Bound to Iraq, Kurds eye options
Violence, including a truck bombing in Kirkuk last week, is making Kurds increasingly wary about being part of Iraq.
For all the framed bucolic scenes and portraits of stern patriarchs, what dominates Abdulkader Shkak's main-street office in this bustling southern capital of Kurdish Iraq are larger-than-life photos of fluffy yellow chicks.Skip to next paragraph
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Selling chicks - and the fans and feeders that accompany them - is what Mr. Shkak does for a living. And by all accounts, business is booming. "Before the war we sold 25,000 chicks a day, but now it's something closer to 50,000," says Shkak. "People have more money."
In Iraqi Kurdistan, the northern third of the country that was virtually independent of Saddam Hussein's rule for the past 12 years, there are no bombed-out remains of the war like those that scar Baghdad. Instead, signs of an economic uptick abound. And America, which safeguarded the Kurds' autonomy from the dictator with a no-fly zone, is widely seen more as a liberator than an occupier.
Despite the bustle and optimism, questions remain for many Kurds about their future with an Iraq that looks more chaotic and worrisome each day. The concern has deepened after last Thursday's truck bombing outside the Kirkuk offices of the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), one of two leading Kurdish political parties. The bombing, which killed five people and injured several more, is part of an upsurge in attacks on the local population that some authorities and experts see as a strategy to disrupt an accelerated transfer of authority to Iraqis.
Average Kurds here speak with hope of a constitutional process that results in a federal system guaranteeing the rights of Iraq's regions and ethnic minorities. Yet the prewar worries voiced in many world capitals that the Kurds might seek a destabilizing independence have not been fully allayed. The Americans and their allies who feared that the Kurds might seize on a war as their opening to demanding independence worry now that mounting violence - like the deadly attacks against police stations north of Baghdad that killed 14 this weekend - could push the Kurds to seek separation from the south.
Next door to Shkak, at the Choman Sweets shop, sweet-toothed shoppers line up for the pastries that will conclude their evening iftar (Ramadan fast-breaking) meals, while bakers in the back room pull round trays of baklava from the ovens as fast as they are browned. "America good!" says a counter attendant to a foreign visitor, accenting the comment with a thumbs-up.
People here say they want a united Iraq to work - but hold out the option of independence if it doesn't.
"We would like to live under a democratic, federal government that will show the borders of Kurdistan," says Abdul Rahman Othman, Shkak's partner in the chicken business. "But," he adds, his tone changing, "if the future government fails to take care of the Kurdish people's rights, then we will ask to be independent."
The Kurds' political leaders employ more measured rhetoric and insist their confidence is in a strong, united, democratic Iraq. The PUK's leader, Jalal Talabani, holds the US-appointed Governing Council's rotating presidency. Massoud Barzani, head of the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party dominating northwestern Iraqi Kurdistan, is also a council member and is often mentioned as a likely candidate for president of the country. And KDP member Hoshyar Zebari serves as Iraq's foreign minister.