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Mr Smith goes to Kurdistan?

By Jim Nolan - posted Thursday, 7 February 2008

Earlier last week our new foreign Minister Stephen Smith delivered the news to Washington that a withdrawal date for troops engaged in combat activities in Iraq would be set. Notwithstanding this, he stated that, "Australia stands ready to consider what other avenues of support there may well be to support the effort in Iraq ... this of course goes to aid matters, it goes to building Iraq's capacity."

Let me recommend at least one such deserving recipient for this Australian support. It’s a secular government of a predominately Muslim population in the Middle East which promotes religious tolerance and women’s rights, has a free press, free trade unions and conducts free elections. Surely there’s some mistake I hear you say- after all, we’ve been told for years by a chorus of the new “realists” both left and right that “stability” trumps all and that such a phenomenon is a pipe dream.

Sorry to disappoint, but just such a place exists - and in Iraq no less - Iraqi Kurdistan. Governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraqi Kurdistan boasts women cabinet members; Shia and Sunni religious leaders who support the separation of church and state; a growing public health system; free universities, to which better off Iraqi Arabs, Shia and Sunni send their children; and vast oil reserves which will be competently managed and exploited for the benefit of all.


Another (at least) equally propitious event coincided with Mr Smith’s Washington visit. KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani addressed a conference in Erbil, in Northern Iraq, on the Anfal Genocide.

From 1987 to 1989, Saddam carried out the genocidal Anfal campaign against Kurdish civilians, using mass summary executions and disappearances and the widespread use of chemical weapons. The campaign destroyed some 2,000 villages and an estimated 180,000 Kurds were killed in the campaign. In March 1988, Saddam’s air force dropped chemical weapons on the town of Halabja. Between 4,000 and 5,000 Kurds were killed.

In 2005, the bodies of 500 of Saddam’s Kurdish victims were found in mass graves near Iraq’s border with Saudi Arabia, hundreds of kilometres from the Kurdistan Region. Last week 371 bodies found in four mass graves near the cities of Mosul, Dohuk and Suleimaniah in the north and Samawa in the south of Iraq were returned for burial in Suleimaniah. The search for the “disappeared” continues.

Barzani said:

The Kurdistan liberation movement ... tried to inform the international community, the UN, the superpowers, and the Arab and Islamic countries of this crime since the Anfal campaign in 1987 and 1988. It did this through declarations, meetings, political and diplomatic channels, conferences, seminars, gatherings and demonstrations, in countries around the world in order to publicise and condemn this crime. Apart from various small groups of intellectuals and peace and freedom loving people, no state or intentional organisations formally answered our documents. Our demands were ignored.

Barzani didnt say so, but it was worse than this. Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid - the gruesome "Chemical Ali" - was asked in 1998 how he would deal with the Kurds. He said: "I will kill them all with chemical weapons. Who is going to say anything? The international community? F**k them!" He did as he promised, and the international community did nothing.


Barzani’s dry observation was only that the world considered its relations with Saddam’s regime more important than attempted genocide.

But the Kurds face yet another hurdle in their struggle to overcome Saddam’s genocidal legacy. After two postponements, in June this year, a referendum will be held on the status of the Northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Historically a major Kurdish centre, Kirkuk became a centre of “ethnic cleansing” by Saddam. His motives were clear, Kirkuk just happened to be located over one of the richest oil deposits in the Middle East. The Ba’athists policy oversaw the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of Kurds and other non-Arabs and their replacement by Arab Iraqis, as part of Saddam's drive to “Arabise” parts of Kurdistan.

But the “High Committee for the Implementation of Article 140”, which was set up by the Iraqi federal government, has been slow to deal with property claims and compensation packages and has, as yet, failed to carry out a census.

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About the Author

Jim Nolan is an old fashioned social democrat and Sydney Barrister with an interest in Human Rights. He is a long-standing member of the Australian Labor Party.

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