THE extension of Operation Poised Hammer for an additional six months was approved by the Turkish Grand National Assembly, prolonging the safe haven for Iraqi Kurds north of the 36th parallel until July 1993. However, it is not clear how much longer Turkey will be willing to let American, British and French warplanes use an air base to enforce the security umbrella over Iraqi Kurdistan. Faced with ever increasing uncertainties, a lasting solution must be sought for Iraqi Kurds.
There are three solutions to the Kurdish question: to leave the situation as is and guarantee safety for the Kurds as long as Saddam Hussein is in power; to carve a greater Kurdistan from the Kurdish areas of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria; and to recognize the present Kurdish haven as an independent state.
Maintaining the current status of the Kurdish safe haven in northern Iraq obviously depends on the goodwill of Turkey. Already, in the Turkish parliamentary debate the Motherland Party (ANAP) has strongly opposed the extension of Operation Poised Hammer. Even assuming unlimited Turkish approval of Operation Poised Hammer, the United States and its allies cannot maintain the security zone indefinitely.
Upon the departure of protective forces from the area, the Kurds will once again be exposed to the full wrath of a vengeful Saddam Hussein, who during the 1980s razed more than 4,000 Kurdish villages and massacred over 200,000 people, including 6,000 in Halabja killed by poison gas during a single afternoon in 1988.
It should also be recognized that maintaining the present arrangement implies a strong faith in Saddam's overthrow. Beyond expectation, Saddam has proved his staying power and his uncompromising grip on Iraq, even in the face of military defeat and crippling economic sanctions.
The idea of carving out a greater Kurdistan from the Kurdish areas of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria is absurd. Although Turkey, Iran and Syria have approximately 10 million, 5 million, and as many as 1 million Kurds respectively, all three are also regional military powers and have the capability and will to quash any such notion.
The only feasible solution is to consolidate a free Kurdistan, which has been quietly taking shape in the protected area north of the 36th parallel. Already secure in their safe haven, the approximately 4 million Iraqi Kurds have held free elections and formed a democratic government, with its own parliament and prime minister. Notably, the two main factions, Massoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have formed a genuine coalition and are co operating to insure the success of their "experiment."
Any prospect of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq is to a large extent contingent on Turkish benevolence. The Iraqi Kurds have been faced with a double blockage - by the international community against Iraq and by Baghdad against the Kurds. Kurdistan's lifeline to the outside world has been through Turkey, which has been turning a blind eye on the flow of goods across its border.
Recognizing the immense value of Turkish goodwill for their survival, Iraqi Kurds have already taken up arms against the radical Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), separatist Turkish Kurds who have been a thorn in the side of Turkey for the past decade and who espouse the idea of a greater Kurdistan. The PKK is no friend to the Iraqi Kurds. For the most part, it has taken advantage of the safe haven in northern Iraq as a base from which to conduct subversive activities across the border into Turkey. This has prompted Turkish military offensives well into Iraqi territory, much to the detriment of free Kurdistan.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Iraq's Kurdish fighters, or Peshmergas ("those who have made an understanding with death"), have been actively trying to expel PKK agitators from their territory. In turn, Turkey has provided the Peshmergas with arms and munitions.
INTERESTINGLY, Iraqi Kurds themselves insist that they are not demanding outright independence and only seek autonomy within a federated, democratic Iraq. Regardless of public statements, however, the Kurds are being realistic about Iraq's future and have made their "nondeclaration" of independence heavily conditional. "If Kurdish self-determination is contingent on our not seceding from Iraq," declared KDP's Barzani, "Iraq should become a democratic, pluralistic, and parliamentarian country."
Since Iraq is neither federative nor a democracy, the formation of a government in Kurdistan amounts to de facto independence. In a high-level meeting, Turkey, Iran, and Syria collectively condemned, out of a desire to keep their own Kurds at bay, any development that could result in the dismemberment of Iraq.
Although Turkey has gone along with Syria and Iran in condemning the Kurdish move, it has adopted a much softer tone toward the Iraqi Kurds. Most importantly, Turkish Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, after voicing opposition to the creation of an independent Kurdish state, explained that the Kurds cannot be "abandoned to their fate on the basis of the presumption that they will be independent one day."
Turkey could actually reap benefits from a free Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Other than becoming a potential trading partner with its own oil reserves, free Kurdistan could help maintain the PKK - something it has already shown it is capable of doing.
As for Syria and Iran, it is unlikely that they would move against a Kurdish state that has the support of Turkey (i. e.: the West), especially if this would mean stirring up their own Kurds. Not wanting their own Kurdish populations to follow suit, they would be forced to grant them long overdue rights.
The international community's apprehension at the mere mention of the dismemberment of Iraq is greatly misplaced. Free Kurdistan in northern Iraq, armed and supported by the West, would be a welcomed and necessary counter-force to Iraqi belligerence.
After decades of oppression it is high time to grant the Kurds what they rightfully deserve - an independent Kurdish state at least, where conditions permit it.