Iraq Crushes the Kurds

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On March 29, the Iraqi government announced that more than 100,000 Kurds would be removed from the town of Qaladiza. A week later it notified 50,000 people from villages in the surrounding countryside that they, too, would be resettled.

Within a week of the first announcement, the army had surrounded the town of Qaladiza in an effort to ensure "cooperation" with the resettlement program. Qaladiza's residents were told to prepare themselves to leave the area and to pack only their personal belongings. Residents have also been told that they must leave their homes in an undisturbed state. They have not been told where they will be resettled.

Qaladiza is not, nor has it recently been, in an area of military and guerrilla conflict. Neither the Kurdish Democratic Party nor the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has had enough support there to launch campaigns. The region around Qaladiza, referred to by locals as the breadbasket of Iraq, produces surpluses of grain and livestock. Local people have always been relatively well off, and most have successfully avoided Kurdish/Iraqi political conflicts.

Why, then, has Iraq decided to drive 150,000 Kurds from their homes? The answer, in part, lies in Iraq's recent strategy to destroy the Kurds as a people. Since 1970, Iraq has cut the area occupied by Kurds in half and has destroyed more than 3,000 Kurdish villages. More than one million Kurds have been forcibly moved from their homes and hundreds of thousands have fled the country as refugees. Kurdish villages have been occupied by Arab Iraqis in a process called "Arabization." In the first half of 1988, the Iraqi government launched two separate chemical warfare campaigns on Kurds, killing thousands and prompting more than 100,000 to flee the country as refugees.

The map accompanying this piece shows the areas cleared of Kurds prior to 1988 as well as those areas in which residents were gassed. The map makes plain that Qaladiza is the only area along the Iraq-Turkey or Iraq-Iran borders where the government has not attacked or forcibly displaced Kurds in the last year.

The type of gas used by Iraq in 1988 varied by region. Halabja residents were attacked with nerve gas. Later on, Kurds living near the border with Turkey were attacked with mustard gas. This selective use of gases may have been conscious; in any case, it means that the regions can now be used in different ways. Mustard gas has an oil base that will linger for decades. (In France, 70 years after its use in World War I, mustard gas still burns local residents.) Nerve gas, by contrast, kills immediately and then dissipates within hours, even minutes. Thus, the area around Halabja can be reoccupied. Along with the government's forced removal of Kurds just north of Halabja in Qaladiza, it has now cleared a considerable area right along the border with Iran for resettlement.

This raises the same question: Why did Iraq want to remove the population from this particular area? The answer is straightforward; what is puzzling is the US press's indifference to the story. A few days after Iraq announced that it would be moving Kurds from Qaladiza, the Economic Review of London reported that Iraq had agreed to accept 2 million Egyptians for resettlement. The English press reported that as many as 3 million might eventually be moved.

But why more Egyptians to Iraq? Although the answer to this question is not yet clear, we do have a few good guesses. Iraq's population is divided between the two major Muslim sects - Sunnis and Shiites. Iraq is now controlled by Sunnis, who make up less than 40 percent of the population is Shiite, as are most people who live in Iran. The transfer of 2 to 3 million Sunnis to Iraq would make them the majority. Although Iraq's Kurds are also Sunni, Iraq apparently wants a loyal Arab Sunni presence on its Iranian border. This fits with previous efforts to Arabize former Kurdish areas. The transfer of Egyptian peasants would accomplish this goal; they could also put the farm land to good use. Kurds in the are believe that they will be moved into inhospitable desert areas or into the southern, marsh areas of the country, where they would displace Shiites.

Iraq has another motive for forcing the Kurds out of the area. Regional sources indicate that uranium has been found there, and that the Iraqi connection with Egypt is actually a nuclear connection to Argentina, which is looking to buy the uranium. CBS's "60 Minutes" recently explored this connection, but failed to mention how the uranium extraction would affect the Kurds.

This account of yet another atrocity against Iraq's Kurds should not surprise our readers. The quarterly has devoted much space to the situation of the Kurds. We have also reported extensively on militarization and on the ways that states use resettlement and relocation programs to centralize power and seize control of valuable resources. It doesn't matter whether these programs take place in such countries as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Israel or Sudan; political ideology is not the issue here. State policies are guided by the assumption that the world's indigenous peoples must be destroyed to make way for larger, more powerful states. Every day, the fallacy of this assumption is revealed by the 15 million refugees, more than 50 million displaced people and hundreds of millions of starving children whose lives are being destroyed by states with foreign debts stemming from the purchase of weapons to attack their own people.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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