Its Own Independent Airline

A German commercial flight from Frankfurt to the new Harir International Airport in Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Monday, March 7, will show the world that a new Kurdish state is taking wing.

For the first time, a passenger airliner entering Iraqi air space after flying over Israel and Jordan will veer north instead of continuing along the regular international air route to Baghdad International Airport. On the dot of the hour of the airliner’s take-off from Frankfurt, a chartered flight painted in the national colors of Kurdistan will ascend from the newly inaugurated Harir international airport and head for Germany, inaugurating Kurdish National Airlines.

The air link underscores the degree to which Kurdistan and its leaders, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, have taken to behaving as though their autonomous province has already arrived as a fully independent, sovereign state. Ironically, Talabani is slated to become Iraq’s president, which would make him the first individual in history to serve as head of state of a nation whose integrity he does not truly recognize and from which his ethnic homeland is effectively seceding.

As international flights, first from Europe and then the United States, begin to touch down daily at Harir, the Kurds’ dependence on Baghdad to link them to the outside world will disappear. As of March 7, Kurdish politicians, top brass and businessmen will no longer need to go through the Iraqi capital to fly abroad. They will fly directly out of Irbil.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources, the Kurds’ unrestrained demonstrations of independence are making some involved outsiders, especially the Americans, uneasy. Bursting with national pride, Kurdish leaders see nothing wrong in reversing Saddam Hussein’s Arabization of Kirkuk and other Kurdish towns and dismiss any notion that the Iraqi state has anything important to offer the Kurds. They have already embarked on disturbing steps on what they regard as their fast track to independence.


Forcibly displacing Sunni Arabs


This is the bloodless deportation of thousands of Sunni Arabs from Mosul in the north and the oil city of Kirkuk. The deportees are being forced to pack up their belongings and move west into the Sunni regions north of Baghdad. According to our sources, the Kurds have captured half of what was once the Kurdish sector of Mosul, stopping at the water line, the left bank of the Tigris River. (See DEBKA Special Map of Kurdistan attached to this article)

Kurdish political leaders in Irbil and military commanders in Mosul are saying outright that the best thing the Americans ever did in Iraq was to conquer Fallujah. The city, largely destroyed by fierce battles, once had a population of 300,000. Only 60,000-70,000 residents have returned and they are living in dire conditions.

“We should have done the same thing in Mosul,” one leading Kurd said. “But we stopped.” According to the Kurds, Iraq’s interim prime minister Iyad Allawi asked them to capture the entire city but they refused.

The situation is different in Kirkuk, where the Kurds – neighborhood-by-neighborhood and house-by-house – are forcing the Sunnis to leave.

It works this way: two or three Kurds show up outside a Sunni house, measure its area and courtyard and leave without saying a word. Next morning, a larger group, eight to 10 Kurds burst into the home, ignoring protests from the householders If by the third day the family has not begun to pack, the Kurdish “guests” begin to get angry. By the end of the week, if the Sunnis have not been frightened into departing, power and water are cut off.

Things are less refined in remote villages, where no such grace period is allowed by the impatient Kurds.

The Sunni families have no protection.

Talabani and Barzani reached a secret agreement with Shiite leaders, including the powerful cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, under which no Iraqi military police, security or intelligence force will set foot in Kurdistan for the time being. Once Iraq’s armed forces are trained and ready to take over security responsibilities for the country, the Kurds will discuss their deployment in Kurdistan. The Kurds and Shiites are perfectly aware that this is a lengthy proposition despite US efforts to build a viable Iraqi army and assurances by American defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld that this force will be ready in 18 months to two years.

The Sunni Muslims are not suffering alone. Our sources in Irbil report that in the early days of the Kurdish drive to push them out, similar strong-arm tactics were used against Iraq's Turkomen, especially in Kirkuk.

But two weeks ago, Talabani and Barzani ordered their musclemen to leave the Turkomen peace following an astonishing development revealed in the next article.

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