Introduction: Drums of War, Calls for Peace

We sent the five questions printed below to a group of editors and friends in November, as the UN Security Council was debating the restoration of the Iraqi inspection regime. They responded knowing that they would not be read for a couple of months-writing for a quarterly sometimes requires a degree of political courage. We are grateful to all of them.

There has not been a lot of courage visible in the Iraq debate so far. The U. S. government hasn’t had the courage to provide the American people with an honest assessment of the risks involved in the war it has been threatening. Our European allies were not prepared to act independently of the United States to establish a strong inspection system; as I write, their commitment to make the system work (rather than to pretend that it is working whatever happens on the ground) remains radically in doubt. Many opponents of war here at home and in Europe have been unwilling to acknowledge the brutality of the Iraqi regime or the dangers posed by its weapons of mass destruction. The leaders of the Democratic Party wanted only to escape the dilemmas of war and peace so that they could talk about the economy (which they then failed to do in any effective way).

For myself, since I should share the risks of my colleagues, I want to see the inspection system work-and work in a way that represents a triumph for the UN, which has not had many triumphs, and which could be destroyed by a failure here. I would support a UN war to enforce inspection; I would not support a U. S. war for “regime change” (though I don’t deny that the Iraqi regime needs changing). I could not support a peace movement whose purpose or effect is the appeasement of Saddam Hussein. But I believe strongly in the need to oppose the “National Security Strategy” of the Bush administration and its doctrine of preemptive war.

The Questions

1. Do you support an American war against the current Iraqi regime? If so, under what circumstances? And should this be a war for disarmament or for “regime change”?

2. Do you favor a UN-imposed inspection system for Iraq? Would you support the threat or the use of force to impose and sustain such a system?

3. What is your view of the Bush administration’s new doctrine of preemptive war?

4. If there is a war, would you join an antiwar movement? Of what sort?

5. What are, what should be, the long-term goals of the United States in the confrontation with Iraq?

Read the responses: Marshall Berman, editor Mitchell Cohen, Todd Gitlin, Stanley Hoffman, Kanan Makiya, James B. Rule, Ann Snitow, and Ellen Willis

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.