2004 01 14
[Safire on Iraq]
Two questions about Safire’s least loony column in a long time.
First, Safire writes:
The U.S. is committed to helping to build a unified Iraq, with no path to secession, and with representation based on geography, not ethnicity. The Kurds, a 20 percent minority in Iraq, are committed only to autonomy within a federal Iraq: they refrain from declaring independence, but require constitutional and security guarantees that they will not be tyrannized again.
Says who? Why does the U.S. get to make that call? As a Canadian who not too long ago faced the very real prospect of seeing his country break up, I can tell you that separation is an emotional, complex issue. And Safire is mistaken about long-term Kurdish goals, I suspect. I would not be surprised to see strong support for the succession option once the U.S. is out of the way. There aren’t any easy answers here. But it seems arrogant and hubristic for American commentators to be making these calls.
Second, Safire writes:
The key is the city of Kirkuk, which Iraqi Kurds consider their capital. But Arab colonists and indigenous Turkmen dispute that hotly, as does Turkey, worried about a rich Kurdistan attracting Turkish Kurds. Kirkuk sits atop an ocean of oil holding 40 percent of Iraq’s huge reserves.
Two factual questions here: First, my impression was that Kirkuk (and the surrounding area) did have a substantial Arab population in the region for a long time – it’s just that Saddam Hussein’s Arabization policies aggressively tipped the balance against the Kurds. So if I’m right about that, it’s very simplistic to claim that all the Arabs currently living in Kirkuk are “colonists”. (And I’ve long ago given up hope that the Times fact checkers would be allowed anywhere near Safire’s column.) The second factual question has to do with oil: I had Safire’s impression that Kirkuk was sitting on lots of oil. But Juan Cole keeps downplaying the significance of Iraq’s Northern oil reserves. What gives? Does anyone know for sure? What are the estimated extraction costs (the singlemost important thing to know about oil reserves) in the North as compared to the South?