Iraqi Kurdistan

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Thanks to brent for pitching us a show about the Kurds.

[This show will record at 4pm EST.]

When we did our show on Iraq’s Oil Future(s) back in December, I was impressed with the quiet, deliberate, even brazen forward momentum of the Kurdish Regional Government. While the rest of the country had yet to arrive at any sort of consensus about how to manage their reserves, the Kurdish north had already invited a Norwegian oil company to start drilling. What was going on with the Kurds in the north?

Turns out a lot. Under the Iraqi constitution passed in 2005, the Iraqi Kurds have a good deal of regional autonomy, and they’ve made good use of it: they have their own parliament, their own army, and depending how you read the Constitution, a certain amount of discretion over the region’s oil.

The region people are starting to call Iraqi Kurdistan, or, The Other Iraq, also has a shocking degree of stability and prosperity compared to the rest of the country, which they’re eager to tout:

While the south struggles daily with car bombs and sectarian violence, the north is attracting foreign investment and has opened new shopping malls and a brand new English-language university. None of the guests in our show about who won in Iraq mentioned the Kurds, but you could argue that’s a pretty glaring omission. Even though Iraq’s Kurds have been living in a semi-autonomous region since the US established a no-fly zone after the first Gulf War, Iraqi Kurdistan as it stands today is the closest thing to a fully functional, independent nation-state the Kurds have ever had.

But to what end? Do Iraq’s Kurds see themselves as part of a federalized, multi-ethnic Iraq or as trailblazers for a Kurdish state? Qubad Talabani, the Kurdish Regional Government’s U.S. Representative — and son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani — will help us answer those and other questions. Here’s a few more for starters: what are the implications (regional and otherwise) of this quasi nation-state? Is there a conflict between what Iraq’s Kurds want, and what their leadership considers most prudent?

Qubad Talabani

Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) Representative to the United States

Son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman

Chair, Kurdistan Development Corp

KRG Representative to the United Kingdom

Bilal Wahab

Regional Training Officer on local governance, Research Triangle Institute

Fulbright Scholar Alumnus

Blogger, Better Kurdistan and Iraq

Peter Galbraith

Former (and first) Ambassador to Croatia under Clinton

Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Advisor to the KRG

Thanks to Nick for suggesting Ambassador Galbraith

Extra Credit Reading

Qubad Talabani, Tennessee Voices: Success in Kurdistan should inspire rest of Iraq, The Tennessean, March 11, 2007: “While it is not fully clear what the future will bring and how Iraq will look, in the success of the Kurdistan region there remains hope for a federal democracy for all of Iraq.

Dr. Nazhad Khasraw Hawramany, Only Mountains, Marshes And Palm Groves As Friends, Iraqi Kurdistan, February 10, 2007: “I thought . . . there must be something wrong with the Kurds that no body cared about them . . . that there was no place any where for humanity in their souls.”

Hiwa, US trying to work out Iraq!, Hiwakan (The Hopes), January 9, 2007: “But I can tell from the Kurdish perspective what should be done to make him happy and consequently the British happy to really really realise that Kurds are different from the rest of Iraq, and the genocide on the hands of the Iraqis supported by both UK and US at its time is enough to consolidate KRG further to become a seed of stability in the north and also a real threat to Iran and Syria that we can stir you up if you act unaccordingly!”

Bilal Wahab, No Justice for Kurds, Better Kurdistan and Iraq, January 8, 2007: “Kurds seem to be running thin of friends. This is not a good sign, especially as the Turkish army lays bare its fangs against the only safe part of Iraq—Kurdistan.”

Seymour M. Hersh, Plan B, The New Yorker, June 28, 2004: “Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government decided, I was told, to minimize the damage that the war was causing to Israel’s strategic position by expanding its long-standing relationship with Iraq’s Kurds and establishing a significant presence on the ground in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan.” (via hurley)

Yahya Barzanji, PKK Open to Peace Deal With Turkey , The Guardian, March 16, 2007: “Turkey is pressing Iraq and its American ally to crack down on rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, who launch attacks on Turkey from bases in northern Iraq. The group has been waging a bloody war in southeast Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that has claimed 37,000 lives.” (via tbrucia)

Ed Morrissey, US Curbs Kurds, Captain’s Quarters, March 15, 2007: “The success of Kurdish autonomy in Iraq has fueled Kurdish desire for a de facto Kurdistan, but we cannot allow terrorism to operate under any pretenses in the new Iraq — not if we want to keep the Turks out of it.”

Michael J. Totten, The Kurds Go Their Own Way, Reason, August/September 2006: “Two hours into my first tour of Erbil, my guide for the day taught me to feel lucky. ‘If we were doing this in Baghdad, we would be dead by now,’ he said.”

Rancher, Our Friends the Kurds, Llano Estacado, March 16, 2007: “Whether you believe Palestinians should have a state before or after they stop killing Jews, how can anyone who supports them not equally support the Kurds?”


When the U.S. came into the country, they were greeted as liberators, candy and flowers and food were thrown in the direction of our friends that came from afar. And I think that really created such a positive environment, to know that that danger against our people, the danger that was Saddam, was no more.

Qubad Talabani


History has not been kind to the Kurdish people. There is a reality today that confines the Kurdish people to the state of Iraq, and when we’re building this new country called Iraq, many different ethnic and sectarian groups must voluntarily unite to form it. And we have committed to do so. The Kurds have committed themselves to a federal democracy in Iraq.

Qubad Talabani


People imagine that Turkey is very negative towards Kurdistan, but in fact, in terms of foreign direct investment, Turkey is the largest single investor in the Kurdistan region, having invested up to two billion dollars in the region in the past few years.

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman


TThe tragedy of Iraq is the fact that the country was founded on faulty logic. These fault lines have existed in Iraq since the creation of the state of Iraq. And the insecurities that exist between the different communities are not three or four years old; they are hundreds, if not over a thousand years old.

Qubad Talabani


Where you have a people that unanimously don’t want to be part of a country, you can’t keep them part of that country, so the separation of Kurdistan from Iraq is inevitable. Both Bayan and Qubad are polite about it, but they know full well… among the population, it’s not just that they want indepenence, it’s that the history of these decades in Iraq has been so bitter that reconciliation with that country is simply not possible.

Peter Galbraith


Among other Turks, there’s a recognition that maybe this isn’t such a bad thing for Turkey. After all, who are the Kurds? They’re secular, they’re pro-Western, they aspire to be democratic, and they’re not Arabs; in short, they’re very much like the Turks. And of course, if Kurdista does become independent, it’s going to be dependent on somebody, and if the Turks play their cards right, that would be Turkey.

Peter Galbraith


I’ve urged that we redeploy our forces out of Arab Iraq to Kurdistan, both to provide protection there, but also because from Kurdistan, we can strike at Al Quaeda in the Sunni Arab areas, which is the only part of Iraq where it operates, if we need to: if the Sunni Arabs are unable to manage their own security.

Peter Galbraith

Related Content

  • Lumière


    There are many oil and mineral resources in Kurdistan. KRG-controlled parts of Iraqi Kurdistan only by itself is estimated to have around 45bn barrels of oil reserves making it sixth largest in the world, mostly recently discovered and its extraction is said to begin within the first three months of 2007.

  • Nick

    Peter W. Galbraith, former diplomat and author of The End of Iraq, is intimately familiar with Iraqi Kurdistan and might make a good guest.

  • hurley

    Let’s hear it for a fully functional, independent Kurdish nation-state. Back in the day Christopher Hitchens wrote a rational brief on their behalf. Don’t forget to address Israeli involvement in Kurdish affairs in the lead-up to the Iraq War, the subject of an article in the New Yorker at the time. It paints an intriguing picture, or an intriguing aspect of the larger question. Everyone in the region within their shadowy strategic rights to influence matters there, but how do they do so, and to what purpose? How is Kurdistan’s gain (let’s call it) Turkey/Syria/Iran/Iraq’s loss?

  • enhabit

    i mentioned last time that turkey has a LOT to gain from making nice with the kurds….and the kurds have a lot to gain as well. all that oil has got to get out of a landlocked canton somehow. turkey makes money..the kurds make money…and along with that codependence comes the real bonus…a raproachment between the turks and the kurds…old adversaries with some common ground…with both parties enjoying an enviable degree of military strength in the region, this could be quite a marriage…and a rare bright spot in a real mess.

    down side..the rest of iraq will not like it at all..some blood will be shed..syria will feel left out..they will try to make mischief… as for iran?

  • Lumière

    If the Turks had ever had that thought, there wouldn’t be problem now. More likely they think: if we could get rid of the Kurds, we a can have all the oil.

    “Do we then live, if others live.”

    – Goethe

  • enhabit

    well there is that rocky love-fest between the us and kurdistan..and the turks want into the EU big time…this wouldn’t hurt their case…esp..if a new member of the EU was to have a pipeline hooked up to “around 45bn barrels of oil”.

    btw: father-in-law is an armenian orphan left on the doorstep of a manhatten orphanage middle east oil expert…are you suggesting that the turks have a peppered past? he might.

    still think they would give it a go under the right terms.

  • tbrucia

    No discussion of Kurdistan can be complete without a discussion of the PKK and Turkey’s battle with this organization. Here’s a current article (by Yahya Barzanji, Associated Press):,,-6485473,00.html . To get a flavor of the Turkish ‘soul’, I recommend reading Orhan Pamuk’s novel ‘Snow’, but it doesn’t hurt to follow the Turkish English language press, too. In today’s Turkish Daily News, an interesting article: ‘Turkey sets its medium term Iraqi policy’ (by Serkan Demirtas-Duygu Guvenc) . He quotes a ‘member of the Turkish National Security Council’ as saying,

    “The participants of the regular MGK meetings express belief that the possible U.S. steps against PKK presence in northern Iraq will not meet Turkey’s expectations. For Turkey, however, a cross border operation against terrorist camps is not under consideration. ‘There are five camps alongside the Turkish border. Behind them the terrorist group has its own headquarters on Kandil Mountain, which is under the control of Barzani’s group. It is obvious that Barzani will not support Turkish military action’ he said. — Turkey has shelved plans to carry out a cross border operation because of U.S objections and the international community’s unwillingness to support such a solution.

    In short, Iraqi Kurdistan exists at the pleasure of the Turks and the Americans, and when the Americans leave, the Turks will be the ‘big gun’ in the neighborhood. If the PKK continues to operate out of the Kurdish region, expect Turkey to become ‘The Decider.’

  • does kurdistan work? if it does, people should note that it’s ‘democracy’ is more in the breach than in practice, that ACLU style libertarianism isn’t really operative, and nationalism and ethnic pride are rampant. better then the rest of iraq for sure, but it brings home the unpalatable choices before us.

  • enhabit

    tbrucia right on the mark again!

    add to the mix..the kurds and the turks are tremendously unpopular in the region..with some exceptions of course..but overall, on their own. like it or not they are geographically in bed together as well…both parties have a lot to offer the other and there is more to gain from cooperation than continued rancor.

    it’s a tired old cliché but “politics make strange bedfellows” may apply here..we have certainly seen weirder things happen

  • Here’s a few more for starters: what are the implications (regional and otherwise) of this quasi nation-state?

    Question for the guests – could a functional Kurdish state be a good influence on the rest of the region? By that I mean that the Kurds could attract capital, become wealthy and do good things.

    Unless the Kurds are going to have problems because of their minority status. Perhaps they could remind the rest of the world that Saladin was a Kurd …

    For all of me I think that the West should be generally supportive of people like the Kurds that want to do well and become grubby capitalists. But maybe that’s just me.

  • enhabit

    and hitler was austrian

    so was my mother-in-law…sweet woman, very humane, very not racist..married an armenian.

    at any rate..the kurds are strongly disliked by a lot of regional groups..definitely a problem for them and others

    i can remember a cab ride with an iraqi immigrant driver right after the chemical attacks on the kurds…i will NEVER forget his reaction to my inquiry..(calmly)” but they were KURDS!” pretty cold

  • i will NEVER forget his reaction to my inquiry

    a 150 years ago in the USA it would have been “but they were injuns!” same attitude. you need to rescale humanitarian sensibilities. they aren’t “like us”* (speaking as one born in the third world in the wake of a genocide by brown against brown).

    * through presumably the germans of goethe, schiller and wagner were eminently civilized and ‘like us.’ oops, there comes world war ii!

  • tbrucia

    Knowing that a lot of Houston’s supposedly ‘Vietnamese’ restaurants are owned by overseas Chinese, I once innocently asked my waiter — while dining at a small Turkish restaurant here in town — if the owner (his brother) and he were ethnic Turks or Kurds. Next thing both of them were giving me and my wife double-barrelled comments on their Turkishness and their (low) opinion of Kurds, who they agreed were freeloaders and whiners. I never cease to be amazed; it sometimes seems that every nation has its own ‘disloyal minority’ — at least in the eyes of the majority. (I was going to post here some other examples of ‘disloyal minorities’, but on second thought I’ll let others range over this landscape, finding other depressingly familiar examples…)

  • enhabit


    you are backing up my point…no group has a monopoly on the high ground or the low ground..

    i found it to be more than a little hypocritical that we erected a holocaust museum near the national mall before we had one that singularily addressed our treatment of the indigenous peoples of the americas..small pox infested blankets..really nasty idea..devasted native populations..and a truly horrible way to go at that.

    i have ancesters on both sides of the equation so what’s your point? AVENGE those who were lost? americans are bad? kurds are bad? iraqis are bad? absolute excrement! the memories of the dead are better served by constructive activity.

    humanity has the capacity to be utterly abysmal…and grand. this sort of outdated tribal finger pointed solves nothing but to point out that we ALL have a dark side..see it control it evolve away from it.

  • orlox

    BBC World is anchoring part of its regular news from Erbil this week for the 4th anniversary.

    Includes a short report on Kurdish Autonomy:

  • rc21

    Enhabit, or any one else. Why do you think the Kurds are so hated in Iraq and apparently in other parts of the mid east?

  • enhabit

    ancient animosity augmented by habitual tribal isolation

  • enhabit

    here’s the washington post’s take

    some more from the bbc

    some bbc comparison of the major iraqi groups

    and in the interest of being “fair and balanced” this says a lot about current tensions..

  • rc21


  • enhabit

    hard to find a good online summary..i’ll give it a try..jump in and correct where you see fit one and all..keep it as factual as you can please.

    seyyed hossein nasr in his history of Islam describes the kurds thusly:

    “the second oldest ethnic and cultural zone of the islamic world is the persian, comprising not only people of present day iran but also those of similar ethnic and linguistic stock including the kurds and the people of afghanistan (including the pushtus), tajikistan, and parts of uzbekistan and pakistan.”

    it could be that they are located on the less sympathetic side of iran for one thing

    iran (under the shah) supported the kurdish independence effort in iraq (20% of the population) in the 1970’s..not helpful

    iraq (under saddam) then backed kurdish independence in iran…not helpful either

    all of this with the encouragement of the us and israel..REALLY not helpful

    but..the shah, saddam AND the saudis all decided to get along and signed a treaty defining borders and agreeing to stop all this insurgency rousing…

    the iranian revolution hit..and saddam decided that the shatt al arab (not kurdish..but the iranians were fuming) was actually his after all…this is an ancient region of dispute…he then accused iran of going back on its word about the kurdish insurgency..the iranians said that they weren’t going to abide by the shah’s aggreements and BOOM! big time nastiness with the kurds seemingly carrying much of the blame…saddam needed a scapegoat for the coming slaughter and it was a slaughter..

    the iranians fought the war stalin style..their shah era american arms were under an embargo..they threw masses of troops at the problem..the iraqis fought the war in a more industrial way..with american aid and (mostly)soviet weapons..but all this still cost LOTS of money…it gets worse..sadam started with the chemical weapons..his war debts were starting to get to him….civilians were killed….when the smoke finaly cleared..nobody had won…and many had died in a state of horror..

    both countries were devastated in human toll and financially…

    and no one was happy with the kurds and their yearnings for independence..

    they too would soon learn of saddam’s gas technology that smelled like sweet apples and killed with agony..they were even more galvanized by this event as one might imagine..

    the heat got turned up by the turkish kurds..they were desperate for a place of their own..

    from here events should be pretty current in most memories..

  • Persecution has given the Kurds their strength. They will fight hard to make a good country for their families.

  • enhabit

    don’t know where else to put this but it is super interesting!

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  • orlox

    “Only Mountains, Marshes And Palm Groves As Friends” is a broken link.

  • orlox

    In February 2003 Freshta Raper, a resident of the Kurdish village of Halabja who was injured in a chemical attack but escaped to the mountains and then to the U.K., was interviewed on BBC’s Hardtalk. That interview helped bolster support for the invasion in the U.K. and brought her recognition from Kurdish authorities within Iraq. After Saddam’s fall she was invited to participate in reconstruction but she has since returned to the U.K. disillusioned. In a second Hardtalk appearance today she accuses Jalal Talabani of consolidating his personal power by appointing family members and cronies to key positions in the Kurdistan Regional Government.

    I wonder if the KRG’s US Represtative thinks there is any truth to the complaint?

  • enhabit
  • enhabit

    and some big news on the insurgency the surge helping to make some gains?

  • orlox

    Today is the new years celebration in Kurdistan:

  • enhabit

    just to clarify..”fought the war stalin style” above refers to the old georgian’s famous comment..”quantity has a quality all its own.” no other association was intended.

  • darwhin

    its time to free the kurds from arab occupation. the ones who complain the most about israel are themselves occupiers. and dont get into a silly quibble about the term arab ok?

    frankly screw the rest of iraq, let them fight it out. grant the kurds their oil and their freedom. the rest of the iraqis have lost the right to claim anything from their barbaric behavior.

  • stalcup

    Where’s the other side of this story? The show started out with a Kurdistan commercial, then another one a bit later… the whole show is a commercial today.

    I don’t take any side on this issue and am glad that the Kurdish section of Iraq is doing well. However, there should be some commentators from the Shiite and Sunni areas, because we’re still talking about Iraq, right, which does include them?


    Woods Hole, MA

  • Lumière

    Tom – this is all good !

  • enhabit

    are the shia (remember they are mostly ARAB shia) in the south going to follow a similar independence path? sunnis will be left..maybe with the saudis? it would help if the house of saud came out into the light here.

    begs the question..was this the plan all wouldn’t have played well if it had been openly presented at the start. the us gets quite a oil producing friendly country/region/canton with an american military base right smack in the thick of it all.

  • enhabit

    it certainly explains iran’s posturing

  • enhabit

    maybe the turks were in on it too..remember how they denied us access at the start of the war..was this for appearances sake? kuwaitis had an old score to one could blame them for their support.

    it will be really interesting to see what happens to that turkish petition to enter the EU in the days to come.

  • enhabit

    and the state department looks as though they were locked out….they can blame it all on the militarists…

  • enhabit


  • enhabit

    do the saudis come riding in on their white chargers to save the sunnis? is bagdad their prize? solidifying the sunni presence in the region and gaining a very large city with a strategic location that has been a boil on their collective saddles for ages. al-qaeda figured all this did the syrians..oh man is THAT the connection?

    looking at this as coreography with a certain rational thread is a bit spooky. i’ve grown accustomed to thinking of our leadership as being incompetant.

    thank you for letting me think aloud in the stoa.

  • enhabit

    good night

  • Hmmm, those Kurdistan commercials (“The Other Iraq”) are ripe for parody 😉

    That having been said, it seem that the people of Iraqi Kurdistan have done pretty well for themselves, given everything that has happened to them and to Iraq over the past few decades. Congratulations and good wishes.

    I’m also thinking of the comparisons between the stateless Kurds and stateless Palistinians – it’s sad that the Palistinians couldn’t get their act together when they had the chance at an autonomous-region-leading-to-a-state in the 1990s…

  • Tom B

    Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman made a statement during the show that hit home… to the effect she doesn’t think of her aunts and uncles and other family members as Iraqis, as Syrians, as Iranians, or as Turks — but as Kurds. Closer to home it made me think of Irish Americans and of Jews. I grew up hearing about ‘we’ not meaning New Yorkers or Louisianans, or New Jerseyites — but ‘the Irish’. And among Jews, I notice that when they speak of ‘us’ they likewise are not referring to themselves as Englishmen, or Chileans, or New Yorkers, or Texans — but ‘Jews’. The 19th century was one of awakening nationalism in Europe (e.g. within the Austro-Hungarian Empire), culminating in the stew of national entities, ranging from The Czech Republic to Slovakia, from Poland to Greater Serbia, and so on… The 20th century saw a continuation of this process, but now expanding to new geographies. (Within Spain, which I know a bit about, the federalization of that nation is an ongoing project, with the Basques and the Catalans only the most prominent ‘national minorities’.) —– It will be interesting to see if the Kurds are able to establish their own version of Israel, or Ireland, or The Czech Republic in the shadow of larger neighbors. For every Ireland (unthreatened), there’s an Israel (always on the brink), or a 1939 Czechoslovakia (swallowed up).

  • enhabit

    where’s the heat on this one from the ROS crew? there’s quite a story lurking in here! for one thing..modeling ourselves (kurds) after dubai? you have no comments? another one..turkish investment (a story in itself) PRECEEDED the invasion? after all that bluster about no coalition troops on turkish soil?!!! are there that many ROS basketball fans?

  • enhabit

    do you need more? kurdistan envisioned as a no longer isolated and now productive LONG-TERM US military base of operations in the region?

  • enhabit

    even more? a long-term US/Israeli position encouraging kurdish that goes back, at least, to the NIXON/FORD administration? Where were Cheney, Rumsfeld and papa Bush back then?

  • Greta

    We got an email from Dick Schwartz the other day about this show. Dick asked me to post this as a comment for him:

    I was quite surprised that you failed to raise a significant issue

    regarding the differing experiences of the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi

    Shiites and Sunnis on your recent program about the Kurds. In

    simplified terms the Kurds have chosen to accept the role, as have

    many other small nations, of being American/Western toadies in

    exchange for protection and economic support. Your guests openly

    acknowledged that the Kurds will be happy to have a long term presence

    of American military forces and bases in their territory. On the

    other hand the Iraqis have emphasized that their long term goal is to

    have the foreign troops off of their soil. I feel you should have

    raised the question of what it really means to be a soveriegn nation.

    It seems clear that the Kurds won’t have much sovereignty under the

    arrangement described. They will be expected to jump every time the

    U.S. tells them to jump. It would have added considerable substance

    to the program content to have raised this issue and asked for their


  • enhabit

    exactly Greta & schwartz…but take it a step further..the president of iraq is ethnically part of a group that is clearly splitting off..and his son was on the show and admitted as much!!! there is just no way that iraq is going to stay together and here is proof! that’s a major scoop even if anybody with some common sense could see it coming anyway. where is the heat everybody? ROS scored a scoop here! the iraqi-shia are going to their corner soon and the sunnis are going to wonder what’s next. look at the BAGHDAD map i posted…ALL OF THE FORMERLY MIXED NEIGHBORHOODS ARE SEGREGATING AND THE STRICTLY SUNNI ONES TO THE WEST HAVE MUCH FEWER BOMBINGS. sooner or later the shia are going to want to leave.

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