“Betrayed by the second Bush,” was how Iraqi Kurds reacted to the latest American moves in Iraq. In a trice, they pulled their fighting men out the New Iraqi Army, depriving the force of its toughest core units
The Kurds recalled with bitterness the aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1991 when President George Bush senior backed out of his promise to come to the aid of the Kurds if they rose up against Saddam Hussein. Left to fight alone without air cover, the Kurdish peshmerga were roundly defeated and many were put to death.
Now George Bush the younger is accused of letting the Kurds down again on two scores: 1.They were denied top posts in the provisional Iraq government and 2. An earlier guarantee for Kurdish autonomy was left out of the UN Security resolution approving Iraq’s sovereignty.
Some officials in Washington and the US administration in Baghdad suggested the Kurds would accept the new reality after they cooled down. It was also said in some quarters that the Kurds, with some exceptions, were about as reliable as shifting sands. Others pointed to Jalal Talabani‘s close ties with Tehran as a liability and noted that an Iranian delegation visited Irbil last week. There was general agreement in American official circles that the Kurds are practical people and what they are basically after is control of Kirkuk and a reasonable slice of revenue from northern Iraq’s oil fields.
These objectives, it was said, were the underlying purpose of the sharp letter Talabani and Masoud Barzani wrote to President Bush on June 1.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington and Kurdish sources accept that Iraq’s Kurds may eventually get what they are after, especially a share in oil revenues. But in the short term, the friction between Irbil and Washington is having a damaging effect on US plans to hand over sovereignty and security to the new Iraqi government.
For when the two Kurdish leaders received no reply from the White House to their letter they took radical action. They ordered Kurdish militiamen about to join the New Iraqi Army to go home and those already enlisted to quit their units and return to Kurdistan to join the new united Kurdish force which will go under the name of the Kurdish Border Guard.
This was a serious let-down for the Americans who are in the middle of establishing an Iraqi Army of 34 battalions, each with responsibility for a different region of the country. Its tasks will be to fight the Baathist guerrillas and help the local Iraqi police force maintain law and order.
The Kurds were to have put up about 7,000 men for this 22,000-man army. Without the Kurds, the new force will hardly be able to shoulder its tasks.
To make it clear that the withdrawal was final, Talabani and Barzani informed the new Iraqi government and the US administration in Baghdad that the Kurds are happy to do without an Iraqi military presence in their region. Indeed no Iraqi soldier will be allowed to set foot in any part of Kurdistan including the Iraq-Iran border zone. Security will be upheld by Kurdish troops serving under the Kurdish flag.
However inadvertently, the Kurds’ timing was spot on. Their message was delivered just as the US president was briefing the G-8 leaders in Georgia on the New Iraqi Army. It coincided with the outbreak of a major row between Army Maj. Gen. E Eaton, who has just ended a year assembling and training the country’s 200,000 army and civil defense troops, and deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Eaton admitted the Iraqi military he had trained was not ready to take over. He blamed the lack of progress on the unexplained delay in forwarding the $275 million budget from Washington. Wolfowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday June 9 that it was a bad mistake to send Iraqi units to Fallujah to fight guerrillas in April as they were not sufficiently trained and it was not their job. That is why many of them deserted.
Whatever the rights of the argument, the pullout of Kurdish troops from the new army leaves the Americans in the lurch and will sharpen the dispute.