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The War Nerd February 26, 2008
The Kurds Will Always Lose, Part II
The enemy of your enemy is a pig, too By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 3 of 4

That was how it happened in the big Kurdish revolt against the new Turkish government in the 1920s, when Sheikh Seyid, a religious bigwig, declared jihad against Ataturk's godless secularists in Ankara. Even though Turkey had its hands full with enemy states on every side, Ataturk's army smashed the Kurds' revolt in a few months. Even with his call to jihad and all that Islamic yapping, Seyid only managed to mobilize about 15,000 Kurdish fighters. The Turks annihilated them with a couple of divisions of regulars, helped as always by lots and lots of Kurdish traitors who were more than willing to tell where the rebels were hiding in exchange for a few coins or just the pleasure of seeing their old enemies slaughtered by the occupiers.

That's the key, the hate. You have to imagine how sweet it is to see your fellow Kurds mowed down by some foreigner. In a way, you can never hate a foreigner as much as you can hate one of your own. There just isn't as much to grab onto, as us fat guys like to say.

A hundred years ago, the Kurds could play their local hate against two big states, the Ottomans and Persia. Then Woodrow Wilson and the Brits got into the act, gave the Arabs an Iraqi state—and we're all real grateful for that--and Kurdistan was now the gushy middle of a three-slice pie, with Turks to the Northwest, Persians to the Northeast, and Arabs to the south. What happened then was like more evolution at hyperspeed, with different Kurdish separatist movements evolving against the three occupiers. I say "against," but the truth is that Kurdish moguls like the Barzanis made their living playing occupiers against Kurds, so you could pretty reasonably doubt whether they were really in a hurry to push the occupiers out once and for all. Everybody needs a career.

The Kurdish organization that faced off against the Turks was the PKK, the one Kurdish organization that everybody is real happy to call "terrorist" these days. There are two reasons for that: for one thing, the PKK was more serious, more honest than most Kurdish militias and actually tried to take on the Turks for real; for another, ever since its generalissimo Ocalan got captured by the Turks' secret police, had his fingernails pulled out and saw the light, the PKK has been smelling like dead meat. If you're a Barzani-type Kurdish "leader," you love showing your courage by turning against an organization that's already had it. Makes you look good with your occupier masters.

Right now the action in Kurdish betrayal politics is all in the Iraqi slice of the Kurdish pie. You probably know that Iraqi Kurdistan is effectively an independent country, and has been since "Operation Provide Comfort," which gets my vote for most lame-named U.S. military op ever, no mean distinction. But you may not know that this independent Kurdistan is actually divided between two blood enemy militias, the KDP and the PUK. I mean, you have to love a militia that calls itself PUK. It's almost as good as the Burmese junta calling itself SLURM or SLURG, I forget exactly, some slug-name like that.

PUK stands for Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, but what it really means is "Property of Jalal Talabani." Yep, we're talking about the same Talabani who we put in charge of Iraq. Ah, good ol' Uncle Jalal ("Mam Jalal") as the Kurds semi-affectionately call him, started the PUK when he defected from the KDP in the mid-1970s. There are a lot of theories about why he deserted the KDP but it seems pretty simple to me: the KDP was a Barzani family operation, and for a Godfather on the make like Jalal the opportunities were better in a fresh entrepreneurial deal like PUK, Inc. Talabani explained the situation clearly in an early memo: "Iraq, Iran and the KDP are all enemies for us," but if you know anything about this kind of organization you know that he meant it in reverse order: it's fine to hate the occupiers, but the real enemy is the rival militia.

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.

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