US arrests Kurdish official but Acquiesces in Continued Kurdish Semi-Autonomy
On the one hand, US troops have moved decisively to arrest a high official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Kirkuk, apparently on suspicion of having ordered the shooting of Arab and Turkmen protesters by pershmerga militiamen last week, which has led to dozens of persons being wounded and a number of deaths. The US raided KDP offices and those of its rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and confiscated armaments. Al-Zaman says that US military commander pledged to treat Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds equally in Kirkuk, of which it has taken control. It said that US soldiers also arrested 5 Arabs and accused them of instigating civil disturbances.
On the other hand, Steven Weisman of the NYT reports that the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer has given up on trying to alter the status quo in Iraq much before it goes out of business on July 1. This new stance implies acquiescing in the status quo in the Kurdish areas of the north, which have a semi-autonomous government established under the American no-fly zone in the 1990s. Meanwhile, wire services reported that this month’s president of the Interim Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, has counseled patience to the Kurds, saying that the IGC is dedicated to federalism, but that this system can take many forms, and the exact details would have to be worked out by the elected transitional government beginning this summer. Pachachi is an old-time Arab nationalist. The Kurds have been seeking an up-front commitment to an ethnic Kurdish enclave or super-province in the north.
Weisman, interestingly, also reveals that the CPA has given up on trying to privatize Iraq’s public sector companies. In part, it just doesn’t have time to see the project through any more; in part, the security situation does not encourage investment; and in part, there have been no buyers because the legality of the US occupying power selling off Iraqi companies is in doubt (it violates the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention), and potential buyers fear legal challenges once the Americans leave.
I have been a critic of the US occupying authority’s meddling in the Iraqi economy that way, and am pleased to see that realities on the ground got in the way of it going forward. My guess is that, in fact, serious economic and other reform won’t effectively take place until free and fair general elections have been held and something like a truly representative government has been achieved.
One gets the sense that the CPA has suddenly headed off in a totally new direction, like a Vin Diesel movie where the driver manipulates clutch, emergency brake and steering wheel to pull of a 180 degree “bootleg” turn. All the attention seems to be on making a transition to Iraqi self-rule ASAP and getting out of the business of civil administration within months. Make no mistake, this reversal is a sign of a major political defeat. The CPA came in last May determined to “impose” its “will on the Iraqis,” and to rule directly for years. The low-grade guerrilla war and the obvious political mobilization of even the friendly populations clearly put paid such ambitions. And the neo-imperialists were arguing that the US should be an empire in the old British mold! The only British Indian administration that looked like this was Mountbatten’s (and it wasn’t pretty). I only hope that Mr. Bremer, unlike Mountbatten, can set things up so as to avoid a bloody Partition. One worries about where Kirkuk had been going before the US military stepped in this weekend. What will happen when they are not around to step in.