Located on the eastern edge of what is called the Middle East, Kurdistan is an ancient country inhabited by a distinctive people. Alexander the Great came upon his greatest military misfortune near Erbil, which formed an end-point to his legendary conquests as well as the site of a major setback for the CIA in much more recent days. Kurdistan is a living museum containing the artifacts and ruins of a dozen conquering armies, including the Assyrian, Babylonian, Roman, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish empires. Its mountains, ranging higher than the Alps and containing Noah's legendary Mt. Ararat (nestled on the Kurdish-Armenian frontier), contain remarkably preserved remnants of these and many more civilizations. In the 20th century, Kurdistan has been bedeviled by tragedy. Perhaps the largest nation on earth lacking any semblance of self-determination, Kurdistan was parceled out among Iraq, Turkey, and Iran by the Western Powers after World War I. Syria was also granted a relatively small piece of the Kurdish homeland. All four occupied states have participated in systematic repression against the Kurds, while occasionally recruiting "others" Kurds into their internecine rivalries.
Kurdistan has come to the attention of the West in the wake of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, in which the U.S.-shaped coalition virtually destroyed Iraq and its people. A side-effect and result of this war was the establishment of a "safe haven" for Kurds fleeing Iraqi-occupied Kurdistan. This safe haven turned out to be a base for CIA maneuvers against the Iraqi regime, utilizing Kurdish "assets" as a backstop for its destabilizing initiatives in Iraq. The perennial "outside agitator" on a global scale, the CIA has been particularly active in the Middle East, notably in defense of the plunder of Middle Eastern oil. For over three to eight years, the CIA has been involved in assassination and coup attempts against Iraqi governments.
Americans have been left in the dark concerning CIA maneuvers in the Middle East. Fed a steady diet of fantasy mush in which Arabs and Muslims are inexorably tagged as irrational, fanatical terrorists and in which their American, Israeli and other tormentors are relentlessly portrayed as harbingers of a democratic civilization under siege in the areas they seek to control. The actual CIA involvement in Kurdistan tells a far different story.
Saddam Hussein became an enemy of the United States in August 1990, following his attempted annexation of Kuwait, Prior to that, he got favorable reviews from the American foreign policy establishment. He rendered great services by engaging in a war with Iran from 1980 to 1988, resulting in the loss of over one million lives. Much of Kurdistan was devastated during this war. Kuwaiti princesses wore pro-Saddam T-shirts in appreciation for his services in keeping Khomeini's Iran at bay. As the war was winding down and after a cease-fire held, Saddam turned his attention to settling scores with Kurds whose parties had collaborated with Iran during the hostilities. The two large parties which were targeted were the two main "Iraqi Kurdish" parties- the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan). Up to 200,000 people perished in this campaign, the bulk of them being supporters of the traditionalist KDP and other people in areas in which support for that party was strong. These two parties hired themselves out to the CIA 'in the wake of the Gulf War, eventually coming to co-rule the area known as the "safe haven", a protectorate of the United States which it recently abandoned as a result of the KDP's military victory over the PUK. In this most recent encounter of the long-time rival parties, the PUK brought in Iranian armed forces, leading KDP leader Massoud Barzani to call Baghdad and invite Saddam's forces in to save the situation.
The Iraq-backed KDP instilled a crushing defeat on the PUK and allied forces, shutting down the "safe haven" and sending CIA operatives and "assets" scattering in hasty retreat. It marked the culmination of over two years of fighting between the Kurdish parties and the termination of what was called an "experiment in democracy," a descriptive term which hundreds of thousands of Kurds who had to brave extortion, repression, torture, killings and every imaginable form of abuse, would hotly deny. Many Kurds compared the Iraqi Kurdistan Front rule unfavorably with the custodianship of Saddam's forces.
It was clear from the beginning that the "safe haven" was an operation provide cover as distinct from "providing comfort," as its early official designation implied. It provided cover for CIA operations against Iraq and for Turkish moves against the Kurds. U.S., Turkish, British, and their client Kurds saw to it that no resources were mobilized to help Kurds in the area. A state of dependence was reinforced in which the "providers" could keep their Kurdish puppets on short strings. Vera Beaudin-Saeedpoor, an indefatigable American campaigner for Kurdish rights who runs the Kurdish Library and Museum in Brooklyn, New York, accurately foresaw developments when she remarked that "Protected by the allies, the Kurds of Iraq will be the buffer to keep 25 million Kurds divided."
Turkey, which occupies over half of Kurdistan and rules over some 12-15 million Kurds, has been trying to beat down a determined Kurdish liberation struggle for over 12 years. Led by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), the guerrilla warfare has raged throughout northern Kurdistan, resulting in over 22,000 deaths and a wide range of Turkish authorities which has drawn increasing attention from Amnesty International and other human rights groups. The safe haven was a base of operations for Turkey against the PKK as well as for the USA against Saddam.
CIA involvement in Turkey is as old as the Agency itself. It ran operations out of a building in Ankara starting in 1952, and proceeded to set up a fearsome intelligence-gathering/ death squad apparatus to deal with the Turkish Left. A part of this apparatus of repression spawned was the MHP (National Action Party), an ultra right Turkish organization which is still regarded as a paramilitary wing of the "Special Warfare Department". Military coups in Turkey in 1971 and 1980 were supported by the CIA- the Turkish commander of the air force returned from Washington just days before both events. After the second of these coups succeeded, President Jimmy Carter called CIA agent Paul Henze, who was then involved in Turkey and congratulated him, saying "Your people have just made a coup."
Turkish-occupied Kurdistan has long been a desolate place, site of much repression and suffering. It was off limits to most outsiders until the 1960s. It has long been under some variant of martial law. Over 2000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed in the last decade alone. Turkey used chemical agents, poison gas, napalm and defoliants in its campaign against Kurdistan. Kurds do not enjoy even cultural and educational rights, as they (at least formally) long have in Iraq. A fascist mentality is perpetuated in which "One Turk = The Whole World," evoking echoes of Hitler, who stated that "One German = 500 Slavs." On hillsides outside villages in Kurdistan, tourists can see slogans such as "Proud to be a Turk." The United States supports Turkey to the hilt on a variety of pretexts--it is an important member of NATO, forming a barrier and/or conduit (as the situation requires) between Europe and the Muslim Middle East and forms a base of operations with a huge army which can and has been mobilized in places such as Korea and Somalia at the behest of the remaining superpower.
The Turkish regime employed the PLTK and KDP in their battle against the PKK. The PKK has part of its base in the parts of Kurdistan occupied by Iraq and Iran. It repeatedly raids these areas, bombing them and occasionally pursuing PKK guerrillas in these areas. Both parties played their roles with relish, even participating in "mopping up" operations against their countrymen.
The KDP, whose leader was Massoud Barzani's father Mulla Mustafa Barzani, were hooked into doing the CIA's bidding as early as the early 1960s. By the early 1970s. the KDP was fighting the Iraqi government at the behest of Iran, Israel, and the USA. Agents of all three countries were seen moving about the KDP base camps. Iran was going after a boundary settlement with Iraq, using the Kurds to pressure Baghdad. Israel is forever scheming to destabilize all Arab and Muslim countries which do not come to an understanding with it on its own terms, i.e. recognition of its conquest of the Palestinians. The USA wants economic (oil and the incredible sums of money that oil-rich client states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait pour into U.S. financial markets) and political power in the region. Their interests usually dovetail. Israel and Turkey have signed at least two military cooperation treaties in recent years. Israel is suspected of bombing PKK camps in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
Kurds have enjoyed self-determination only briefly in this century. They set up the Republic of Mahabad, wresting control from Iran over a small portion of Kurdistan. Mahabad lasted one year, being terminated in 1946 by Iranian forces with the approval of the US. Norman Schwarzkopf Sr. was a military overseer of the conquest of Mahabad, which earned the full approval of then-President Harry S. Truman. The CIA had to stage a coup to return the Shah to Iran in 1953, with one consequence being the transfer of 40 percent of Iranian oil from British to American hands. The Shah and his father were responsible for a full-scale genocide against Kurds in the interwar period, in which whole tribes disappeared in the course of a "sedentarization" campaign. When Khomeini came to power, the Kurds quickly (and successfully) rose and asserted their rights to at least meaningful autonomy. The CIA approved or blithely ignored the subsequent repression in that part of Kurdistan, It has been made painfully obvious to Kurds that they are to be denied self-determination. CIA Director John Deutch went on the record recently as opposing freedom for Kurdistan because "you need to take territory from Iran, Turkey and Syria to put together such a region", obscuring the fact that these "territories" were wrenched away from the Kurdish homeland and "awarded" to others to begin with. The best that "Iraqi" Kurds could hope for in Deutch's scenario is to "try and make sure there is sensible autonomy" while collaborating with those who seek to crush other Kurds whose goals may be less modest. How foreign policy "pundits" view Kurdistan is exemplified in a headline to a piece in the Wall Street Journal (3/24/92) which proclaims "Iraq's Kurdish Victims, Turkey's Kurdish Terrorists." One state's victims are another state's terrorists.
The one-time supervisor for US forces in the "safe haven," Col. Richard Wilson, claimed that "These mountains can't sustain a viable country. To survive, Kurds must be part of a larger government." He was speaking of a country bigger than France, and incredibly rich in natural resources, particularly water and oil. A large part of the region's water comes down via river from the mountains of Kurdistan. Over half of Iraq's oil reserves are in Kurdish areas. Wilson's assertion is ludicrous if he meant that Kurdistan was too small or landlocked a country to be entitled to sovereignty over itself. What about Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Andorra, or San Marino?
The CIA has been meddling in Iraq with disastrous consequences for over four decades. After propping up the corrupt Nuri Said, the USA went after Abdul-Karim Kassem, whose popularly-supported coup eliminated the old British agent Nuri in 1958. Among those whom the CIA recruited to do its dirty work were the Iraqi Baath Party, including a brash power-hungry adventurer named Saddam Hussein. Saddam actually engaged in an attempt on Kassem's life, one of many engineered by CIA "assets." The Baath did finally succeed in overthrowing and killing Kassem in 1963. The CIA gave the emergent Baath a long list of Communists and others to liquidate, which they undertook to accomplish with their usual thoroughness,
According to an article by ex-U. S. consul in Kirkuk (Iraqi Kurdistan), a secret agreement was reached between the CIA and Mulla Mustafa Barzani in August 1969. Barzani got an alleged $14 million at the time. After the Iran-Iraq Agreement spelled the end of the KDP rebellion, the KDP and the Kurds were left in the lurch. Barzani had promised to turn oil fields over to the U.S., repeatedly saying that he wanted Kurdistan to be the 51st state. He wound up living in exile in the United States, where he died in 1979. He wrote a letter to then-President Carter in early 1977 in which he complained that "I could have prevented the calamity which befell my people had I not fully believed the promise of America. This could have been done by merely supporting Baath policy and joining forces with them, thereby taking a position contrary to American interests and principles and causing trouble for Iraq's neighbors. The assurances of the highest American officials made me disregard this alternative." Henry Kissinger put "American interests and principles" in proper perspective when he proclaimed that "Covert action should not be confused with missionary work."
Jalal Talabani split from the KDP in the 1960s, eventually forming the PUK and earning a reputation as "everybody's agent." He openly collaborated with the Baath against the KDP on many occasions, making his recent outrage at the KDP-Saddam collaboration ring extremely hollow. Positing a more "modem" (or perhaps "post-modern") approach to Kurdish politics, he cooked Kurdish interests in every conceivable sauce, with flavors meant to edify and attract supporters among the governments of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, the United States, and a host of others. He has spent much more time mobilizing his forces against Barzani than in all other directions combined. Both the PUK and KDP have fearsome "security agencies" which carry out death squad-style repression against Kurds not to their political taste. Both parties have earned the disgust of Kurds with their gangster-like operations in the "safe haven." In January 1996, the CIA made a decision to veer away from the "Iraqi National Congress", whose mainstays were the 2 Kurdish parties, and towards the Jordan-based "Iraqi National Accord" as a principal instrument for attacking the Iraqi regime. Led by ex-officers in Saddam's armed forces, the INA was detected in June and subsequently put out of operation. This was a prelude to the KDP-PUK squabble involving Iran and Iraq, the defeat of the PUK and the flight of CIA-related personnel from the area. President Clinton ordered the firing of some missiles at SOUTHERN Iraq, at least partially to divert public attention from the calamity in NORTHERN Iraq, i.e. Kurdistan.
The two parties continue to fight each other. Victory for either spells defeat for the Kurds. Only a defeat for both could afford a chance for the Kurds to shed the old politics of clientism, "autonomy," defeat and "betrayal." The PKK has waged a determined struggle in one part of Kurdistan. The rest of the Kurds must join in a unified effort to achieve the only suitable goal: self-determination. Whether,
when and how this goal is to be achieved remains the question for the Kurds. The CIA and the US government form-n the base of support for denial of these aims. The whole scene evokes the necessity of ending the US presence in the Middle East and the cutting of all support for ALL the regimes in this area. Continued intervention, even under "humanitarian" guise, will only prolong the long nightmare for the Kurds, as for most of the non-Israeli people of the Middle East. Kurds can also feel politically comfortable in joining actions such as Dick Gregory's fast until the Agency is abolished.
Husayn Al-Kurdi is a writer and journalist of Kurdish descent. He is the founder and president of News International, which he founded in 1983. He is preparing a volume of his writings, Dispatches from the New World Order, for publication next year.