Iraq, the Kurds and where to from here

I was recently interviewed by Peshawa Muhammed of the Kurdistani Nwe Newspaper, the publication of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Iraqi Kurdistan (Noam Chomsky was also interviewed recently.) The article ran on May 4:

Peshawa Muhammed: Five years on, how do you assess the current US policy in Iraq? Which option do you think can finally put an end to the ongoing fiasco; partition or keeping Iraq united?

Antony Loewenstein: The Iraq war is one of the greatest crimes of my lifetime. After more than five years, the death of over 4000 American troops, over a million Iraqis and millions of displaced refugees, the decision to invade and occupy the nation remains a disaster on all levels. The majority of polls in Iraq since 2003 find citizens believe life under Saddam, as brutal as it was, remains preferable. Foreign troops must leave the country as quickly as possible and the future of Iraq decided by Iraqis alone. I am against partition because it appears most citizens oppose it. The international community has a responsibility to assist the Iraqi government to get back on its feet. The current regime in Baghdad’s Green Zone is an illegitimate puppet of Washington, creating Shia death squads to obliterate potential enemies. Ethnic cleansing must stop.

Muhammed: Previously, Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has admitted that securing oil supplies is a key factor behind the presence of Australian troops in Iraq. How do you explain the Australian objectives in the Iraq War?

Loewenstein: Australia, like many so-called allies in the war against Iraq, joined the Bush administration out of compulsion, fear and gutlessness. The previous Australian government, led by Prime Minister John Howard, was an unashamed fan of Bush and his “war on terror” policies – by pure coincidence, he was in Washington on September 11, 2001 – and believed that “democracy” should be imported by bombing and occupying a nation. Oil was certainly a key reason for the war as was securing a new, post-Saudi Arabia staging post in the Middle East. The US embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world, indicates that America never had any intention of leaving.

Muhammed: If Iraq eventually fails as a state, what alternatives are there for the future of Iraqi Kurdistan and what assumptions are made by each alternative? Will Independent Iraqi Kurdistan be a viable option?

Loewenstein: The idea that Iraq is a state is clearly the invention of the Western powers just under one hundred years ago. Iraqi Kurdistan has the right to autonomy and independence, if a fair and free vote is taken. Of course, Turkey and the central Iraqi government oppose such a move, but it is probably inevitable. It is encouraging that Iraqi Kurdistan has benefited from the invasion and largely prospered. A ray of light in a sea of darkness.

Muhammed: Nothing or little is known about Australian-Kurdish relations. To the best of your knowledge, how does Australia view the Kurdish question in Iraq?

Loewenstein: There is a stable Kurdish population in Australia that receives little media coverage or discrimination, as far as I know. When the largest protest in the country’s history took place in 2003 against the Iraq war, the Kurds here were one of the few groups, aside from the Howard government, to encourage America to invade. In terms of Australian attitudes towards the Kurdish question, this is a difficult question. There is general sympathy for groups that are legitimately calling for a homeland – such as the Palestinians – but the issue receives little attention. My gut feeling is that there would be concern over creating a Kurdish state and increasing instability in the region.

Muhammed: What will happen of the coalition forces withdraw from Iraq prematurely? Regardless of the causes of the war and its eligibility, don’t you think it is the responsibility of the invading forces to restore peace and order before leaving Iraq?

Loewenstein: The international community certainly have a responsibility to assist the Iraqis, but poll after poll has found since 2003 that a majority of Iraqi people want foreign troops to leave. Indeed, much of the insurgency is directed at foreign troops. I fear that the Western powers will continually say that the country is too unstable to withdraw troops, therefore ensuing an endless occupation (something seemingly suggested by Republican presidential nominee John McCain.) There are other ways to support the country other than American troops, such as food aid, infrastructure support, financial compensation and the UN.

Muhammed: What are your general recommendations and advice for the future US Policy in Iraq?

Loewenstein: The US operates under the delusion that it had and continues to have the right to occupy Iraqi indefinitely. The countless examples of abuse committed by US troops against the Iraqi people must be compensated. Lessons must be learned, namely that the mentality that led the country to invade a nation that didn’t threaten it in any way has been counter-productive, weakened Israel, emboldened Iran and allowed China and India to continue to challenge Washington’s dominance of the globe, not a bad thing, in my opinion.

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