Iraqi Kurds Flex Muscles, Rice Was No Turkish Delight

Iraqi Kurds Flex Muscles, Rice Was No Turkish Delight
By K Gajendra Singh, GA
Feb 18 2005

Al-Jazeerah, February 16, 2005

On February 13, soon after the announcement of provisional results of
30 January elections for Iraq’s new Parliament, Turkey said that the
results failed to ensure a fair representation for all ethnic groups
and called for measures to compensate for flaws and irregularities
in the electoral process.

The Kurdish alliance of Kurdish Democratic party (KDP) and the rival
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) won over 25% of the vote, giving it
a kingmaker’s role. It has already suggested 72 year old Jalal Talbani,
PUK leader, for the President’s post. The alliance is likely to join
with the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which is supported by the
religious establishment and won over 47% of the votes. Prime Minister
Iyad Allawi’s slate got 14% votes, while the slate of President Ghazi
Yawar, a Sunni managed only 2%. Of the 8.5 million registered voters,
nearly 58% voted. Sunnis, who make up about 20 percent of Iraq’s 27
million people mostly abstained with only 2% voting in Anbar and 29%
in Salahadin, the Sunni provinces.

International Herald Tribune recently said that the President’s office
has enormous power in appointing the government, including the Prime
Minister. It ” would bolster the standing of Kurds in the Middle
East, where the governments of Turkey, Syria and Iran are fearful of
any moves toward independence by minority Kurd populations in their
own countries. The ambitions of the Kurds will likely be opposed by
politicians seeking to install a Sunni Arab as president in order to
draw the former governing Sunnis into the political process, despite
their widespread boycott of the elections.”

A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said that “The low turnout of
some groups in the elections, the fact that almost no votes were cast
in a number of provinces and the fact that manipulations in certain
regions, including Kirkuk, led to unbalanced results are issues that
need to be considered seriously.” It added that because of this there
was lopsided representation of ethnic and religious groups in the
new parliament, which will also prepare a new constitution for Iraq.

“It is seen as absolutely essential for the safety of the political
process in Iraq to compensate for the unbalanced representation
in the country’s administration. It has become clear that certain
elements in Iraq tried to manipulate votes in this historic process
and have obtained unjustified gains from this,” the Turkish statement
added. Ankara expected Iraqi authorities to properly examine complaints
filed over the elections and look into claims of irregularities,
concluded the statement.

Shadow of Iraq elections on Condoleezza Rice visit;

During the whirlwind tour of the newly sworn in US Secretary of
State Ms Condoleezza Rice, of eight European countries, as well as
Israel and Palestine sandwiched halfway, her talks with USA’s now
recalcitrant ally Turkey on 5/6 February were very important. But
the shadow of Iraq elections hung over the visit. Like leaders else
where, in Ankara too, the hosts, used to being lectured at by the top
leadership of US administration were expecting some fresh approach,
but in general, how ever erudite Ms Rice might appear, it was the
same US agenda which was marketed, but in a less abrasive way.

Tensions between the United States and Turkey persisted, especially
on Iraq’s future. “It was very candid, very positive,” a Turkish
diplomat said artfully of talks between Rice and Foreign Minister
Abdullah Gul. “There was good personal chemistry.”

While Ankara welcomed Rice’s statement that like Turkey, USA was
opposed to the breakup of Iraq, the Turks remain skeptical. Washington
has not kept its promises to Ankara in the past. So many political
analysts, including the author believe, that serious differences

“It is pure wishful thinking to say things have been patched up
with Rice’s visit. It will take more than a few visits to get this
relationship back on track,” said Suat Kiniklioglu of the Ankara
Center for Turkish Policy Studies.

Ms Rice met with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Gul, Both before and after Iraq’s
elections, Erdogan has repeatedly criticized USA for not taking
action, despite promises, against Turkish Kurdish guerrillas (PKK)
in northern Iraq, nor curbing the Iraqi Kurds, who are threatening
to take over multi-ethnic oil rich city of Kirkuk and then declare
independence. The North Iraqi Kurdish leaders have matched their
words with action on the ground.

After his talks with Rice, Gul said that Ankara’s main concerns had
been conveyed. Stressing that Turkey and US were longtime allies
on the basis of not only military cooperation, but also political,
cultural and commercial ties, Gul said they would continue to work
together in the future to resolve certain issues.

Later Gul warned that Ankara would not stand by if Kurds seized
Kirkuk, suggesting Turkish military intervention, which has been
publicly discussed by politicians and Turkish armed forces. While
an intervention is in the future, it added further tensions in the

During the public debate on US request for use of Turkish territory
to attack Iraq in March 2003, President Sezer, a former head of the
Constitutional Court had opposed this illegal action. The Parliament
in spite of it being the government motion voted it down. It was
democracy at its finest, but USA derided it then and still does so,
while making noises about liberty, elections and democracy, even
citing democratic Turkey as an example to the Muslim world.

Ms Rice tried to assuage Turkey’s fears over Iraq’s unity, Kirkuk
and the PKK and said at a press conference “I reiterated. . . the
commitment of the US to a unified Iraq, to an Iraq at peace with
its neighbors and an Iraq in which all Iraqis, regardless of ethnic
or religious background. . . feel welcome and respected,”. About
Kirkuk, she observed that it was for all Iraqis to agree on its future
status. “What terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and the PKK have been
doing cannot be accepted in the modern world,” On PKK terrorists in
northern Iraq, she said that the US had cut the financial resources
of the group. She acknowledged differences, but said that both should
work together to dispel them. “There could be differences between
friends. But what is important is to remember we are still friends.”

But Turkish commentators went hammer and tong on USA with some even
visiting all past grievances. Gündüz Aktan wrote in influential
Turkish Daily News that” Our relationship with the United States is
heading for a highly serious crisis. The leading crisis with this
country that was the backbone of our defense throughout the Cold
War occurred in 1964 with the Johnson letter “(which forbade Turkey
use of US arms against Greece or Cyprus). He recalled how USA did
not stop Greek Cypriots from attacking Turkish Cypriots and later
in 1974 when Greek Cypriots declared Enosis ie union with Greece it
tried to prevent Turkey from intervening ( The Turks did invade the
island and have stayed put ). USA imposed an arms embargo on Turkey.”

“This time around, the United States which is currently in Iraq,
condones the violation of the Turkmen ( ethnic cousins of Turks)
rights, especially in Kirkuk. Moreover, it gives the impression that
it is actually ensuring that Turkmens will be under-represented in
Iraq’s new political restructuring.’

He added that “the United States failed to stem the disproportionate
weight the Kurdish groups had in the transition government. Nor does
it do anything to control their dangerous ambition for independence.
It allows them to broaden further the ground of the independence they
have gained over the past decade, and to preserve for the process of
constitution making the veto rights and the independence option it
has given them under the Transitional Administration Law.

“In order to incorporate Kirkuk that it considers sine qua non for
its independence– in its lands, the Kurdish entity first burned the
population and land registers in Kirkuk. Then it committed the act of
‘transfer of its own population to the occupied land,’ an act that
is deemed a war crime according to Article 8, Paragraph 2 (b) (viii)
of the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute. As a result,
the elections in Kirkuk became disputable. ”

Cuneyt Ulsever wrote in Hurriyet that US did not directly react to
Turkey’s demands concerning the terrorist PKK and Kirkuk in northern
Iraq. –When Washington talks about ‘fighting terrorism,’ Ankara
should understand that this mainly refers to Iran and Syria’s support
for terrorism, as well as Al Qaeda and Palestinian terrorist groups.
(This means that although the US recognizes the PKK as a terrorist
group, it won’t consider it a separate issue to deal with.) While
US has no immediate plans to attack Iran the possibility remains on
Bush’s agenda. There was no economic plan for the Turkish Cypriots.
Washington remained annoyed at Ankara’s refusal to permit the
deployment of American troops at Incirlik Airbase. ‘Turkey must back
our radical Middle East policy,’ Rice stressed succinctly, ‘Otherwise,
there is no way for Ankara to ensure US support on the issues of
northern Iraq, Kirkuk, Cyprus, EU and even the IMF,’ added Ulsever.
He concluded, “May God help our government in the years to come!”

Yilmaz Oztuna said that Rice’s visit was meant to put pressure on
Syria and Iran to cease their support to terrorist groups and (Iran’s)
quest to produce nuclear weapons. “If these efforts don’t bear fruit,
the US will start concrete action. Will Turkey hold up its end of the
strategic alliance? The US will arrange its policy accordingly. If
Ankara doesn’t support it, Washington will move closer to northern
Iraq’s Kurds as well as Armenia. The US is expecting understanding
from such key Arab countries as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Otherwise it
will try to bring democracy to them, as they seem unable to do so on
their own.”

The nationalists pointed to opinion polls which show Turkey as one
of the most anti-US countries, saying no democratic government could
ignore such views.

“As long as this situation continues, with the Kurds winning the upper
hand in Kirkuk and pushing for an independent Kurdistan, it will hurt
Turkey more and more… We cannot go on like this,” said Hasan Unal of
Ankara’s Bilkent University. He said Turkey should consider suspending
all logistical support for the Americans in Iraq and threaten to
pull its peacekeeping troops out of Afghanistan. It should also deny
U.S. forces (limited) use of Turkey’s Incirlik airbase, he said.

US Ambassador assuages Turkish feelings ;

To assuage Turkish feelings, US ambassador Edelman told the media on 8
February that the views of the public get shaped by many factors. “One
of the reasons for the recent anti-American sentiments in Turkey has
to do with Iraq,” But things were now getting better. In the past six
weeks, there were many contacts between Turkish and American officials
topped by the visit of Ms Rice. Asked about Kirkuk, Edelman replied
that the U.S. wished to preserve Iraq’s territorial integrity. “The
Iraqi people will decide on Kirkuk through a compromise” he said.

Reminded of recent comments of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld on Turkey’s negative decision on U.S. troops in 2003, Edelman
stated that the Turkish Parliament’s decision caused disappointment
in the United States. “Nevertheless, the U.S. is not interested with
the past. We look at the future,” added Edelman.

Edelman assured that the U.S. was not trying to punish Turkey. “Had
the U.S. carried such feelings, it would not have been possible to
support Turkish relations with the IMF and EU. Furthermore, it would
not have been possible to act hand-in-hand with Turkey on the issues
such as Middle East and Cyprus,” noted Edelman. “The U.S. does not
have a policy of revenge” he affirmed.

On Iran, Edelman replied that “The U.S. has not made any demand from
Turkey on Iran. We look at Iran’s nuclear activities as a possible
problem for the region.” If Tehran cooperates, the subject of Iran
would be resolved through diplomatic means. On PKK, Edelman said
that the U.S. faced a tough security situation in Iraq. “Yet such
a situation does not imply that we will not fulfill our promises”
he added.

Rice meets Russian Foreign minister in Ankara;

An important side event was the meeting of Russian Foreign Minister
Lavrov with Ms Rice in Ankara, Lavrov confirmed that the state of
democracy in Russia was discussed, but President Putin would respond
to all questions at the Bratislava summit, on 26 February. He added
that all differences in the U.S.-Russian relations should be “frankly
discussed.” (bluntly, in diplomatic parlance) Lavrov confirmed that he
discussed summit’s agenda with Rice, which is likely to cover Iran’s
nuclear program, Russia’s relations with Ukraine and Georgia, the Yukos
affair, and U.S.-Russia cooperation in the energy sector. Lavrov said
that another subject could be joint global rescue operations, in the
wake of 26 December tsunami disasters in the Indian Ocean. “Only the
United States and Russia have the long-distance air transport that can
reach any corner of the world and can be used for joint operations
during emergencies.” He also confirmed that President Bush would
visit Moscow in May for 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi
Germany in World War II. Turkey Protests ;

At a press conference with the visiting Foreign Minister Abdelbaki
Hermassi of Tunisia, Abdullah Gul said on 8 Feb that “Iraqi Kurds
should learn their lessons from the past,” while answering a question
about recent statement of Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)
leader Massoud Barzani that, “any power or state in the world cannot
cause me to give up Kirkuk”. Gul added, “Turkey is not a country which
is involved in battles of word with the others. Wrongful leaderships,
imaginary projects, irrational actions and rhetoric slogans gave rise
to serious troubles in the Middle East and especially in Iraq. Iraqi
people have suffered most from it. Now, they should learn their lessons
from the past.” “In fact, all Iraqi people including Arabs, Kurds
and Turks should concentrate their energy on creating an atmosphere
of peace and stability. Any other actions will damage Iraqi people
and their region,” he added.

Gul stressed, “Turkey recommends that Iraqi people forget this dark
period and difficulties, and focus on the future. We are ready to
assist Iraqi people to this end. In the past, many massacres and
problems were prevented as a result of Turkey’s initiatives. Now,
Turkey wants Iraq to set up peaceful and friendly relations with its
neighbors.” “My advice to all politicians in Iraq is that no one can
reach anywhere by rhetoric. After the elections the political process
has accelerated (in Iraq). Now, a new constitution will be prepared,
and a new government will be formed. They should concentrate on future
of their country,” Gul concluded.

On 8 February Foreign Ministry spokesman Namik Tan spoke to the
media on the lines of the 13 February statement. “It is a fact that
some irregularities occurred in the elections… We also regret that
the participation of some groups was not at the desired level. We
believe the election results will fail to reflect in parliament the
true representation proportions,” Tan said.

“It is important to prove to the Iraqis and the international
community that one cannot reach anywhere by way of unlawfulness,” Tan
said. “We believe this carries a great importance for Iraq’s future.”
“Therefore, certain measures will be necessary so that the Iraqis
are able to have a properly functioning democracy in the period ahead
of us.”

Arabs and Turkmens protest;

On 11 February hundreds of Arabs and Turkmens took to the streets
in Kirkuk, protesting that last month’s election were riddled with
fraud and demanded a re-run. “No, no to federalism! No, no to fraud!”,
chanted the demonstrators, in the city centre who then marched past
the offices of the two main Kurdish parties.

A statement distributed to the protesters and signed by 16 Arab and
Turkmen groups including Ankara supported Iraqi Turkmen Front, the
Shiite religious party Dawa, and the movement of Shiite radical leader
Moqtada Sadr, said, “There are documents and plenty of evidence showing
that fraud took place during the elections in Kirkuk.” “We ask for
new elections to be held in Kirkuk to guarantee they are transparent,
because Kirkuk is on the edge of a flaming pit.” Sunni and Shiite
Arab parties had pulled out of the election in Tamim province, where
Kirkuk is located as a protest against the authorities’ registration
of non-resident Kurds whose families were reportedly forced out of
the city under Arabisation program.

Kurds emerge as Kingmakers;

Iraq’s new Parliament ie 275-member Transitional National Assembly
(TNA) would elect from its members, Iraqi president and two
vice-presidents, called the presidency council, by a two-thirds
majority. The council would then appoint a prime minister and the
cabinet. A majority vote would suffice for the new government. The
Assembly has to draft the constitution by mid-August, hold a national
referendum for approval within two months and then hold elections by
the end of 2005.

Thus Shiites and Kurds with necessary 2/3rd majority in the TNA, if
they could reach an agreement, can have a decisive role in the drafting
a permanent constitution. How it will happen is another question,
with an exploding Sunni supported, Islamic leavened resistance and
a watchful Turkey in the north.

Because of boycott and fraud the Kurdish alliance also won two-thirds
of the vote and the seats in Tamim provincial council in which Kirkuk
is located. It could decide to join the Kurdistan region, which would
lead to sectarian violence, with Ankara threatening to intervene.

The Kurds who have enjoyed autonomy under US umbrella since 1991
are the best organised of Iraq’s communities, politically and
militarily. Their key demand remains autonomy they enjoyed during the
1990s, also enshrined in the Transitional Administrative Law of March
2004. It also provides for a “the Kurdish veto”, allowing two-thirds of
the population of any three governorates to block the constitution. Of
course it was not included in the UN resolution which gives cover to
the US occupation of Iraq. The Kurds want to expand autonomy into a
federal state, with Kirkuk as the capital of the Kurdistan region.

Autonomy, veto and insistence on making Iraq a secular state ie
the Kurdish position, opposed by parties of the Shiite religious
establishment which prefers a unitary structure and seminal role
for Islam, would be major hurdles in finalising a new government and
later the Constitution.

After discussions on 10 February for sharing of top posts with interim
Prime Minister Allawi, Kurdish leader Barzani declared his opposition
against any one of Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups dominating the
new government. Allawi told reporters that his talks with Barzani
were focused on “the consensus that all political groups must prepare
Iraq for a democratic future which will see the participation of all
categories in Iraqi society.” But he would not comment if he supported
Kurdish demands for either the presidency or the premiership in the
new government. “Any Iraqi has the right to be a candidate for such
a post,” he parried.

Talbani Barzani differences ;

In spite of a united front for the elections, there are inherent
differences between historically warring KDP and PUK. After
inter-factional fighting during 1990s, Iraqi Kurdistan remains
effectively partitioned between them since 1994. From 1994 to 1998,
Talabani’s PUK and Barzani’s KDP fought a civil war for control of
the entire Iraqi Kurdistan. Before the conflict was over, each had
invited the Saddam regime. While Talabani called in Saddam’s Kurdish
supporters, Barzani invited the Iraqi army, forcing the PUK forces
to flee the regional capital, Arbil. When US invaded Iraq, Talbani
moved closer to USA with PUK forces fighting alongside US soldiers
, forcing the Iraqi army out of Kirkuk. Today, the PUK is the most
powerful force in the city.

During the elections, tensions resurfaced, because of the biggest
prize, the leadership of the Kurdish region. They have traded
accusations of irregularities in the elections for the Kurdistan
National Assembly (in which all parties competed independently)
also on Jan. 30, along with the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) and
the Kurdistan Independent Democratic Solution Party. An unofficial
referendum showed majority of Kurds want an independent Kurdistan.

The two sides have agreed to nominate 72-year-old Talabani as
their candidate for the presidency of Iraq. Barzani hopes to head
the administration in Kurdistan. This time they appear united in
negotiations with Baghdad and local rivalries remain submerged. But
both parties are basically tribal in thinking and instinct and the
level of trust between them would always remain, at best, tenuous.


The elections organized on proportional basis with Iraq as a single
constituency have strengthened parties formed on communal lines at
the expense of secular and smaller parties and individuals. A very low
turnout in Sunni Arab areas, high turnout in Kurdish areas, addition
of new Kurdish voters following a ruling by the Electoral Commission
allowing 72,000 returnee Kurds to vote in Kirkuk’s election, has not
only distorted the results but cast doubts on the legitimacy of the
elections which are to lay the foundations of the new state and its
constitution. It was as if the occupying forces wanted to punish the
Sunnis, erstwhile rulers since centuries and hence supporters of the
rising insurgency. With Moqta as Sadr also not likely to accept the
results and demand ouster of US troops, the new government and the
occupation forces would have its hands full.

Even under US umbrella and prodding the Kurds were unable to establish
a working Parliament or a common administration for Kurdistan. Now
with Shiites following the dictates of Ali Sistani, the chances of
democratic give and take would not come easily. One might see the
kind of political turmoil and brinkmanship as in Damascus after the
collapse of the Ottoman armies and arrival of Emir Feisal’s supporters
in the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia ‘.

British troops had ‘liberated’ the Arab lands, but they had their
agenda, as does USA which’ liberated’ Iraq -its oil and strategic
control of the region. The Shiites have got a dominant role by virtue
of US guns, tanks, helicopters and F-16s. It is not an organic
political evolution. The continuing Sunni Arab insurgency, which
is a national resistance aimed principally against the US imposed
institutions and the new Iraqi government could provoke a Shiite
backlash and lead to a civil war.

US forgets that Indian troops left Bangladesh as soon peace was
restored, still the new state was hardly grateful. Nor would the
Shiites, if exiles were imposed as rulers and US troops stayed put.
The US has seen the underground Shiite organization in spite of
decades of Sunni dominated secular regime. Soon after the toppling
of Saddam statue in March 2003, US special forces had encouraged
Shiites to take revenge against Baathists. US and British special
forces remain active in Iraq making for a violent brew. What if
Shiites followers of Moqtda as Sadr also turned on the occupation
forces. The author believes that USA has created enough conditions
for factional fighting among Kurds, Arabs and Turkomens in the north.
Already Sunnis are attacking Shiite targets in South.

US led western media, mostly reporting from the safety of their secure
hotel rooms in Baghdad, puts such a positive spin on the reality that
it would have shamed even old communist media. In his “WONDER LAND”
column in Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger wrote on 11 February
that ” Give Iraq’s Voters The Nobel Prize For Peace ” He explains that,
” They have already won the world’s peace prize by demonstrating
in a single day a commitment not seen in our lifetime to peace,
self-determination and human rights–the goals for which the Nobel
Peace Prize began in 1901.” It appears that many in US administration
and most in its media and who re-elected Bush prefer to stay in the
‘manufactured ‘ wonder land of US corporate media.

K Gajendra Singh served as Indian ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan
from 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan
(during the 1990-91 Gulf War), Romania and Senegal. He is currently
chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies and editorial
adviser with global geopolitics website Eurasia Research Center, USA.
E-mail [email protected].

This article was also published by before the author submitted
it for publication at Al-Jazeerah.