A Golden Era for Iraqi Kurds
Jude Wanniski
July 9, 2002

 

Memo To: John F. Burns, The New York Times
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Covering Iraq

It is about time your newspaper sent you to cover Iraqi politics, John. With all the noise coming out of the Bush administration about a war against Baghdad, the readers of the NYT deserve the very best reporting, and there is no doubt in my mind that you are the best foreign correspondent of our time. I was most happy to see your by-line Monday morning on the front-page account about how the Iraqi Kurds are not happy about the idea of a U.S. military intervention. "This is a golden era for Iraqi Kurds," you quote the leader of one of the two main political groups in Iraqi Kurdistan. Both political groups agree that they are living so well in the Kurdish province of Iraq especially compared to the Iranian Kurds and the Turkish Kurds that any move they make to support a "regime change" in order to make Washington happy will be noted by Baghdad. As in the past, they worry that Washington could shift political gears at a moment's notice and they will be left holding the bag.

You mentioned how, at the end of the Gulf War in 1991, the Bush administration and the CIA encouraged the Kurds to rebel against the weakened regime in Baghdad, thinking it would be a piece of cake to finally win independence for their piece of Kurdistan. When Saddam showed he still had the muscle to put down the uprising, as Fidel Castro had put down the Bay of Pigs in 1961, the rebels spilled a lot of blood as Washington decided it had other priorities. Going back even further, recall that Saddam Hussein and the Shah of Iran cut a deal in Algiers during the Cold War, with Henry Kissinger looking on. Saddam made concessions to Iran on a waterway in exchange for the Shah cracking down on the Iranian Kurds, who were coming across the border to stir up trouble with the Iraqi Kurds.

A little bit of history might be helpful to you, as I see you did not mention the good deal the Iraqi Kurds got from Uncle Sam in 1996, which is really the source of the "Golden Era." It was in September 1996, remember, that President Clinton bombed Iraq for having violated the "No Fly Zone" that covers a good bit of the Kurdish province, including the capital. It was my considered opinion at the time that Clinton violated the War Powers Act in not consulting Congress. It was Labor Day and his re-election campaign was underway, and the idea of bombing Iraq seemed to catch our President's fancy.

Now mind you, Iraq did not "fly" into the no-fly zone, but it did send army groups into the capital with tanks and guns. The reason was that the duly-elected government of the Kurdish province had asked Baghdad for military assistance, to put down a rebellion of its own people. The reason the people were rebellious was that they were starving, as the rest of the people of Iraq were also suffering, because of the U.S. embargo on Iraq's sale of oil for food, medicine and sanitary chemicals. The United Nations at that time reckoned that 1.6 million Iraqi civilians had died as a result of the sanctions, which the United States insisted upon keeping in place until there was a regime change. Our political establishment just does not like Saddam, you see.

The rebellion in Kurdistan did have the effect of making life easier for the Kurds. Iraq was permitted to sell more oil and get more material from the outside world, although the funds would continue to be controlled by the UN. None of the cash goes to the Baghdad regime. None. It is doled out by UN paymasters. As of 1997, the decision was made to dole out more money for the Kurds. You ascribe the "golden era" they are enjoying to the relative freedoms they enjoy, and to a degree you are surely right, but money for vital imports goes a long way to make an economy work better.

You should take this into account, John, when you begin expanding your coverage of Iraqi politics. The Times continues to run little stories about how Baghdad refuses to allow the weapons inspectors back into Iraq to look around for weapons of mass destruction. The stories never ever mention the reason why Saddam is being so stubborn, when even the Arab League seems unanimous in wanting him to let the inspectors back in. It is that the United States does not want the mechanism changed by which the UN will continue to dole out the funds it takes in from the sale of the state-owned oil. The national government, which technically owns on behalf of the Iraqi people the second largest proven oil reserves in the world, since 1991 has not seen a dime from its exports to the West, except for what it sneaks out to buyers in Turkey.

This helps explain why Saddam retains a certain amount of "popularity" with the people of Iraq, as they do not blame their misfortunes on him, but on the United States and Israel. For if it were not for Israel's concern that Iraq might become too strong if it had all that oil money flowing in, the sanctions would have been lifted long ago. If you check your own paper's story last Friday by your colleague, Patrick E. Tyler, who is almost as fine a foreign correspondent as you have been, you will find his News Analysis piece, The Warpath: Pressures Build on Iraq Tyler notes that both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak believe that a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq could be fashioned into some form of democracy:

In this view, an Iraq under new governance could become a new Western ally, helping to reduce American dependency on bases in Saudi Arabia, to secure Israel's eastern flank and act as a wedge between Iran and Syria, two of the most active sponsors of terrorism. The obstacles, risks and costs to such a strategy remain largely unaddressed by the Bush administration, and its planning for any eventual war is tightly wrapped in secrecy.

As far as I know, Saddam Hussein would agree in a New York Minute to a strict inspection regime if the sanctions were lifted and the petroleum funds were again coming into government coffers. He would even agree to import controls to prevent him from using those funds to buy materials to make weapons of mass destruction.

This brings us back to Israel, at least those in Israel who will continue to do everything they can to prevent the formation of a Palestinian state. Part of that decades-old chessgame now requires a U.S. puppet regime in Baghdad, a colony that will keep Iraqi missiles from falling in Tel Aviv. Now that it seems the Kurds are not eager to supply the puppets, what next? I'm glad to see you are on the job. I'll watch for your by-line. If you can't unsnarl the politics of the region, nobody can.

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PS to Website Fans, Browsers, Clients: Jude will be a guest tonight on Fox News The O'Reilly Factor, at 8 pm EDT, discussing Minister Louis Farrakhan's peace mission to the Middle East and recent stop in Baghdad.