President Bush in White House meeting with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani (White House photo)
WASHINGTON – Nowhere was the Iraq Study Group report met with a stronger rebuke than in the northern Kurdish region of the country where the U.S. has developed its strongest alliance.
According to U.S. intelligence sources, Kurdish leaders today reacted to what they fear is another U.S. betrayal of their people by advising all their personnel in Baghdad to develop evacuation plans “in case of all out civil war or fracture of the government.”
Massoud Barzani, the president of the northern Iraqi Kurdistan region, accused the commission of trying to impose the “wrong solutions” on the Iraqi people.
“We are in no way abiding by this report,” he said defiantly.
Barzani was sharply critical of the report’s recommendation that the Iraqi central government should have control over the natural resources of the country and said that the mechanism of natural wealth distribution in the constitution was sufficient.
The Iraq Study Group chairmen Lee Hamilton and James Baker, former secretary of state, unveiled their findings Wednesday – but the reverberations are still being felt throughout the U.S. and the Middle East.
Barzani said the panel had not even bothered to visit the Kurdish region before publishing its report.
Another Kurdish leader had similar reactions.
Lawmaker Mahmoud Othman criticized the panel for failing to include Iraqis, saying the “report was written in the first place to generate agreement among the Americans. It seems those who wrote it have little knowledge about the situation in Iraq. They only visited the Green Zone for some days, they did not go to the south or to Kurdistan to ask the people there. This is the reason why their outcome and recommendations are superficial and inaccurate.”
In Washington, the son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani criticized the panel’s view that government control in Iraq should remain firmly centralized rather than granting more power to the regions.
Qubad Talabani, who is the Kurdistan representative in Washington, said that recommendation alarmed many in the Kurdish north who were pushing for more autonomy.
“Many of us feel that centralized tyrannies have led us to what we have today, which is a failed state,” he said, adding he was not speaking on behalf of his father.
Kurdish television said a leader of one of the two big Kurdish parties urged leaders to declare the independence of Kurdistan as of March 21.
Mohammed Saleh of Kurdish Media had this to say: “A report long expected to offer remedy for Iraq’s nightmare proved to be a guideline for further violence in future, a prescription aiming at building an Iraq in accordance to non-Iraqis wills and interests. It is no wonder to have such a report from American officials who never understood and never want to understand why the same Iraqis who welcomed them with open arms and bunches of flowers turned against them and made Iraq a real hell for them. Unlike what the report advertises for (recommendations for improvement), it is initiating expansion and increase in violence and unlike declared American policies, it asks for foreign intervention in internal Iraqi affairs and disrespects and abandons national will of Iraqis. Also, far from being objective, the report is just looking into the interests of American government and American allies (mainly Turkey and Arab countries of Gulf and Saudi Arabia) and the sources of the report are mainly bias officials in Green Zone. Nowhere in the report I saw any reference to a sentence or even word spoken by an ordinary Iraqi or reflecting the mentality of people in Iraqi streets.”
“The gravest mistake I noticed in the report is ignorance of public will of Iraqis and their constitution,” he continued. “Among the recommendations listed in the report are recommendations concerning Kirkuk, oil revenues and autonomy or federalism. All the recommendations regarding these issues are in contrast to articles of Iraqi constitution. The surprising fact is that while the report regards the election of a democratic government and approval of a permanent constitution as progress and success for Iraqis at the same time it demands forcing changes or violating the constitution. It seems that the group pays no heed to national will of Iraqis. A constitution written after months of negotiation and hot debate among Iraqis’ representatives and ratified by Iraqi people risking their lives to vote for it proves to be nonsense and just problem making for the study group because they had heard from an official or a foreign country that article x is not good for Iraq.”
Non-Kurds in Iraq also were puzzled by the findings.
“The situation is grave, very grave in fact, and cannot be tolerated,” Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said on the Arab satellite TV channel Al-Arabiya.
But he warned that improving the battlefield capabilities of the Iraqi armed forces would not be “the magic wand that brings a solution in one day.”
Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, considered close to Iran, found the report’s recommendations ”positive on the whole.” Among the panel’s recommendations are direct negotiations with Syria and Iran. ”The parts I read were very positive,” he said.
But Sheik Mohammed Bashar al-Fayadh, a spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni Arab group said the recommendations gave precedence to U.S. interests over Iraq’s and sought ”guarantees for an exit (from Iraq) but without paying heed to preventing a civil war from breaking out. The report recommends the training of Iraqi forces, but will it reach the level of the American army? The answer is ‘no.’ If the American army is unable to settle the question and get out of this predicament, so how can that be?”
Quietly, and off the record, some Kurds are afraid they see signs of another betrayal by the U.S., which, during the term of President George H.W. Bush, was encouraged by Washington to rise up against Saddam Hussein. Promised U.S. support, however, was never forthcoming and thousands of Kurds, mostly civilians, paid with their lives in chemical weapons attacks launched by the Baghdad regime.