The Future of Kurdistan in Iraq

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9780812238709: The Future of Kurdistan in Iraq

On March 19, 2003, the United States, the United Kingdom and a "coalition of the willing" invaded the Republic of Iraq. But one part of that state, Kurdistan, was already free from Saddam's B'athists. It was autonomous but not formally independent. The Future of Kurdistan in Iraq collects expert contributions on the consequences of the overthrow of Saddam's regime for the Kurds and the other peoples of Kurdistan.

The bulk of the published literature in English on the Kurds and Kurdistan has been historical or anthropological. This volume is the first in any language to address in detail the constitutional politics of Kurdistan's relations with the rest of Iraq, and Kurdistan's future constitutional options. The essays are innovative and contain detailed analysis and description. They evaluate how the relations between Kurdistan and predominantly Arab Iraq might—and should—be remade in a state marred by the legacies of genocide, ethnic expulsion, and coercive assimilation.

The volume includes contributions from political scientists, constitutional lawyers, regional experts, and Kurdistan's international constitutional advisory team and opens with a historical overview. The viewpoints present analyses of the Transitional Administrative Law of Iraq and Kurdistan's preferred vision of a pluri-national federation, of appropriate lessons from Canadian federative history, of the constraints facing the negotiators of Iraq's permanent constitution, and of the status of children in constitutional renewal. Essays on past failures for Kurdistan's autonomy, on Kurdish hopes and fears before the March 19 war, on Kurdistan's internal divisions, and on its external relations with Turkey give needed historical background to the debates. Contemporary pieces appraise mistakes made in the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and analyzes what Kurdistan's negotiators seek to have inserted in the negotiation of the Transitional Administrative Law and will want in any permanent constitution of Iraq. The "Postscript: Vistas of Exit from Baghdad" updates readers, and scans benign and malign scenarios for Kurdistan.

Also published in Kurdish and Arabic, this volume is the first in any language to address in detail the constitutional politics of Kurdistan's relations with the rest of Iraq, and Kurdistan's future constitutional options. Its authoritative contributors include political scientists, lawyers, and regional experts, and the three members of Kurdistan's international constitutional advisory team who assisted in preparation for the negotiation of the Transitional Administrative Law, and in preparation of the design of the electoral law of Iraq and Kurdistan.

Containing informed and constructive analysis, practical and fair prescriptions, this collection will interest all general readers who have followed the Iraq War, and will be especially useful to teachers, students, and public officials working in international relations, constitutional law, and the political science of national and ethnic conflicts.

Contributors: Ofra Bengio, Karna A. J. Eklund, Peter W. Galbraith, Michael M. Gunter, John McGarry, Molly McNulty, Brendan O'Leary, Khaled Salih, Gareth Stansfield, Karin von Hippel, Sophia Wanche, Paul R. Williams.

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About the Author:

Brendan O'Leary is Lauder Professor of Political Science and Director of the Program in Ethnic Conflict at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author, coauthor, or coeditor of fourteen books, including Right-Sizing the State: The Politics of Moving Borders. He served in Kurdistan as a constitutional advisor to the Kurdistan National Assembly and Regional Government during 2004. John McGarry is Canada Research Chair in Nationalism and Ethnicity, Queen's University, Kingston, Canada. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including Minority Nationalism and the Changing International Order (with Michael Keating). Khaled Salih, born in Sulaimania, Kurdistan, is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Southern Denmark. A specialist in Middle East politics, he was a consultant for the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council, served in Kurdistan as a constitutional advisor to the Kurdistan National Assembly and Regional Government, and is currently Adviser to the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1
The Denial, Resurrection, and Affirmation of Kurdistan
Brendan O'Leary and Khaled Salih

"Nature knows neither an equality of individuals nor an equality of nations; equality is a creation of law and its greatest benefit for those subject to it."—Karl Renner (1918)
"There is no such place as Kurdistan"

In January 2004, one of us traveled from the city of Erbil, known in Kurdish as Hewlêr, the site of the Kurdistan National Assembly, into the Republic of Turkey to begin a journey to London. The border checkpoint is at Ibrahim Khalil in Kurdish, or Habur in Turkish. By prior agreement, he was not required to go through the usual rigors of inspection by the Turkish military, who are usually more discourteous, inquisitorial, and disobliging than the conventional border police and visa inspectors. No such luck awaited another traveler, a professional consultant who held a U.S. passport and had hitched a ride in the same vehicle. As he later explained in Diyarbakir airport, situated in what is officially southeastern Turkey, a predominantly Kurdish region, he had been detained for two hours. Two military officials had instructed the consultant, in English, to open and switch on his laptop computer, but not, as he initially surmised, as an instance of now routine international security procedures. Instead, they ordered him to use the "find facility" on his computer to search for the word "Kurdistan." To their evident satisfaction and feigned dismay, the term occurred in a number of the consultant's Microsoft Word documents. "There is no such place as Kurdistan," one of the soldiers declaimed. He repeated this assertion throughout the interview—despite the fact that, within two hundred meters of the unofficial hut where such interviews are conducted, there is a public sign, in English, Kurdish, and Arabic, that welcomes visitors to "Iraqi Kurdistan." The soldier ordered the consultant to replace every instance of "Kurdistan" in his laptop computer files with what he insisted was the "correct" expression: "northern Iraq." When this renaming was completed to his satisfaction, the soldier himself hit the "save" key. Thus the existential denial of Kurdistan was locally accomplished through an act of definitional extermination. Listeners to this story, after making the usual acknowledgments of Turkey's human rights record, immediately question the perversity of the officials: "Won't the consultant now be much more sympathetic to Kurdistan than before?" The technically minded insist on the futility of hitting the "save" key: "Once the consultant had his laptop back home, won't he just re-replace 'northern Iraq' with 'Kurdistan'?" These interrogations are entirely sensible, but they miss one of the points of this exercise. Turkish officialdom, especially its military, must keep itself in denial of Kurdistan, lest the state's founding ideas be jeopardized. These officials are saying their secular prayers, rooting out the secular heresy of Kurdistan.

Turkish officials are quite distinctive in presently insisting that there is no such place as Kurdistan; but they have never been entirely isolated in insisting there should be no such entity. The denial of Kurdistan's existence was normal, and normalized, throughout much of the twentieth century. Some Arab politicians on the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), and some American intellectuals who jointly counseled against an "ethnic federation" in 2002-2004, were not the first to seek to deny Kurdistan, great or small. "Greater Kurdistan," which encompasses the lands where Kurds predominated within jurisdictions of the Ottoman and Persian empires, is the dream of the Kurdish nation. This vision had a fleeting moment of partial political realization after World War I (McDowall 2000, 115-50; Edmonds 1957). One of its possible configurations, as presented to Woodrow Wilson by a Kurdish representative at Paris, is shown in Figure 1.1. Other visions of Greater Kurdistan in Figure 1.1. usually portray a state with a Mediterranean port and a fat crescent-shaped swath of land running from southeastern Anatolia to the Zagros Mountains. Carving out such a nation-state would have had a dramatic impact on its neighbors.

This geopolitical reality explains both the power of "Greater Kurdistan" and the fears the idea generated. It was not to be. In the decisive interval between the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and the Treaty of Sèvres (1920), which reflected the nadir of Turkish fortunes, and the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which registered Atatürk's successful revival of Turkish power, Greater Kurdistan was politically eliminated. Article 62 of the Treaty of Sèvres had envisaged "a scheme of local autonomy for the predominantly Kurdish areas," and Article 64 specified that within a year "the Kurdish peoples" within this scheme would have had the right to petition the League of Nations for "independence from Turkey." Instead, Kurdistan was partly digested by two independent rumps of former empires, Iran and Turkey. This was no historic surprise, because Kurdistan and its peoples comprised "march lands," mountains, and frontier tribes that for centuries had passed back and forth between Persian and Turkish overlords. But now, two additional newcomers dined on the body of Kurdistan, territorial constructions of empires new to the region: French-mandated "Syria" and British-mandated "Iraq" (Mufti 1996).

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's remarkable reconstruction of the rump of the downsized Ottoman Empire was ratified in the Treaty of Lausanne. It codified the defeat of the territorial ambitions of Greeks, Italians, and Armenians, as well as the plans of the French and the British. It extinguished Greater Kurdistan from the world's official maps. Greater Kurdistan is remembered, however, in the longings and banners of Kurds, especially Kurds of the diaspora, and in the nightmares of its potential neighbors. Greater Kurdistan haunts the states of west Asia in the way the idea of Poland once stalked the powers of eastern Europe: the Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns, and Czars. To stamp out the idea of Greater Kurdistan, the states which incorporated Kurdish populations have adopted the full gruesome repertoire of available strategies: genocide, ethnic expulsion, territorial partition, coercive assimilation, and hierarchical control aimed at disorganizing Kurds and organizing those who feel threatened by them.

Whether Greater Kurdistan will be resurrected just as Poland rematerialized after two world wars is not something anyone, including the authors represented in this book, can presume to know. But the mere idea that it might still matters. It is a "thought-stopper" that inhibits Turkish, Syrian, and Iranian politicians from reconstituting their regimes to make "their Kurds" feel at home. Although the realization of Greater Kurdistan was snuffed out in 1923, the idea often resurfaced in the successive eruptions of "little Kurdistans" in the twentieth century. Various Kurdish movements achieved these liberated territories through military self-help and political struggle. Some Kurds sought an autonomous Kurdistan under the British mandate in Iraq and fought for that objective in the 1920s, only to be defeated by Britain's Royal Air Force and the British-trained armed forces of the Iraqi monarchy. Ismail Agha Simko organized Kurdish resistance to Reza Shah's Iran in the 1920s. After World War II, in December 1945, the "Mahabad Republic," a Kurdish "people's government," was proclaimed in western Iran under the aegis of Qazi Mohammed and the generalship of Mustafa Barzani. It lasted almost a year, until its erstwhile leader, his brother, and his cousin were hanged by the government of the Shah after the Soviet Union decided to leave Iran within Britain's sphere of influence.

"Little Kurdistans" kept appearing despite Iraq's, Iran's, Turkey's, and Syria's nation-building programs. In the 1960s, peshmerga, "those who face death," sought, fought, and eventually won an autonomy settlement from Iraq's successive republican governments, including the Ba'thists. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Mustafa Barzani organized the initiative. "Iraqi Kurdistan" had a precarious status between 1970 and 1974, and was crushed when Saddam betrayed the promises he had made. In 1975 Iraq made a deal with the Shah of Iran that was endorsed by U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Giving realpolitik a bad name, the U.S. and Iran betrayed Barzani and the KDP, which they had been funding. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Kurds of Iraq regrouped now under two parties, the KDP, led by Masoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Jalal Talabani. During the Iran-Iraq war they fought Saddam. In the 1990s, the Kurds of Turkey gave extensive support to Abdullah Ocalan's ferocious PKK (the Kurdistan Workers Party) in an exceptionally bloody war that the state's military won after releasing itself from the limited restraints of Turkey's laws.[ . . . ]

The Hashemite monarchy was destroyed in the July 1958 revolution. In the republican decade before the Ba'th coup, serious divisions and rivalries among Arab politicians and military gave the KDP leverage in Iraqi politics, as communists, Iraqi patriots, Nasserites, and even Ba'thists successively wooed its leaders. Between 1958 and 1961, between 1965 and 1966, and in the early years of the second Ba'th regime, Kurds briefly won formal concessions on language rights, recognition as a constituent co-nationality in the provisional constitution, and promises of decentralization or territorial autonomy. Implementation was another matter. The very weakness of the Arab leaders willing to make deals with the Kurds led them to backtrack when concessions led to dissent or anger within their Arabist constituencies. But even after the Ba'thists returned to power in 1968 they tried to accommodate the Kurds, both in central government ministries and through far-reaching offers of autonomy in 1970. These efforts were, of course, undermined by their determination not to allow oil-rich Kirkuk become part of autonomous Kurdistan and by their deliberate efforts to take advantage of rivalries among Kurds.

The sustained weakness of the Iraqi state from 1920 until the high tide of Ba'thist ascendancy (1975-1990) created multiple opportunities for the emergence of Kurdish agendas and for a Kurdistan in "South Kurdistan." Iraqi leaders, interested in consolidating their power, found the idea of Kurdistan thinkable, negotiable, and even sensible. The political and administrative implications of an Iraqi Kurdistan, while unwelcome to Arabists, were not beyond the pale. Some would even contend that intra-Kurdish divisions contributed as much as Arab hostility to blocking the emergence of a functioning Kurdistan before the mid-1970s (that is how we read McDowall 2000). The emergence of Kurdistan after Saddam Hussein's defeat in the Kuwait war in 1991 was thus not an accident. It had its roots in the prior development of the state of Iraq. In 1992, Kurdistan's leaders were able to elect a National Assembly to sit in an Erbil parliament building. It had been commissioned by none another than Saddam Hussein, who had staffed it with collaborators.

The third answer to the question of why this Kurdistan emerged and has proved more durable than its historical precursors lies in the sustained organizational continuity of Kurdish nationalist groups within Iraq. Again, this is a comparative evaluation. No nation, manifest or latent, is a homogeneous monolith. Kurdistanis, like people of other nations, vary by dialect, region, and religion (Shi'a , Sunni, Feyli, Yezidi, Christian, and Jew). Kurdish society has urban-rural cleavages; in the recent past deep-rooted conflicts between landlords and peasants arose from monarchical Iraq's encouragement of an exploitative Kurdish agha class. Moreover, tribalism, factionalism, and splits correctly constitute the standard historical narratives of organized Kurdish nationalism. The traits these stories manifest have been the major internal obstacles to the creation of both Greater and lesser Kurdistans. Emphasis on the fissiparous nature of Kurdish organization is as common among observers of the Kurds today (Randall 1997; van Bruinessen 1992, 2003; McDowall 2000; Stansfield 2003) as it was during the early twentieth century (Edmonds 1957; Wilson 1930, 1931). This factionalism may be seen as rooted in the paradoxical but nonetheless intimate connection between particularistic "tribal" loyalties and universalistic "modern" nationalist ideologies. Anthropologically speaking, nomadism in a mountainous topography is conducive toward segmentary lineage systems, which in turn may facilitate both the generation of egalitarian warriors and the salience of kin and clan loyalties over statal dispositions (Gellner 1969, 1981, 1991, 1994a). The "tyranny of cousins" has certainly been part of Kurdish culture, along with fratricide, feuding, and fatuous divisions. The bewildering alphabet soup of historic Kurdish party organizations bears some semblance to the parody of left-wing national liberation movements in Monty Python's Life of Brian. Even today some Kurdish militants, on minimal evidence, are very quick to categorize outsiders as supporters of the KDP or the PUK, displaying a party sectarianism worthy of Mao's last disciples in Europe. Kurds of all classes, both sexes, and various age-cohorts tell outsiders that the disunity of Kurdish organizations, whether in the diaspora or within each of the host-states, makes the Kurds their own worst enemies. Being divided renders a people vulnerable to being ruled and further divided. Turkish, Iranian, Syrian, and Iraqi leaders have been adept at taking advantage of these divisions, through intrigue, funding, bribery, and assassination. Kurdish nationalist movements might be said to have two natural equilibrium conditions: no leaders, and too many leaders.

But it is precisely by these standards of disunity that the Kurds of Iraq have differed from Kurds elsewhere. They have been better organized both to conduct armed and political struggle and to nurture and maintain their constituency. Even their infighting has, in the end, been less crippling than have the conflicts among their counterparts. Mustafa Barzani, the first powerful leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), whether under house arrest or in exile in the Soviet Union, dominated the politics of the Kurds of Iraq from the 1930s until his death in Washington, D.C., in 1979. Even though his roots lay in tribal power configurations, which often adversely affected his conduct in the eyes of his critics, he nevertheless institutionalized his charismatic authority and achieved discipline, especially military discipline, among contentious Kurds. Many other Kurdish parties emerged among the Kurds of Iraq, most notably Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), but Barzani and his peers had pioneered an enduring organizational capability, especially party cadres and peshmerga, that all its potential rivals were obliged to emulate. In uneasy cooperation (and sometimes open conflict) with Ibrahim Ahmed and Jalal Talabani, Barzani led Kurds toward a post-tribal and modern nationalist politics.

From 1961 until 1975 Barzani and his peshmerga were occasi...

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