what they want. When it comes to the Kurds, this means that Turkey gets help in preventing Kurdish self-rule, Israel gets a cheap and steady oil supply, and the US gets a tighter grip on the Middle East and some oil profits as a bonus.

RON JACOBS lives in Vermont. He can be reached

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: