Will Kurdistan be an American Colony? by Dr Haytham Ahmad Mouzahem


Will Kurdistan be an American Colony?
Haytham Ahmad Mouzahem

1. The security agreement and US bases

On a visit to Baghdad on May 20, 2011 for meetings with Iraqi
political leaders, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint
Chiefs of Staff, had the task of discussing a delay of the withdrawal
of his country's troops from Iraq, casting some doubt on past promises
that all American forces would leave Mesopotamia by the end of 2011.
In this context, Iraqi Kurdish author Othman Ali's book The Future of
U.S.-Kurdish Relations: Will Kurdistan be an American base? seems
prescient; through his book, Ali describes what he claims are plans
for America to maintain a permanent presence in Iraq, under the guise
of either their embassy in the country - the largest in the world -
their bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, or other things. Ali points out in his
introduction that a number of reports surfaced in both the American
and Kurdish media during November and December of 2008 which pointed
to the possibility of the US establishing a permanent presence in the
Kurdish region of northern Iraq. When these same reports were picked
up by Arabic-language media in the Middle East, in many cases somewhat
sensationally, they seemed to confirm a long-standing suspicion among
many in the region that Iraqi Kurdistan would become an American
colony or, in other words, a second Israel in the Middle East.
The author looks at the issue through the lens of stated positions
taken by well-known American and Kurdish figures, and of their own
interests in the case. Ali asserts that in order to predict whether or
not Kurdistan will host one or more permanent American military
facilities, one needs to understand a number of issues related to US
interests. First, would the United States risk its relationship with
Turkey for the sake of a few bases in landlocked territory? Second,
would the United States prefer to build its bases in Iraqi Kurdistan,
as opposed to having a presence across Iraq? Finally, what would be
the political, economic, societal and moral implications of such US
bases in Kurdistan?

Ali also examines the extent of US-Iraqi relations, in particular the
November 2008 bilateral security agreement, which delineates the
strategic relationship between the two countries beyond security and
into realms such as investment, diplomacy and culture. There are no
secret clauses within that agreement, and its terms do not allow for
the presence of US forces in the country beyond 2011. According to a
number of observers, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's cabinet at
the time was keen on exploiting then-US President George W. Bush's
desire to finalize the security agreement as a way of sealing his
legacy. They sought, therefore, to impose some of their own
conditions, which were aimed at helping to assuage the anger of many
anti-American Arabs and some of Iraq's neighbors, especially Iran. As
the author argues, however, the United States invested too much blood
and treasure in Iraq for anyone to expect that it will simply walk
away without securing significant and lasting influence on the
country's domestic and foreign affairs for decades to come. In the
author's opinion, this outlook remains a driver for the US government
to use all means at its disposal in order to amend the security
agreement so that it creates space for a presence of American forces
in the future. Washington might even go so far, Ali warns, as to stoke
internal strife within Iraq, along sectarian and/or ethnic lines, in a
bid to weaken the country and sow divisions. Such a scenario might
then provide the impetus for the Iraqi government to revise the
security agreement and extend the presence of US troops.

Ali's conclusion, described above, is based on his reading of the
original US plans for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, including
the post-Saddam Hussein period, as well as his understanding of
previous foreign wars fought by the Americans. According to the
author, the American vision - one shared by many in the Obama
Administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice
President Joseph Biden - includes plans for 40,000-50,000 US troops to
remain in Iraq for a period of no less than 50 years.

Reports carried on May 13, 2007 by The Los Angeles Times newspaper and
The Associated Press news agency suggested that Bush foresaw a future
in which American soldiers would help preserve the stability of Iraq
in the long term, a mission along the lines of what the US military
has been doing in South Korea for more than half a century. According
to these reports, Bush appears to have believed that US troops would
no longer be called on for combat operations, but that they would
remain necessary to fend off threats and help protect against internal

New York Times journalist David Sanger elaborated on the parallels
with South Korea in an article titled "With Korea as Model, Bush Team
Ponders Long Support Role in Iraq" (New York Times, June 2, 2007).
"Administration officials and top military leaders declined to talk on
the record about their long-term plans in Iraq," Sanger wrote. "But
when speaking on a not-for-attribution basis, they describe a fairly
detailed concept. It calls for maintaining three or four major bases
in the country, all well outside of the crowded urban areas where
casualties have soared. They would include the base at Al Asad in
Anbar Province, Balad Air Base about 50 miles north of Baghdad, and
Tallil Air Base in the south." In the words of former US President
Jimmy Carter (in an interview with Larry King Live on CNN, February 5,
2006), "There are people in Washington ... who never intend to
withdraw military forces from Iraq and they're looking for ten, 20, 50
years in the future ... The reason that we went into Iraq was to
establish a permanent military base in the Gulf region, and I have
never heard any of our leaders say that they would commit themselves
to the Iraqi people that ten years from now there will be no military
bases of the United States in Iraq." The United States, it seems, has
traded in its former military bases in Saudi Arabia, which had to be
shut down to provide political cover for the 2003 invasion of Iraq,
for new ones in the latter. In the meantime, Qatar serves as a
logistics, command, and basing hub for the US Central Command
(CENTCOM) area of operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and
hosts the US Combat Air Operations Center for the Middle East.
Simultaneously, thousands of American soldiers remain based in Kuwait,
where they receive training within easy distance of both Iraq and
Qatar. Nonetheless, most infrastructure has already been moved to

In addition to this, White House planners set about constructing the
largest embassy on the planet when Iraqi militias plunged Baghdad into
a chaotic sectarian war. Plans for the USD 600 million compound called
for 21 buildings on 104 acres (41.6 hectares) in the heart of the
protected Green Zone, complete with its own supplies of electricity,
water and food. This massive complex is by far the largest in the
world. It will also be home to no fewer than 12,000 diplomats, spies,
guards, security contractors and foreigners ("third-country
nationals") working to service the residents of the American compound.

American thinking on this issue is driven by simple considerations:
the strategic stakes are very high. When we take history and the
importance of Middle Eastern oil into account, Iraq emerges as the
epicenter of the geopolitical struggle for control of the world's
energy resources. Basing his assertions on the performance of previous
US governments, Ali suggests that Washington would never leave a
country it has occupied without first guaranteeing for itself a
lasting foothold there. Examples of this behavior which Ali discusses
include the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba, which the United States
secured after its victory in the Spanish-American War (1898-1901);
extensive rights and facilities in the Philippines (also gained in the
Spanish-American War); Germany and Japan after the World War II; South
Korea after the Korean War; and the Gulf Arab states following the
Gulf War of 1991. In each of these cases, military victory paved the
way for permanent US bases which served long-term objectives.

Othman notes that the Obama Administration faces a difficult dilemma
with regard to this issue, particularly given the serious economic
pressures facing America, which already have undermined Obama's
ability to make good on his promises of change. Like any empire, the
author argues, the Americans need to establish "colonies" and military
forces in various locales to help impose and extend its own economic
model (in this case capitalism) and to guard the shipping lanes that
carry strategic energy supplies, i.e. oil and gas. When America's
occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan are viewed through this prism,
Ali asserts, Obama will not be able to face down the lobbies of both
the oil and the defense industries. Indeed, in a very clear break from
the pledges during his election campaign to withdraw American forces
from Iraq within 16 months, Obama announced on February 3, 2009 that
50,000 troops would remain positioned inside the country until the end
of 2011. Ali sees within this change of heart a return to the Bush
Doctrine, and the clear imprints of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. No
longer do senior American officials hide their belief that some forces
will remain in Iraq, even after this deadline, to assist the Iraqi
government in security matters and to protect US diplomats in Iraq.

According to Ali, the number of new US bases constructed in the past
two decades has surpassed any other period in history. The foremost
American military historian, Chalmers Johnson, had this to say about
the issue: "Our country deploys well over half a million soldiers,
spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in
other nations and just under a dozen carrier task forces in all the
oceans and seas of the world. We operate numerous secret bases outside
our territory to monitor what the people of the world, including our
own citizens, are saying, faxing, or e-mailing to one another." For
Johnson, the "war on terrorism" is just cover for imperialist
expansion. He wrote in his book Sorrows of Empire: "But the ‘war on
terrorism' is at best only a small part of the reason for all our
military strategizing. The real reason for constructing this new ring
of American bases along the equator is to expand our empire and
reinforce our military domination of the world."

Ali makes the point that while the media might highlight the stories
of how the American empire makes the world better for many people -
e.g. by freeing Afghan women from Islamic extremism, helping victims
of natural disasters in the Philippines, or protecting Kosovar
Albanians, Bosnian Muslims, or Iraqi Kurds from ethnic cleansing - the
same empire has let down Rwandans, Turkish Kurds and the Palestinians,
all of whom have suffered at the hands of US allies
2. Federalism: the division of Iraq?

Both Clinton and Biden have repeatedly expressed their preference, for
a decentralized, federal system for Iraq. Both former US Ambassador to
Iraq Peter Galbraith and the president emeritus of the Council on
Foreign Relations, Leslie Gelb, have also promoted the end of Iraq as
a unified country, arguing that the division of the country into
Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish statelets should be made easier. Ali
believes that this is not only about containing the fallout from what
is effectively an Iraqi civil war, but also about allowing the United
States to maintain the greatest possible authority and influence in
the region.
In his previous capacity as chairman of the influential Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, Biden suggested such a fate for Iraq numerous
times. His plan called for 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraqi
Kurdistan, and for additional forces to be stationed across other
parts of the country. Of course, Biden is also quite close to the
pro-Israel lobby in Washington, a lobby which would prefer any Iraqi
state to be weak, decentralized and fractured. Ali believes that the
most likely outcome at present is a renewed Iraqi civil war, arguing
that the Americans have worked to build institutions - both civilian
and military/security ones - which do not operate for the common
national good, instead being based on sectarian and ethnic groupings
and lacking Iraqi national consensus. Here, Ali points to the

The United States invested too much blood and treasure in Iraq for
anyone to expect that it will simply walk away without securing
significant and lasting influence on the country's domestic and
foreign affairs for decades to come.
" domination of the military and security forces by the Shia, and
their marginalization of Sunni Arabs. At the same time, the Americans
have set up so-called Awakening Councils and their "Sons of Iraq"
militias consisting of US-funded Sunni fighters, which have shown
themselves to be more loyal to their American military paymasters than
to the Iraqi government. Ali concludes that the efforts of Iraqi
politicians to work towards true national reconciliation have been too
few to produce tangible results. Similarly, Sunni Arabs have not shown
themselves prepared to accept Shiites and Kurds as equals, instead
clinging to a model of centralized rule which they inherited decades

Ali also stresses that politicians from both the Sunni and Shiite Arab
communities are more or less prepared to continue the policies of
former President Saddam Hussein with regard to the Kurdish question.
This they demonstrate through their refusal to implement Article 140
of the Iraqi Constitution, which would keep Kurdish-populated areas
within the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan, an article intended to
counter a policy adopted by Saddam and which is today relevant to the
question of Kirkuk. Kurds, for whom this is an important issue, have
lost their faith in Maliki's government because of its procrastination
and inability to solve the issue of Kirkuk. The corollary to this is
that both Arab and Turkmen Iraqis seem to think that the Kurds will
now use their newfound power to deprive other ethnic groups of their
own rights in the mixed regions in the north of the country, an
opinion that Ali sees as fueling an intensified hatred of the Kurds.
In his opinion, Kirkuk has now become a ticking time-bomb for communal
relations in Iraq, on par with Sarajevo in Bosnia, albeit with the
possible ramifications of a future civil war in Iraq being even worse.
The United States, in Ali's view, is fully aware of the situation of
Kirkuk and other similar time-bombs - and will not hesitate to make
use of these situations for the sake of prolonging its control of
Iraq. Absent an array of reasons compelling it to leave, he argues,
the United States will never relinquish command of at least a few
permanent positions in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The security agreement and US bases .1
Federalism: the division of Iraq? 2.
Turkish-American relations 3.
Kurdish-American relations: the question of US bases in Iraqi Kurdistan 4.
US bases in Kurdistan 5.
Conclusions of the study 6.
3. Turkish-American relations

The United States and Turkey built an incredibly close working
relationship over the 50 years following World War II, ties which
then-US President Bill Clinton described in 1999 as a "strategic
alliance". This relationship served the common interests of both
states. America, as a great power, furthered the interests of Turkey
around the globe by, for instance, defending it against Communism
throughout the Cold War, making it a local partner for the energy
corridor around the Caspian, and championing the Turkish case for
European Union membership. As a regional power, Turkey supported US
interests in the Caucasus, the Middle East and the Balkans. The
question posed by the author is: would Ankara continue to be
strategically important to the US without this support?
Some might argue that the United States no longer needs Turkey; what
is beyond doubt is that the United States no longer has the same
reasons to need Turkey as an ally as it did in the past. Soner
Cagaptay, a senior fellow and director of the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy's Turkish Research Program and a member of the
American-Turkish Friendship Council, predicts that Turkey will remain
significant to US interests in the long run. In Iraq for example,
Turkey will be able to provide peacekeeping forces and support the
reconstruction effort, aiding the cause of stabilizing that country.
Outside of the Middle East, Cagaptay argues that Turkey can further US
interests in the Caspian region, protecting American interests in an
area close to one of the world's largest reserves of oil. Washington
and Ankara also work together on a number of other issues, such as the
US-Israeli effort to fight "terrorism". Turkey's record in this regard
is quite extensive, including its involvement in such efforts in
Afghanistan, and its sharing of intelligence information with the
United States. So for these reasons - and also for moral and symbolic
ones related to the events of September 11, 2001, the United States
will continue to have a stake in the success of Turkey as a peaceful,
prosperous Muslim society.

There are many factors which would encourage the presence of permanent
American bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. Of all the factions in the Iraqi
political landscape, the Kurds are the most loyal to the Americans.
" Washington might need Turkey, but does Turkey need America? Cagaptay
thinks so. Turkey will need a world partner, especially since the
European Union will not be in a position to integrate the country in
the foreseeable future. Cagaptay points to Turkey's status as only a
regional player, with limited power outside its environment, which
needs America as an ally to protect its worldwide interests. Othman
Ali quotes a March 2007 Senate Foreign Relations Committee report to
assess the value of Turkey as a strategic partner to NATO. The report
notes that Turkey is the only NATO member to border Iran, Syria and
Iraq, as well as having hundreds of troops on Lebanese soil (as part
of UNIFIL), and continues to have strong ties to Israel; Turkey
remains vital to the provision of Europe and the United States with
energy resources (oil and gas) which do not have to come via the
troubled Middle East or Russia; Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan's
government also remains heavily engaged in the affairs of Afghanistan,
and is a useful opponent to any Iranian military nuclear program.
The report also makes much of Turkish help in Iraq. Many of the
supplies used by US forces in Iraq arrive there via Turkey, with
approximately three-quarters of airlifted cargo passing through
Incirlik Air Base. The document also describes US cooperation with
Turkey as evidence of the close relationship between them in
encouraging world peace and enhancing international security. This
reality led to US economic, logistical, and military support for
Turkish forces in their fight against the Kurdistan Workers' Party
(PKK) during 2007 and 2008; US officials even described the PKK as a
"terrorist organization" during a visit by Erdogan to Washington in
2007. At the time, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described
the United States and Turkey as having a "common enemy" in the PKK.

The enmity between the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani,
and Turkey has thus far been an obstacle to a proper US-Kurdish
alliance. Many Iraqi Kurdish officials view the question of
Turkish-American relations through the prism of a zero-sum game. As
far as they are concerned, the Unites States needs to choose between
Ankara and the Iraqi Kurdish capital, Erbil. Most of these officials
do not understand that these two separate relationships do not need to
be mutually exclusive. The authorities in Erbil often argue to
visiting American officials that the Kurdistan Regional Government
(KRG) in northern Iraq would be a better ally than Turkey for the
United States. Ali suggests that these protestations are evidence of
naivety on the part of Kurdish politicians when it comes to the
importance of Turkish-American relations, and to understanding that
the United States will always seek to balance the interests of two
allies who might have competing claims on its loyalty.

One example of this is America's maintenance of close alliances with
both Israel and Saudi Arabia; each country would like its own special
relationship to overpower the other's with Washington, but they both
accept that this won't happen. Barzani, on the other hand, does not
have such a nuanced understanding of affairs and seems intent on
forcing the Americans to choose between Erbil and Ankara; the Kurdish
leadership will be disappointed if he follows that through. The
evidence presented in the foregoing discussion reveals the depth of
Turkish-American relations, which it would be very difficult for the
United States to sacrifice for any other ally, not to mention a small,
isolated entity like the KRG.
4. Kurdish-American relations: the question of US bases in Iraqi Kurdistan

The possibility of a permanent US presence in Iraqi Kurdistan
attracted the attention of both American and regional media after the
overthrow of Saddam, and interest was further heightened during the
negotiations leading up to the security agreement between Washington
and Baghdad. Ali goes on to examine the picture of American-Kurdish
relations as it is painted by the statements of US and Kurdish
officials. The author demonstrates persuasively that the United States
has always regarded the Kurdish question as a secondary issue in the
Middle East when compared to its vast interests in Iraq, Iran and
Turkey - all of the countries with native Kurdish populations.
US policy in Iraq has not veered from this general trend, and never
will. US Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone, a career
diplomat, explained why during a lecture titled "Kurds in the Global
Arena" at American University's Center for Global Peace in April 2000,
when he was serving as the State Department's special coordinator for
the transition of Iraq. "We deal with Iraqi Kurds, as with all free
Iraqis, within the context of our policy toward Iraq," Ricciardone
said. "That policy is clear: We support the territorial integrity and
unity of Iraq as necessary for regional peace and stability. We would
oppose the creation of separate states or statelets either for the
Kurds or for any Iraqi ethnic or sectarian community"

American interests in the region have conflicted with those of the
Kurds for decades. US policy during the Cold War was shaped in 1947,
during Harry Truman's presidency, and centered on the containment of
Communism in Iran, Turkey and Iraq. This meant that the US government
would support the territorial integrity of these three states. The
Kurdish movement thus found itself in opposition to Washington's
policies. The Americans, meanwhile, began to view the Kurds as a
potential destabilizing agent for the Middle East which could be
exploited by the Soviet Union, if only intermittently. Massoud
Barzani's father Mustafa tried in vain to secure American support for
the Kurds, but US diplomats had received very clear instructions not
to openly hold discussions with Kurdish officials, so as not to harm
America's relations with those countries hosting Kurdish populations
(i.e. Iraq, Iran and Turkey). This Truman-era policy remained in place
until the Clinton presidency, with a short interlude between 1972 and
1975. Even Clinton and his predecessor, George H. W. Bush, refused to
officially accept any Kurdish visitors except as a part of Iraqi

The ties binding Barzani and the United States: 1972-1975

At the urging of the shah of Iran, the US government agreed to back
Barzani, who was then the leader of the Kurdish faction opposed to the
Iraqi regime. According to Henry Kissinger's memoirs, the US policy
was not driven by American imperatives, but rather as an attempt to
please a regional ally - in this care Iran - which was threatened by
the then-Soviet-allied Iraqi regime.

The American forces will stay put in Iraqi Kurdistan even after they
are removed from the southern and central parts of the country, with
George W. Bush already having implemented an infrastructure which
would allow for the deployment.
" This temporary financial support for the Kurds, which was
facilitated by Israel's Mossad and Iran's Savak intelligence services,
was based on purely realistic, pragmatic considerations which were the
hallmark of the Nixon-Kissinger era. Yet once the shah signed the
Algiers Agreement with then-Vice President Saddam in March 1975,
Barzani quickly found himself discarded by the Americans, and
displaced from his 50-year reign as the leader of the Peshmerga. Ali
dwells at length on this period, and draws on many of the details to
show how the shah used the Kurdish movement as pawns against Iraq; how
the shah ended all support for them in line with the agreement
brokered in Algeria; and how America turned its back on Barzani's
hopes. The Kurds held on to the fantasy that America would be their
savior in the struggle against a then-Soviet-backed Iraqi regime. In
fact, unclassified CIA reports indicate that the Soviets had been
trying to urge the Kurds under Barzani to join a national unity
government in Iraq, alongside Communists and Nasserists under the
tutelage of the Baath. Intelligence gathered by the CIA at the
beginning of 1972 suggested that the Soviets had signed agreements
with both Iraq and Egypt. Later, the Americans would move away from
direct contacts with the Kurds, leaving that to Iran and the Israelis.
To counter Soviet efforts to draw the Kurds into their own sphere of
influence, the United States itself officially received a Kurdish
delegation in June of 1972. This delegation had the task of convincing
the Americans of the importance of the Kurds in facing the Soviets and
the Iraqis, and pointing out that most of Iraq's oil was concentrated
in their areas. A strong Kurdistan, in their opinion, would have to be
listened to in the world of Iraqi oil. Nonetheless, American policy
towards the region, and specifically on the question of dividing Iraq,
did not change. The Americans would not countenance compromising the
territorial integrity of key Middle Eastern states. Between 1976 and
1998, American policy returned to its pre-1972 position.
Throughout the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, the American authorities would
not further the joint interests of the Kurdish leadership with Iran,
and in fact the United States repeatedly asked the Kurdish leadership
in Iraq to avoid efforts which might topple Saddam Hussein's regime.
In March 1988, Washington even declined to denounce Iraq's use of
chemical weapons in the Kurdish town of Halabja; the US State
Department tried to have the blame for this incident shifted away from
Iraq and onto Iran.

Ronald Reagan's administration also provided more than USD 8 billion
in loans and other financial backing to the Iraqi government, in
addition to moral and media support. This support remained in place
until Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. In spite of the negative attitude
of the United States towards the Kurds, the Kurdish leadership
encouraged a local uprising against Saddam's power after the 1991 Gulf
War and the liberation of Kuwait. Yet George Bush Senior, keen to
prevent the ascendency of pro-Iranian militias in the country, allowed
the Iraqis to crush the popular rebellion, but only following pressure
from then-British Prime Minister John Major and then-Turkish President
Turgot Ozal to secure a UN Security Council resolution protecting
Kurdish civilians by establishing a safe haven for them.

The way events unraveled has demonstrated the extent to which the
Kurds were of only secondary importance to American priorities in the
Middle East. The United States even refused, in the years following
the 1991 Gulf War, to grant a special exemption to the Kurdish region
of Iraq from the sanctions regime. The effect of this was that Kurdish
civilians suffered a dual siege, inflicted by both the world powers
and Saddam's regime.
5. US bases in Kurdistan

Days before the signing of the security agreement between the United
States and Iraq, Massoud Barzani announced at the Center for Strategic
and International Studies in Washington that:"All the attempts are
going right now to sign the pact, but if the pact is not signed and if
the US asked to keep their troops in Kurdistan, I think the
parliament, the people and government of Kurdistan will welcome this
warmly." The way that this statement was picked up and republished by
Khabat, the official organ of Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party,
provoked a furious reaction from Iraqi political circles. Supporters
of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr made clear that they would
not accept Barzani's proposal. Sadrist bloc spokesman Sheikh Saleh
Obaidi warned: "This position reminds us that Kurds want to separate
... There is a constitution in this country and they have to respect
it." Many Iraqi MPs were quick to demand that Barzani explain and
apologize for his statement. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, himself a
Kurd and leader of the Kurdish National Union, also acknowledged that
the Americans may seek to build military bases in Iraq, and perhaps in
the Kurdish region, but that this would be with the permission of the
central government in Baghdad. "It is not possible for US troops to
stay in Kurdistan without the approval of the central government,"
Talabani said in an interview with state television broadcaster
Al-Iraqiya in November 2008. "Kurdistan is part of Iraq, and all of
the country's constitutional laws apply to it." Ali believes that a
closer inspection of the comments made by Barzani indicate a
hypothetical way of thinking. Ali views Barzani's response to the
question through the prism of timing and the person who asked it at a
Washington press conference. For him, these factors make it clear that
the Barzani response was a tactical move by the Americans aimed at
compelling the central government of Iraq to agree to the terms of the
security agreement.
The long-term stationing of American forces in the region would ease
the worries of the Iraqi Kurds, given the lack of trust between the
latter and the country's Arab communities. The American occupation of
Iraq since 2003 had noticeably improved the sense of confidence of the
Kurds, partially as a result of increased Western investment and the
benefits this has brought to the local economy. The Kurds, in Ali's
view, have paid the price of the formation of the nation-state in the
Middle East, which had made it difficult for them to live in peace
with their neighbors of other ethnicities. Kurdish aspirations for
national self-determination being unacceptable to their Turkish, Arab
and Iranian neighbors, the only Kurds who would be accepted into the
wider societies were those who gave up on those aspirations.

In the author's eyes, the countries hosting native Kurdish populations
never shrank from agreeing to Western-backed plans which entailed
fighting the Kurds. This was true during the days of the Baghdad Pact
and Turkey's entry into membership, and it was true also for Iran
during the days of the shah and his close alliance with Israel and the
United States. Yet any Kurdish attempts to come to a similar agreement
with Western powers were deemed to be unforgivable acts of treason.
Maliki's provocative actions against the Kurds in 2009 had, in Ali's
mind, convinced most Kurds that political coexistence with the Arabs
of Iraq was impossible. Turkey, Iran and Syria have all made clear
their disapproval of the autonomy given to Iraqi Kurdistan, and meet
regularly to discuss concerns about Kurdish issues. The author reports
on how Turkey, Syria and Iran have been trying to pressure the Maliki
government to backtrack on the concessions granted to the Kurds in the
Iraqi Constitution. Ali also mentions how the Turkish and Arab media
depicted the perceived Kurdish rise to hegemony in Iraq, and how Kurds
pushed Arab residents out of Mosul and Kirkuk. The Turkish media in
particular also mention the oppression of the Turkmens in Kirkuk. This
media anxiety in the surrounding countries has also helped to serve
the feeling among Kurds that their security can only be ensured by the
presence of the American military.

The drivers of American bases in Iraqi Kurdistan

The U.S. military transforms the nature of local societies,
contributing to an ongoing dynamic of identity formation, social
change, and resistance that alters local interests, and inserts itself
into everyday lives.
" There are many factors which would encourage the presence of
permanent American bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. Of all the factions in
the Iraqi political landscape, the Kurds are the most loyal to the
Americans. Within the Iraqi military, Kurdish units, together with
Kurdish militia - the Peshmerga - are the most trusted by the
Americans to carry out missions which require local knowledge, in
their struggle against Al Qaeda and other organizations. The American
forces in Iraq are not regarded by the Kurds as being occupiers or
foreign invaders, but rather as liberators; in Iraqi Kurdistan, the
name George W. Bush is welcomed with a smile, not a frown. Massoud
Barzani spoke fondly of the welcome which the American forces received
in Iraqi Kurdistan, proudly exclaiming that not a single US soldier
was killed there, not even "in a traffic accident". There is no doubt
in Barzani's mind that US forces also would be welcomed in the long
According to Barzani, the United States should leave it to the Iraqis
to decide if they want "one or two or three regions". Later, he added:
"But it already exists. The division is there as a practical matter."
Kurdistan is already a quasi-state on the cusp of fully realizing
itself. No longer do people in Iraqi Kurdistan speak Arabic, but
rather various dialects of Kurdish, in all the schools and official
institutions throughout the 189,000 square kilometers of Iraqi
Kurdistan; the separate Kurdish national flag can be seen raised
throughout the region; and the Peshmerga are a separate army in a
country which is de-facto divided. These facts on the ground have been
gradually reinforced, and there is now a political divide within Iraqi
Kurdistan: Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party is concentrated in the
north of the Kurdish autonomous region, while Talabani's Kurdish
National Union controls much of the south.

Turkey's refusal to join the United States in its 2003 invasion of
Iraq to topple Saddam may have weakened the importance of US-Turkish
relations in American eyes, and helped to bolster the strategic
significance of the Kurdish forces to US interests. American forces
were parachuted onto Erbil, instead of moving them by land through
Turkey. The Peshmerga fought vigorously under American leadership in
the fight against Saddam's regime, making up the second largest
contingent by numbers. All of this seems to show that American forces
will stay put in Iraqi Kurdistan even after they are removed from the
southern and central parts of the country, with George W. Bush already
having implemented an infrastructure which would allow for the

Ali also mentions an episode from Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential
campaign - before she conceded to Obama - in which her husband said in
a perceptive private talk with 50 wealthy supporters: "The two
wrinkles in her [Hillary's] policy that some of the purists won't
like, but I think she is absolutely right, are that she would leave
some troops in the Kurdish area in the north because they have
reconciled with each other and they enjoy relative peace and security
... And if we leave them ... not only might they be gone into a long
civil war ... the Turks might be tempted to attack them because they
don't like the fact that the PKK guerrillas sometimes come across into
northern Iraq and hide after staging attacks in Turkey."

This idea was of course first adopted by Massoud Barzani and Jalal
Talabani, who personally conveyed the message to George W. Bush during
a visit to the White House. Even Obama welcomed the suggestion on his
visit to Baghdad in July 2008, before his first election victory. In
Obama's worldview, the presence of American combat units in Iraqi
Kurdistan would not present a manifest threat to American military
lives, and could be done in harmony with plans for their permanent
redeployment in a future Iraq. Such an agreement, however, would
entail the United States' spending considerable amounts of money on
new bases in the Kurdish region, and maybe on closing down several
others in other parts of the country. There are no large military
bases or large airstrips in the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan at
present. On July 23, 2008, top Kurdish political sources told the
United Arab Emirates-based Gulf News that "US forces could be
stationed permanently in Kurdistan as part of a long-term security
agreement." The same newspaper report carried a statement by an Iraqi
Army officer, Emad Al Hamadani: "Permanent US forces remain in the Al
Hurria Air Base in the province of Kirkuk and the Al Gizlani Air Base
in Mosul, close to the Kurdistan Region, but this will not be a
solution because such a permanent presence in those cities is fueling
the armed resistance. I therefore believe that the relocation of US
forces inside the region is the solution." While US and Kurdish
sources denied any intention of building a US air base near the town
of Halabja in the governorate of Sulaymaniya, near Iran, some
independent Kurdish sources said that if the US decided to establish a
permanent presence in Iraqi Kurdistan they would certainly be closer
to the Iranian border.

Former US diplomat Peter Galbraith, who was based in the Middle East,
believes that America has already lost the war in Iraq, and that the
latter will emerge, following a US pullout, as a fully divided
country, with two separate states being born: an Iraqi and a Kurdish
one. Galbraith also has predicted a civil war within the Arab state
that emerges. The failure of the Americans to address these issues
before they took hold, and to allow for a democratic, integrated and
self-reliant Iraq, has been the real defeat. The worrying development
for the Americans, however, is that this failure has gone hand in hand
with the increase in Iran's power. This gave birth to Galbraith's
idea, which could find favor among Clinton and other Democrats, as
well as staunch pragmatists in the Republican Party, for American
military forces to redeploy to "safe havens" in Iraqi Kurdistan. Ali
believes US policymakers have not completely ruled out this idea.
These new bases would form a basis for American influence in Iraq in
the period following the official withdrawal of 2011. None of this,
however, will cause Washington to overlook Turkey's concerns, as
Turkish-American relations must take precedence over others in this

Possible ramifications of permanent American bases in Kurdistan

Ali also tries to predict possible ramifications of the construction
of permanent US military bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, in light of similar
American experiences in places like South Korea and the Philippines.
American bases around the world have had very large impacts on the
social, economic and political fabrics of the host countries, and
Kurdistan is unlikely to be an exception to this rule. Masamichi S.
Inoue, assistant professor of the Japan Studies Program and the
Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures, and
Cultures at the University of Kentucky, addresses a variety of these
issues in his writings - from community structures to political
organizations and the global power of the US military. "Indeed,
through a network of bases in over one hundred countries," he writes,
"the U.S. military transforms the nature of local societies,
contributing to an ongoing dynamic of identity formation, social
change, and resistance that alters local interests, and inserts itself
into everyday lives." The aforementioned Chalmers Johnson expresses
similar fears with regard to American military bases around the world
when he writes: "Whatever the original reason the United States
entered a country and set up a base, it remains there for imperial
reasons - regional and global hegemony, denial of the territory to
rivals, providing access for American companies, maintenance of
‘stability' or ‘credibility' as a military force, and simple inertia."

In his telling of the situations in Japan and South Korea, Ali
mentions a number of examples where the presence of American bases has
had very negative impacts on the host societies. These include the
environmental costs of large pieces of military equipment (such as the
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress), various forms of corruption, not to
mention large numbers of pregnancies among young women from the host
population that result in children being abandoned together with their
mothers by retreating troops, not to mention large numbers of rapes
and the spread of drug abuse. Then, of course, there is the widespread
but untrue claim that these military bases boost the chances for
democratic government in the host nations. There are many instances of
the American military being an anti-democratic force in the countries
concerned, including US support for the Marcos dictatorship in the
Philippines, and the issue of American bases in South Korea deepening
the rift between the latter and North Korea.
6. Conclusions of the study

Othman Ali believes that the presence of American bases in Iraq will
have long-term impacts on stability, security and democratization in
the wider region. He also believes that the likelihood of US military
bases being built in Iraqi Kurdistan - either as part of an agreement
with the central government in Baghdad or as part of a separate
arrangement with the local authorities - is very high. Many sections
of Kurdish society believe that an American military presence in their
region would prevent Iran and Turkey from meddling in their affairs.
This presence has already provided them an opportunity to partially
satisfy their desire for an almost completely autonomous area in a
federal Iraq. Ali also believes, however, that there will be negative
repercussions to such bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, including increased
instability in the broader Middle East and worsening relations between
the governments of the United States and the countries neighboring
Iraq. The Turkish factor will continue to influence US decision-making
on the building of bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. Nonetheless, the Turks,
while preferring that Western powers refrain from involving themselves
in the Kurdish question, may in the end acquiesce to new American
bases in their neighborhood.
Iran, on the other hand, will be the country most strongly opposed to
the presence of such bases, mainly because of the enmity between
Washington and the Islamic Republic since the downfall of the shah in
1979. From the Iranians' point of view, the construction of American
bases in Iraqi Kurdistan would complete US efforts to completely
encircle their country. At present the Islamic Republic is surrounded
by a number of US-allied regimes, with American forces stationed in
Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Azerbaijan. American bases in Iraqi
Kurdistan would also serve as a security guarantee for the KRG,
increasing its freedom to support those in Iranian Kurdistan seeking a
similar degree of self-rule. This would push the Kurdish regional
government into a direct confrontation with Iran. In such a situation,
the Iranian authorities could rely on their allies within Shiite
political forces in the central Iraqi government to intensify their
own direct conflict with the KRG in Erbil. At the same time, Turkey
and Iran are the two arteries which could ensure the vitality of Iraqi
Kurdistan's economy. Another drawback is that so long as there are US
military bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, that region will remain a
legitimate military target during any conflagration between the United
States and any other regional power; any conflict, therefore, could
quickly be felt in Iraqi Kurdistan.

From the Iranians' point of view, the construction of American bases
in Iraqi Kurdistan would complete US efforts to completely encircle
their country. At present the Islamic Republic is surrounded by a
number of US-allied regimes, with American forces stationed in
Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Azerbaijan. American bases in Iraqi
Kurdistan would also serve as a security guarantee for the KRG,
increasing its freedom to support those in Iranian Kurdistan seeking a
similar degree of self-rule.
" Nor does Ali believe that a long-term US military presence will lead
to economic prosperity for the region, the way that American control
of Japan helped that country overcome the devastation of war. That
prosperity and development were due, in large part, to Japan's
relative scientific, economic and societal development, and the
previous presence of democratic institutions within Japan to begin
with. In the Japanese case, as in the Philippines and South Korea, the
US government was always prepared to deal with authoritarian leaders
and non-democratic governments, so long as doing so would serve
American interests. A similar approach is already being displayed by
American military leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan. Ali also explains how
democracy in Iraqi Kurdistan is being stifled by political
deal-cutting between Talabani and Barzani. Together, their two
political groupings dominate all aspects of life in Iraqi Kurdistan:
economic, security and political. They also share control of
government positions, the judiciary, the army, the security forces,
and educational institutions. In addition, Talabani and Barzani
collude in the oppression of the political opposition, quash the free
press, and harass civil society institutions. Between their two
families, Talabani and Barzani have a monopoly on graft and corruption
in the region: Barzani controls Dohuk and Erbil provinces, while
Talabani controls Sulaymaniya province.
Ali also describes how the same two political chieftains have managed
to accrue vast personal fortunes by abusing their positions of power.
Barzani's personal estate has been estimated at over USD 2 billion,
and Talabani's at over USD 400 million. Ali also pointed out that
Barzani had imposed a 10% duty on future oil revenues, in order for
them to secure exploration contracts in the Erbil and Dohuk provinces.
And despite their long rivalry, the two politicians find it possible
to cooperate when it comes to abusing political dissidents and
journalists, even going so far as to torture businessmen who refuse to
pay commissions and bribes to political partisans. There is even a
regional intelligence service which spies on Iraqi Kurds as well as
foreign guests, including foreign journalists who might obtain
information the established parties do not want others to know about.
Even non-governmental organizations are denied a completely
independent existence. There is no mechanism for accountability and
real democracy in Iraqi Kurdistan; electoral fraud is common, and
independent and opposition candidates are subjected to heavy pressure.


When Barzani spoke to a group of investors about turning Iraqi
Kurdistan into a new Dubai, he did not understand how his
administration's corruption would make success in that endeavor more
difficult. With increasing disparity of incomes between the wealthy
and the poor in their territory, and with Barzani and Talabani using
various apparatuses to contain their political opponents, there will
be fertile ground for Islamic extremists. These groups are becoming
widespread in society, but not because of their religious views;
instead, many of Iraqi Kurds view them as the only "clean" alternative
to either Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party or Talabani's Kurdish
National Union. The Kurdistan Islamic Union, for example, has recently
made popularity gains, so its conspiracy theories and its attitudes
towards the United States will soon have a foothold in Iraqi Kurdish

Although it might seem that giving US troops an Iraqi Kurdistan base
would allow them to leave other parts of Iraq where they are currently
less welcome, Barzani's behavior has made that prospect a lot less
favorable. The Pentagon may see the possibility of bases in Iraqi
Kurdistan as a good strategic vantage point, but such facilities could
become a liability. Barzani and his allies might feel able to continue
providing succor - if not his outright personal financing - to the PKK
without fear of reprisal, given the presence of a US base in Iraqi
Kurdistan. Thus, so long as Barzani remain power, there will be
potential for a major conflict with Kurdistan as a focus and the
United States as a party to it. If the Pentagon has decided to build
one or more bases in Kurdistan, it will need to take account of the
provocations of Barzani against neighboring states. In other words,
Barzani would like to see US forces in his fiefdom for the same
reasons as many dictators around the world would like to host American
bases: to protect and further his own interests, and cover up for
administration's corruption.

In sum, Ali believes that America's presence as a military force in
Iraqi Kurdistan will come with a price. The local powers that be will
find justifications to prolong that presence. The Kurdish people,
however, need to understand that hosting the US military is not their
only choice if they want to live in a secure, peaceful country.
American involvement in the broader Middle East is a passing phase,
and the Kurdish leadership needs to look for other alternatives to
pursue. Self-reliance and winning their people's confidence by setting
up a dynamic, democratic and uncorrupted administrative machine would
be a better way of laying the groundwork for the future of Kurdistan.
The author argues that whether the Kurds think it is simply their fate
to be the victims of geopolitical considerations, or see themselves as
blessed by Islam and the historical background they share with their
neighbors, they have no choice but to build bridges with other nations
in the region if they are to live in peace. Ali closes by indicating
that while Iraq may have changed after the toppling of Saddam, Iraqi
Kurdistan did not.


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