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Iraq Report: March 12, 1999

12 March 1999, Volume 2, Number 10

PKK THREATENS 'SOUTH KURDISTAN' WITH MORE VIOLENCE. At its 6th congress earlier this month, the PKK reelected Abdullah Ocalan as its leader and anounced that the Kurdish struggle "will proceed as a people's uprising," MED-TV reported on 4 March. The congress resolution added that the "cruel plot underway has transformed our party and our people into a fedayeen force." And it said that the congress had resolved "to escalate as a people's uprising and to get organized as a PKK-South to further the revolution in south Kurdistan." In PKK parlance, "south Kurdistan" is northern Iraq, the site of the Kurdish Regional Government, which is hostile to the actions of the PKK.

The following day, MED-TV carried a panel discussion with Abdullah Ocalan's brother, Osman Ocalan, by telephone. In it, he discussed the effectiveness of the recruitment of youth since 15 February -- the day of the arrest of Abdullah Ocalan by Turkey. He said that "a total of 500 youths have asked to join the ranks in eastern and southern Kurdistan, in the smaller south, in Russia, abroad, in northern Kurdistan and in the big cities. In other words, an average of 25 youths seek to join our ranks every day." Also on that day, ITAR-TASS carried a report that ten Kurds from the southern Russian city of Krasnodar had left to join the Kurdistan Liberation Army.

Earlier, on March 4, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) reported that "the activities of the PKK in north Iraq have decreased considerably." In a statement issued to NTV, a KDP official said that the increase in the security of the region under the control of the KDP is "incomparable to the situation a year ago." The only open question on all this is the current nature of the relationship between Baghdad and the PKK. Such a connection would serve to keep the Kurdistan Regional Government constantly off balance and subject to greater influence from Saddam Husseyn. (David Nissman)

TURKISH CAMPAIGN AGAINST MED-TV HEATS UP. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has written a letter to his European and NATO counterparts urging them to ban Kurdish rebel activities, according to a Reuters report on 6 March. The letter specifically mentioned the the Kurdish newspaper "Ozgur Politika" and the television station MED-TV.

That television station has been under seige since the end of last year, challenged not only by a ratings war with the newly-established Kurdish Television Network, established under the auspices of the Kurdistan Regional Government with Turkey's support, but by several larger threats to its survival. In February, for example, Hikmet Tabak, director-general of MED-TV, was called on the carpet by the Belgian premier. In this session, he denied that MED-TV was a mouthpiece of the PKK. Moreover, he insisted that the broadcasting principles of his station were in line with commonly accepted European principles for international broadcasting. MED-TV is licensed in England.

The problem is that Abdullah Ocalan has acknowledged that the PKK played a role in founding MED-TV. (See Anatolia, 26 February and "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 March.) And this admission undercuts MED-TV's claim that its broadcasts are "neither partisan nor ideological."

Current Turkish efforts against PKK operations in Europe may have begun to have an effect in this area as well. As Ecevit wrote in his letter, "I am sure you would find the situation totally unacceptable if those targeted by terrorist militants were your own citizens." (David Nissman)

BARZANI TO MEET ARAFAT SOON. According to the 5 March "Kurdistan Monitor," Mas'ud Barzani is to meet with Yassir Arafat sometime this week in Gaza. Such a session would be the first meeting between the two since the capture of Abdullah Ocalan last month. An emissary of Barzani reportedly has traveled to Ramallah to hold talks with officials of the Palestine Authority on the arrangements for the visit. The purpose of the meeting, at least from the Kurdish perspective, is to seek Palestine President "Yassir Arafat's intervention in dealings with Baghdad."

According to the "Kurdistan Observer" (9 March), the KDP has denied reports of PLO mediation between the Kurds and the Iraqi government. While admitting that a KDP official is currently visiting a number of Arab countries, the KDP says that the purpose of this tour is "to discuss the latest situation in Iraqi Kurdistan, the region, and the developing of the historic relations with those Arab countries."

The meeting, if it is to take place over the denials of the KDP, is not one which will bring joy to the hearts of other politically-organized ethnic minorities in northern Iraq. Both the Iraqi Turkomans and the Assyrians were left out of the Washington Agreement, which united Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan with Mas'ud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party. The prospect of using the meeting with Arafat to bring about a closer tie between Israel and the Kurdistan Regional Government will only spread suspicion that this is a move to enhance the possibility of full Kurdish independence in northern Iraq. Indeed, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 5 March that Israel has recently been accused of trying to form a relationship with the PKK, but on 4 March Israel assured Ankara that it would establish no dialogue with the PKK. This denial apparently was intended to reassure not only Turkey but Barzani as well. Concerns about a Kurdistan-Palestine linkage have been increasing across the region in recent months. At a panel discussion in January attended by various Turkish officials and the Turkoman Front, a former senior Turkish official referred to what he said was the possibility that a "decision on the establishment of two independent states (Palestine and Kurdistan) is made in May," the "Turkish News" reported on 10 January. At the same meeting, Professor Hasan Koni said that for all practical purposes, an independent Kurdistan is being established in northern Iraq and that this new state will prevent the 2.5 million Turkomans living there from exercising their rights.

The Assyrian community in Iraqi Kurdistan had voiced similar objections. An Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) dispatch on 31 December 1998 also objected to a census planned by the Kurdistan Regional Government. It pointed out that there are two Assyrians for every three Kurds, and raised the issue as to the meaning of the phrase "democratic and pluralistic" in the Washington Agreement if only some ethnolinguistic groups are counted.

Even as Barzani's sources were suggesting that a meeting would take place with Arafat soon, a PLO official suggested that it would take place only in two weeks time and on territory now under Palestinian control. (David Nissman)

THE DILEMMAS OF DEALING WITH A MULTIETHNIC IRAQ. Some in Europe and the Middle East have criticized U.S. policy toward Iraq for its supposed vagueness. And a few have questioned America's commitment to the territorial integrity of that country, particularly in the wake of last September's Washington Agreement, signed by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's Talabani and the Kurdish Democratic Party's Barzani. The Agreement made a major contribution to the stabilization of the situation in northern Iraq: It brought an end to the open conflict which had been waged for the last two or three years between Barzani and Talabani forces.

But in the view of some, it also appeared to be a harbinger of Kurdish independence in northern Iraq.

Dr. Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister, discussed this possibility in an interview carried on 6-7 March by the London-based "Al-Zaman." Pachachi discussed his November 1998 meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk on behalf of 16 Iraqi opposition factions in London. Pachachi said that he and the other oppositionists welcomed the Washington Agreement. But he added that he personally opposed the Iraq Liberation Act because, he said, it paves the way for foreign interference in Iraq and is based on some unrealistic assumptions. He was particularly critical of the notion contained in the act that states neighboring Iraq will agree to train Iraqis on their soil and then send them to Iraq to fight the Iraqi army. Pachachi added that everyone agreed that change must come from within Iraq.

Three days later, Pachachi, apparently concerned that his interview might have been misunderstood by many readers, sent a clarification to the editor of "Al-Zaman" in which he made three points: He thanked the U.S. administration for achieving a reconciliation between Barzani and Talabani. He expressed his gratitude for Washington's contribution toward "working to unite and reactivate the opposition so that it will be able to speak on behalf of the Iraqi people and express their hopes and aspirations to establish a civil society based on democracy, a society that safeguards Iraqi human rights and basic freedoms. And he welcomed a new shift in U.S. policy to bring about the desired change, which will always remain the responsibility of the Iraqi people."

The Iraq Liberation Act (ILA) is now receiving renewed attention in the policy journals and the press, largely due to the upcoming meeting in Washington of the Iraq National Congress (INC), widely expected to be one of the primary beneficiaries of the ILA. But the nature and extent of these benefits remains far from clear. And according to one American analyst, U.S. policy now appears interested in playing down the significance of the ILA.

In an article in the 8 March "Policy Watch," Alan Makovsky argues that Frank Ricciardone, who has been named as Washington's special representative for transition in Iraq, does not have the clout or access that would allow him to play a significant role slated to be part of the Near East Affairs Bureau, he presumably will not report directly to the secretary of state, nor will he carry the title "ambassador" as do some specially designated diplomats.

Second, Makovsky notes, the ILA calls for the transfer of some $97 million of military equipment, "not cash and not necessarily even lethal items." He suggests that "initial indications are that the administration prefers to send only non-lethal equipment, if any at all."

Makovsky argues in conclusion that American policy must address the needs of two groups: the long-suffering people of Iraq, deprived of any semblance of national and human rights under Saddam Husseyn's rule; and the international community, especially those in the same neighborhood as Iraq, who do not wish to see Iraq dismantled.

The Washington Agreement actually provides some indication of the direction things are going. While the agreement won praise for ending the conflict between the Barzani and Talabani factions in the north, it has been criticized by some of Iraq's neighbors, like Turkey and Iran, to be a formula for Kurdish independence and thus the loss of Iraq's territorial integrity. A genuine problem with the Washington Agreement is that it has excluded several of Iraq's minorities -- the Iraqi Turkomans, the Assyrians, the Shiites, the Marsh people -- from its protections. The tragedy is that Iraq is a multiethnic state, and the ethnic communities, dispersed throughout Iraq, are likely to prove to be the keys to Iraq's territorial integrity.

From the perspective of these other Iraqi minorities, the Washington Agreement has done little. The large Assyrian communities, for example, see their current situation as being little different than if they were under Baghdad's direct control. In a timetable, adopted at the same time as the Washington Agreement, specific confidence-building measures designed to ensure a smooth transition to the reinstitution of parliament on the basis of a "unified, pluralistic and democratic Iraq" was set in motion. According to this an interim assembly was to hold its first meeting by 1 January. But according to AINA on 19 February, Assyrian communities continue to be exposed to bombing campaigns and subject to other forms of ethnic cleansing. Some of these cases are under investigation by Amnesty International.

The AINA report says: "Many Assyrians are convinced that the bombing campaign is intended to intimidate the Assyrian community still residing in the northern three provinces." The bombings appear to be part of a greater policy to further ethnically cleanse the northern provinces. Killings of Assyrians by Kurdish assailants go uninvestigated and unpunished. Kurdish authorities and their associates expropriate historically Assyrian lands. Assyrian churches, convents, and clergy have been attacked. Efforts to Kurdify the Assyrians have led to restrictions on the teaching of the Assyrian language. Assyrians are not recognized as a distinct ethnicity, but only referred to as "Kurdish Christians." Essentially, the problems the Assyrians are having with the Kurds are similar to the problems the Kurds outside of Kurdistan are having with Baghdad.

On 25 October, the governor of Duhok and an official spokesman of the Kurdistan Regional Government sent a letter to U.N. officials pointing out that Baghdad is systematically arabicizing Kurdish, Assyrian, and Turkoman territories and is deporting non-Arabic inhabitants. He noted that it was not only in violation of international norms and human rights, but also UN Security Council Resolution No. 688.

This involuntary shifting of ethnic groups has not gone unnoticed by either the UN or the U.S. State Department. In a paper called the "Situation of Human Rights in Iraq" issued by the United Nations in October 1997, for example, specific attention is given to the displacement of Turkoman and Kurdish families in the strategically valuable (and oil-rich) sectors of Kirkuk and Khanaqin. According to the UN's special rapporteur, the victims of displacement are "almost exclusively Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians living in the city of Kirkuk and its vicinity."

There are other forms of national discrimination enshrined in the interim Iraqi Constitution of 1990. Although it was updated five years later, articles dealing with ethnic or linguistic issues were not. Article 5 (b) states that the "Iraqi people are composed of two principal nationalisms: the Arab nationalism and the Kurdish nationalism." In the manner presently interpreted, all other "nationalisms" are excluded from consideration; sometimes, as noted, the Kurds are also among them.

Article 7 of Iraq's Interim Constitution pertains to language. It declares Arabic as the official language, and Kurdish is also official in the Kurdish region. The constitution is now interpreted in such a way that not only the Arabic language is official, but other languages which do not employ the Arabic script are both de facto and de jure banned. This prohibition applies to Turkoman, which uses the Latin script, and Syriac, the language of the Assyrian/Chaldeans, which uses the Syriac script. Last December, an article in "Al-Muntada" reported that "With the restrictions on teaching in the Syriac language, no wonder than the government used that to blame it on the inability of the Assyrians to read or write in their own language" ("Al-Muntada," December 1998).

A way out of this pattern of discrimination has been proposed by Abbas Al-Bayyati, secretary-general of the Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkomans. In an interview with the Saudi newspaper "Al-Riyadh" on 17 January, he said: "There is diversity in Iraq, that is, an ethnic and sectarian mosaic. Thus, a future regime must reflect this mosaic in its structure in a balanced way so that each side can obtain its rights within the framework of Iraq's unity and sovereignty."

There is, in fact, a working model of the type of society of law suggested by Al-Bayyati -- the Gagauz model in Moldova (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 February 1999). It has permitted a very small ethnolinguistic minority in Moldova to attain and retain its national rights on the basis of full equality with other Moldovan citizens. What made that arrangement possible is that the Gagauz had made no territorial claims, and Moldova's territorial integrity remained intact. Whether that is possible in Iraq remains to be seen. (David Nissman)