Iraqi Kurds grateful for U.S. presence
By Roopa Gogineni
CHARLESTON, West Virginia, — In early August,
I traveled overland from Turkey into Iraqi
Kurdistan. Shortly after I left the region, Turkey
launched airstrikes against suspected Kurdish
insurgent bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. These were in
response to a previous attack on Turkish forces by
the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), designated as a
terrorist organization by the U.S. The bombings in
Kurdistan have killed several civilians.
These attacks remind of us of the precarious
autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish people,
numbering nearly 30 million, are a nation without a
state. Most Kurds reside in the Middle East and
represent significant minority populations in Iraq,
Turkey, Syria and Iran. Iraqi Kurdistan, composed of
the three northernmost regions of Iraq, is
administered by a separate regional government
recognized by the 2005 Iraqi constitution. It is the
closest the Kurds have come to self-rule. The
stability and growth seen in Iraqi Kurdistan stands
in sharp contrast to continued unrest in the rest of
Iraq, but this peace is now under threat.
As we near the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, there
will undoubtedly be much critical reflection on the
wars it brought. Traveling in Kurdistan, I saw for
the first time in all my Middle Eastern travels, a
people thankful for American intervention in Iraq.
Kurdish fighters, known as the Peshmerga, fought
alongside U.S. soldiers and the coalition of the
willing in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Gogineni is a freelance journalist from Charleston.
She recently completed a master's degree in African
studies at the University of Oxford and will be
based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Portraits of George W. Bush hang in homes next to
those of Massoud Barzani, the current president of
the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, and Jalal Talabani, the
Kurdish president of Iraq.
One afternoon in the town of Amadiya, I snuck into
an alleyway to eat a peach. I was traveling during
Ramadan and took care to not eat or drink in public.
A man appeared from a doorway and I quickly threw
the half-eaten fruit behind me. Ayad spoke no
English, but he motioned for me to follow him.
I spent the afternoon with his wife and five
children. Their home was large; each child had a
bedroom, and air-conditioning blew throughout the
house. The family's income is subsidized by monthly
reparations -- all three of Ayad's brothers were
murdered by Saddam Hussein's regime during the
genocidal Al-Anfal campaign in the late 1980s.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds lost their
lives at the hands of Saddam and his cousin Ali
Hassan al-Majid, nicknamed "Chemical Ali" for his
use of chemical weapons. Upon learning that I was
American, nearly every Kurd I met mentioned the role
the U.S. played in bringing down Saddam and the
Another striking feature of the region is its
booming growth. Iraqi Kurdistan is oil-rich,
controlling 17 percent of the country's reserves.
Its relative stability is now attracting heavy
foreign investment. The capital city Erbil is
beginning to resemble Dubai,www.ekurd.netwith
sprawling shopping malls and high-rise hotels. The
economic development has been made possible by Iraqi
Kurdistan's status as an autonomous region. It is
free from the insecurity caused by the Iraq War.
In the four days I spent in Kurdistan, I was offered
a home to sleep in every night. I did not pay for a
single meal, despite my protests. I am not sure
whether this hospitality was extended to me because
I was American, but I suspect this was at least
partly the reason.
U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has largely
failed, but there are some redeeming outcomes. The
story of Iraqi Kurdistan is one such success, but
the friendship of Iraqi Kurds is not unconditional.
As U.S. troops pull out of Iraq, the Kurds will be
less protected. In the face of continued
interference by Turkey and Iran, their fate in Iraq
is tied to the fate of Kurds in the greater region,
and the United States cannot afford to remain silent
on the issue.
Gogineni is a freelance journalist from
Charleston. She recently completed a master's degree
in African studies at the University of Oxford and
will be based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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