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[casi] Kurds step forward as unlikely winners of the war against Saddam

Kurds step forward as unlikely winners of the war against Saddam
By John Simpson
(Filed: 21/09/2003)

Coming back here after five months is like re-starting a paused video. When
I was in Arbil last, during the war, Kurdistan was silent, nervous and
waiting. Now it is thriving: the traffic noisy and snarled up, the shops
full, the pavements crowded. The Kurds are the greatest winners after this
war. So far, they are the only real winners.

For a start, they did well out of the carve-up of the new Iraqi government.
They have four ministries, including two of the biggest: foreign affairs and
the new constitution. They have skilfully managed to remind everyone that
they are part of the new Iraq because they want to be, rather than because
they have no alternative, yet they have done this with considerable tact.
And because they were separate from Saddam Hussein's Iraq for the 12 years
after the first Gulf war, the Kurdish economy was relatively free of the
savage UN sanctions and is now in good shape.

It is worth remembering that the reason Iraqi Kurdistan has been a success
is that it was created, not by the United States alone, but by the United
Nations. It wasn't even an American idea: it grew out of a brave gamble by
John Major. In those days, back in 1991, the United States believed that
listening to its allies and obtaining international support was something
worth doing. The Kurds have been grateful ever since.

Now, their greatest fear is that the violence and instability which seems to
be growing in the rest of Iraq will spread northwards. The other day, a car
bomb exploded here in the centre of Arbil. It was probably planted by Saddam
loyalists, but there are those who believe it was an attempt by the militant
Kurdish communists, the PKK, to remind everyone that they are still around.

The Kurds' success has been based on a policy of unswerving support for
whatever the United States did in Iraq. During the war the Kurdish forces,
with the support of a few hundred American special forces soldiers, defeated
11 Iraqi divisions. Even when an American "friendly fire" attack killed 18
Kurdish soldiers and injured the KDP president's brother and son, there was
no complaint, no pressure for an inquiry. The Kurds kept their eyes on the
prize - a big share in governing the new Iraq.

But this new Iraq is slow in coming. Nearly four months after President Bush
declared the war over, you still can't fly into Baghdad. Driving there from
the Jordanian border in the west is regarded by most people as much too
dangerous. You can go in from Kuwait, but if you are sensible you will
travel in convoy. The violence is becoming greater month by month.

The immediate response of some American commentators to the surrender of
Saddam's defence minister, Gen Sultan Hashim Ahmed, was to suggest that the
resistance would now drop; as though an isolated, nervous figure stuck out
in the desert somewhere west of Mosul could possibly command the bombers and
snipers throughout Iraq. The uncomfortable fact is that the violence here is
self-generating. It arises from the basic strategic error made by the
Pentagon before the start of this war.

Since I made the error too, I can understand it better. Donald Rumsfeld,
Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and the rest believed that Iraq was longing to
be free of Saddam and would welcome the Americans as liberators. People were
indeed longing to be free of him; but after 12 years of savage sanctions
they didn't regard the Americans or the British - the instigators of those
sanctions - as their friends. And even now the Americans often behave more
like conquerors than liberators.

Looking wider than Iraq, it is hard to see much advantage from the second
Gulf war. The US has rarely been more divided from its closest friends in
Europe and Asia. Many Arabs, and increasing numbers of Muslims in general,
regard America as an out-and-out enemy. In fact, the wider fall-out is even
worse than the immediate problems of violence inside Iraq itself.

Last week it was credibly reported that Saudi Arabia is considering
obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran is already suspected of wanting to become a
nuclear power. The US invaded Iraq partly to demonstrate how strong it was;
but the unexpected result is that countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia,
which feel they might also be on America's list, now want to have the means
to defend themselves.

>From the viewpoint of northern Iraq, the entire enterprise does not exactly
look like much of a success. Except for what has happened to the Kurds; for
them, it has been remarkable. But it seems like a lot of trouble to go to,
just to make the Kurds happy.

a.. John Simpson is World Affairs Editor for the BBC

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