Kurds Weigh Future in Federated Iraq

The Kurds of northern Iraq have been largely autonomous for more than a decade. Now, they're being asked to join a united Iraq. Can federalism work for the Kurds, or can Iraq work without them?

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. First Iraq, where the trial of Saddam Hussein resumed today in Baghdad. This one is for crimes against the Kurds in military campaigns in the late 1980s.

Anne Garrels is in Baghdad. She has just returned from a reporting trip to Kurdistan. That's northern Iraq, where the Kurdish people live and live in - I gather, Annie - more harmony now than you've seen in quite some time. This is an unusual region of Iraq.

ANNE GARRELS: Curiously, even though this is part of Iraq, when you arrive in Sulaymaniyah you actually have to go through passport control from Baghdad. That just indicates how separate this is. Suddenly I saw no concrete barriers, no razor wire, no troops with guns bristling racing through the streets. I sat in a restaurant late into the night on an outside terrace and I had a Tuborg, a chilled one at that.

CHADWICK: A cold beer in Iraq? I don't know, Annie, that's - there's a kind of a...

GARRELS: That was pretty racy.

CHADWICK: It's a concrete example of how different Kurdistan and northern Iraq truly is from the rest of the country. You mention this - a passport control. The Kurds really do think of themselves as somewhat separate from the rest of Iraq and therein hangs a problem for everyone, perhaps.

GARRELS: Yes, but it's interesting. Talking to the Kurds, they all, to a man or woman, want independence. But when you say to them, okay, when is this going to happen, they are all realistic. They know that they have ugly neighbors, as they put it. Whether it be the Turks, the Iranians, the Syrians - they know this isn't going to happen fast.

And so they're just taking as much as they can in terms of autonomy for the time being. And they are very happy that they do not have the kind of violence that is down in the south. And they are a much more moderate people than you are seeing now down in the south.

I saw, you know, young women - some were in hijabs, some conservative Kurdish clothes, some in very sexy t-shirts and tight jeans. But having said that, the society is very conservative and the boys and girls who were walking on the streets do not date.

CHADWICK: Let me just see if I have recent Kurdish history correct. The whole northern part of Iraq, where the Kurds are, was sort of more or less autonomous after the 1991 Gulf War. The U.S. was flying over there and making sure that Saddam couldn't get airplanes up over there, didn't have any air power. So the Kurds have been used to kind of running things for themselves for a while. Is that why you have this region that appears to be largely free of the terrible violence that's afflicting the rest of Iraq?

GARRELS: Absolutely. I mean - and indeed in the 1990s - I mean, the Kurds fought each other. They kind of got their problems out of the way in the '90s, you know, while there was that no fly zone. They fought each other. It was pretty bloody. I mean, but by now they've buried the hatchet. They're working together, the different Kurdish parties, and there's a kind of economic boom.

Now, that region is not without its problems. They've got electricity problems like Baghdad. They've got real water problems like the south of Iraq. But they don't have the violence. They are pretty much homogenous. It is largely, you know, almost entirely Kurdish and they agree on their common future. So yes, they've gone through their hell and they've now got relative peace.

CHADWICK: This is a Sunni Islamic region, Annie, and as you say, it is a Kurdish region. I wonder if there are lessons there that the Kurds might offer to the rest of Iraq. Is there anything that Kurdistan can say to the rest of Iraq that would help this country find its way out of the mess that it's in today?

GARRELS: I don't think so. And frankly, most of the Kurds look down at the south and they see this terrible violence and whatever and they don't really pay much attention to it. In fact, if you say to a Kurd and you try and compare Sulaymaniyah or Erbil, the two main cities in Kurdistan to Baghdad, they bristle. They want to be compared with Europe.

Now, it is not yet Europe and there are - as I said - you know, some real problems still, because there's corruption, there's nepotism. But they are homogeneous. There are many Arabs moving up from Baghdad into the region. That's causing some consternation, but for the moment the Kurds seem to say, okay, they need refuge, we're not going to send them out. But they don't want them to stay forever.

CHADWICK: NPR's Anne Garrels reporting from Baghdad. You'll hear her full reports on Kurdistan on NPR News this week. Anne, thank you.

GARRELS: Thank you.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.