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

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