INTERNATIONAL

Fear, uncertainty prevail in Iraqi Kurd areas

ERBIL (Northern Iraq) Sept. 26. Suppressed for centuries and their national aspirations denied since the end of the first world war, the people of Kurdistan are at the end of the war in Iraq, sensing their moment in history, and are determined not to let the opportunity to exercise political authority of their own slip by. In the plains and mountains of northern Iraq, there is hope that a better future awaits the Kurds. But simultaneously there is also great anxiety that the transition to better times is unlikely to be smooth.

Post-war events in Iraq, it is felt may spin-off violence and instability in Kurdistan. Formerly under the Ottoman empire, ethnic Kurds were scattered in four different countries-Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey after the first world war when the Ottoman empire collapsed. All the neighbouring countries opposed the drive of the Kurdish people for independence, as they feared that this would encourage secessionism, with the potential of altering the existing territorial map of the region. For the Kurds, the first Gulf war of 1991 was a turning point as it effectively ended Iraqi administrative control in northern Iraq and the gave them a breathing space to reorganise themselves politically and economically.

By 1998, two major rival Kurdish parties-the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Masoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Jalal Talabani buried their differences. With their administrative enclaves almost equally divided, the KDP began to exercise control over the western side of Kurdistan with its headquarters at Erbil while the PUK controlled the eastern half from its stronghold of Sulaymania, not far from the border with Iran. Jolted by a suicide blast in Erbil on September 10 which targeted a building occupied by U.S. officials, the KDP is finding itself highly vulnerable. This has resulted in a general atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust in the city.

Security screenings in Erbil, especially for Arabs has been heightened as the suicide attack, it is suspected was masterminded by Arabs loyal to the regime of the former President Saddam Hussein or by Arab extremists who might be linked to the Al-Qaeda. The latest incident also appears to have deepened the unease, which the Kurds have historically experienced with the neighbouring countries. Kurdish officials point out that armed extremists can easily infiltrate across the porous mountainous borders from the neighbouring countries and strengthen the hands of the militants who have already established bases inside the Kurdish areas for some time.

With their feeling of insecurity heightened, the Kurds are looking inwards and are willing to trust only their Peshmerga fighters, who have worked together with U.S. troops, to ensure their safety. Not surprisingly, when asked about the Kurdish stance on the deployment of foreign troops to stabilise Iraq including the areas in the north, Akram Mantik, the Governor of Erbil told The Hindu that there was no pressing need to do so as the Peshmerga alone were competent enough to ensure stability in the Kurdish highlands. A senior KDP functionary however added that Kurdish authorities might not object to the deployment of foreign forces provided they did not belong to Turkey, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Despite being convinced that they have a case for an independent State, Kurds are now willing to accept the emergence of a federal system.

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