[TODAY]The Kurds and Korean troopsWhen the sun shines, it also makes the shade darker. In the shade of the precious diplomatic victory of U.S. President George W. Bush at the United Nations, the Kurdish tribes in Iraq are facing the crisis of losing their autonomy gained at the price of blood.
Resolution 1546, unanimously approved by the United Nations Security Council, granted the interim Iraqi government international legitimacy and confirmed that 160,000 coalition troops would have the authority to take “all necessary measures” to establish peace.
But the resolution overlooked the existence and authority of the provisional constitution, which had acknowledged the sovereignty of the three provinces of the Kurdish region. The provisional constitution, promulgated last March, clearly stipulated that when the new legislature to be elected through general elections early next year wrote a permanent constitution, articles opposed by at least three provinces could not be adopted. That amounted to giving a veto power to the Kurds.
But while the United States was fiercely lobbying Germany, France, China, and Russia for the unanimous passage of the resolution, Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, the leader of the Shiite Muslims, made a surprising statement: The provisional constitution was not enacted by the parliament composed of lawmakers elected by the Iraqi people.
If the Security Council resolution supported such a constitution, a serious problem would result. Mr. Bush, pressed for time, succumbed to this pressure by Mr. Sistani.
It is natural for the Kurds to resist the resolution. Seeing the situation become grave, two leaders of the Kurds, Jallal Talabani and Masud Barzani, declared in a letter to Mr. Bush before the voting at the Security Council that, should the United States betray the Kurds, the Kurdish autonomous districts would withdraw their cabinet members from the interim government, boycott the general elections slated for early next year and forbid representatives of the central government from setting foot in the Kurdish regions.
This means, in their words, that the Kurdish autonomous districts would become virtually separate and independent, with Kirkuk as the capital city and containing one of Iraq’s largest oil fields. This is indeed a serious situation.
The 25 million Kurds live in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran, and their ethnic group is the fourth largest in the region, after Arabs, Turks and Persians. The Kurdish regions are the same size as France. The Kurds are the largest ethnic group on earth with no statehood.
Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Kurds were killed by the poison gas of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. In the Gulf War, the Kurds helped the United States by harassing the northern front in Iraq. But the senior Mr. Bush’s United States did not look after the Kurds.
The Kurds actually began to exercise autonomous rights in the 1990s. Thanks to the no-fly zones imposed by the United States, the power of Saddam Hussein could not reach the Kurdish regions. By helping the U.S.-led coalition forces on the northern front when the United States attacked Iraq, the Kurds gained an entitlement to participate in the distribution of the spoils as an ally of the United States.
The Kurd expected to be able to exert rights equal to the Arabs after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq as one of three states in the federal government. The provisional constitution allowed the Kurds autonomy by introducing a federal system to Iraq. The Kurds were excited by expectations that they would no longer be second-class citizens. But as Mr. Bush yielded to the pressure of Mr. Al-Sistani, the Kurds’ hopes could end up just a dream.
Arbil, a site where Korean troops will be deployed, is also in a Kurdish autonomous district. If the general elections the Kurds oppose are carried out as they fear and their autonomous power is denied in the new constitution, the Kurdish regions may fall into chaos.
Korea, which will send 3,600 soldiers, needs to pay close attention to the handling of the Kurdish problem. When they hold an assembly, the Kurds sing an ancient poem of the Kurds instead of Iraq’s national anthem: “Thousands of lamentations, thousands of people’s tears, thousands of revolts, thousands of hopes . . . the Kurd is not dead. The Kurd is alive.”
The Kurds have suffered harsh destiny for the past 2,000 years that resulted in hundreds of thousands of victims in their struggle for independence or autonomy. They will not die this time either.
The Kurdish problem is a new challenge to Mr. Bush, who is in dire need of support from the Shiites. And the safety of the Korean troops depends on how he copes with the Kurdish problem.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie