For Iraqis, A Promise Is in Peril

By Masrour Barzani, the director of the Intelligence and Security Agency of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq and a high-ranking member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (THE WASHINGTON POST, 20/12/06):

The Iraq Study Group's recommendations will accomplish nothing in Iraq. Its expressions of "gratitude" to those of us Iraqis who fought on the battlefield for freedom and liberty ring hollow. The report ignores our accomplishments, dreams and sacrifices in favor of a concern for those whose ultimate goal is the destruction of democracy.

Our federal constitution, which the majority of the Iraqi people voted for, is treated flippantly, as though it were a negotiable document rather than the hard-fought result of lengthy negotiation among those willing to participate in the new Iraq. Further, the study group's approach is driven by the concerns of the countries in this region rather than by the concerns of the Iraqi people.

Many Iraqis, especially the Kurds, are justifiably concerned about this. No one from the study group visited Iraqi Kurdistan, which the group admits is safe and pro-American, and where there has not been a single U.S. casualty since the war. Kurds not only fought alongside Americans but lost some of our best men to American friendly-fire incidents. Yet we staunchly support the work of the coalition and are eternally grateful for the sacrifices the American people have made for our future.

The report is right to acknowledge that part of the problem in Iraq is America's inability to distinguish friend from foe. Unfortunately, Baker-Hamilton fares even worse in this regard. This comes as little surprise, since it was partly written by those who orchestrated the saving of Saddam Hussein in 1991.

To call upon Iraq's neighbors, which have chosen Iraq as a place to fight the United States, is a grave mistake. Seeking their participation would inevitably backfire. They would not only contribute to the instability within the country but would implement agendas in direct contradiction to America's occupation goals.

The plan would reward regimes that have undermined the U.S. effort at every turn. Iraq would fall under the regional powers, and the Iraqi people would come out the losers. Any vacancy left in Iraq by the coalition forces before Iraq is ready to stand on its own would be filled by those opposed to democracy. American credibility would dissipate, and any chance for success in Iraq would evaporate. If this comes to pass, hopes for real democracy in the Middle East will be history. The regional powers that border us have an interest in keeping us weak and divided.

Once again Kurds are about to be sold out. Should the U.S. administration adopt the recommendations of Baker-Hamilton, the Kurds will be sacrificed to protect the interests of Iraq's neighbors. We were massacred in 1975 and 1991 by Saddam Hussein because we thought that our commitment to democracy and tolerance made us natural U.S. allies. We responded then, as we did four years ago, to American calls for the introduction of a new era in the region. Like Americans, we dream of a better future for our children, one in which they can grow up without deformities caused by chemical attacks on our villages.

It is true we fly Kurdish flags. This is yet another similarity we have with Americans, who are proud not only of their country but also of the accomplishments and unique identities of their states. The harbinger of successful democracy in the United States was the willingness of its founders to recognize the particular interests of states and to craft a constitution to safeguard their rights. Baker-Hamilton would deny Iraqis the same rights and thus doom our efforts to construct a system in Iraq that protects all its citizens. It would strip Kurdistan of rights it has negotiated with the central government to protect it from abuses like those it has suffered in the past. We should not forget that over-centralization has been a disaster for the Iraqi people.

Iraq's constitution should be treasured. Iraq's neighbors should not be allowed to violate our sovereignty. Democracy and federalism are the popularly chosen basis of the new Iraq. Never again should Kurdish wealth be stolen to finance genocide against the Kurdish people.

While Kurds welcome American troops into their homes, Baker-Hamilton proposes that the United States revise its policies to meet the demands of those firing at its soldiers. According to the study group, we are all part of "a problem" that needs fixing, and we are equally unworthy of America's protection.

Don't sell us out to our authoritarian neighbors and those who are terrorizing our communities. We agreed democratically to participate in this project because we were guaranteed the rights needed to protect our people. We Kurds are asking President Bush and America to remember the sacrifices we have made to keep your loved ones safe in Iraq. We are asking you to keep a promise where those before you have failed.