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June 22, 2006
Kurds Show Why Saddam Had To Go

While the rest of Iraq continues to show marked progress towards self-reliance and security, even in the Sunni Triangle, one portion of Iraq has already transformed itself into a remarkable area of freedom and stability. The Kurdish areas of the north have blossomed since the end of the Saddam Hussein regime, expanding their cities and rapidly modernizing through significant capital investment and reliable security. The left-wing British newspaper The Independent reports on how the Kurds have delivered on the promise of liberation:

The struggle of the Iraqi Kurds for self-determination has been longer and bloodier than that of any nationalist movement outside Vietnam. It began under the British in the 1920s when "Bomber" Harris, later the commander of the air offensive against Germany, practised his art against Kurdish villages. Setting the tone for Baghdad's treatment of the Kurds over the rest of the century, he wrote with approval in 1924: "They now know that within 45 minutes, a full-size village can be practically wiped and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured."

Saddam Hussein proved an apt pupil. He imprisoned or forced hundreds of thousands of Kurds to flee when their independence movement collapsed in 1975 after being treacherously abandoned by the Shah of Iran and the US. Repression of the four or five million Iraqi Kurds reached a peak of cruelty and violence in the late 1980s: Saddam Hussein's forces slaughtered 182,000 of them and destroyed 3,800 of their villages as he crushed another uprising during the Iran-Iraq war. ...

Three years later it is far less nerve-racking to travel to Arbil, the Kurdish capital, than Baghdad. Its newly built airport is already overstretched, with 60 to 70 flights a week to and from Europe and the rest of the Middle East. When I flew there from Amsterdam last month my main anxiety was loss of my luggage as the small airport tried to cope with the influx of passengers. It was all very different from Baghdad, where the burnt-out cars used by suicide bombers lie beside the airport road.

At first, Arbil, the world's oldest inhabited city with a population of about a million, appears normal compared with the rest of Iraq. New houses and apartment blocks are being built across the city. People drive late at night without worrying about curfews. The lawn of the main International Hotel, invariably called the Sheraton, is covered with tables crowded with diners listening to live music.

It takes a little time to realise that not everything is quite as seems. My hotel, for instance, had more than a dozen flags, including those of Brazil and Morocco, fluttering from poles outside its main door. Few visitors noticed that the only flag missing was that of Iraq, the country in which the hotel is standing.

For those who scoff at the claims of Saddam's genocide, this should provide food for thought. Patrick Cockburn knows firsthand the depravities of Saddam's decades-long war of attrition against the Kurds. The one attack most referenced is the gas attack against the civilians of Halabja that left 5,000 men, women, and children dead and many more maimed and ill. That amounts to 3% of all the deaths attributed to Saddam's attacks on the Kurds, just in the 1980s. Halabja still stands, but Saddam leveled an amazing three thousand, eight hundred villages and towns during the same time, when the Kurds attempted to repel Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war.

When Slobodan Milosevic attempted the same ethnic cleansing on a similar scale, Europe demanded a military solution to stop it.

The Kurds had survived the era of the No-Fly Zone in better shape than some might have thought. They have their own divisions, yet united to set themselves apart as much as possible from the Saddam regime for the last twelve years that the UN dithered on his status. Since 2003, however, they have positively flourished. While Cockburn overestimates their power in the new Iraqi government -- which was crafted as a unity government, after all -- the fact that they have any political power at all comes as a historical singularity for the Kurdish people. Economically, they have made their area of Iraq into a model for the rest of the nation, attracting all sorts of capital investment and even starting a burgeoning tourist trade.

The Kurds stuck with the West, trusting in our eventual realization that Saddam wanted to do nothing more than retrun to slaughtering the ethnic minority in Northern Iraq that had opposed him for so long. Their survival and their revival comes from the liberation from one of the most genocidal dictators of the latter 20th century, a man who modeled himself after Stalin and would have continued his legacy had we not acted to remove him.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 22, 2006 11:29 AM

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