2004 May 13 Thursday
Hostility Growing Between Kurds And Arabs In Iraq

Kurds are fleeing Fallujah and Shias are showing increased hostility toward the Kurds.

The situation in Fallujah has reawakened a sense of Arab nationalism among Shias and Sunnis. The danger is that this will grow to highlight the ethnic difference between Kurds and Arabs," said Falakadeen Kakay, a prominent Baghdad newspaper editor and former minister in the Kurdish self-rule area in northern Iraq. "Kurds are worried about being a minority without rights in the new Iraq. They are afraid of tyrannical rule by the majority."

In Shia neighborhoods of Baghdad, anti-Kurdish sentiments are vitriolic. "The Kurds are traitors ... How can they talk about wanting to be Iraqis when they support the Americans?" said Mohammed al-Musawi, 32, banging his clenched fist on a display case in the perfume store he runs. "How can they fight against other Iraqis in Fallujah - against their Muslim brothers?"

Kurds have been living in Fallujah because they were expelled from Kurdish areas by Saddam. But insurgents in Fallujah have been firing at American forces from the rooftops of Kurdish houses in order that the return fire will wreck Kurdish and not Arab homes. (same article here)

KALAR, Iraq — Thousands of Iraqi Kurds have fled homes in Fallujah to northern Iraq after being threatened by Arab insurgents for supporting the coalition and refusing to fight against the U.S. military.

More than 2,000 people have arrived since April 9 in the Kurdish town of Kalar near the Iranian border, according to officials of the Kurdish regional government. Others are scattered in the large Kurdish cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah.

This reminds me of how Yassir Arafat's forces in the West Bank have intentionally fired on Israeli settlements and Israeli soldiers from Palestinian Chrstian houses in order to cause the Israelis to shoot up Christian homes. The motives in that case were more in the direction of eliciting Western sympathy for the Christians than to drive the Christians out. However, Arafat has also plotted to reduce Palestinian Christan self-rule by merging Christian towns into larger Muslims towns. Many Palestinian Christians have managed to flee to the West to escape both Muslim Palestinian mistreatment and the land seizures and other unfair treatment by the Israeli Jews.

While the Kurdish region is much more peaceful than the other parts of Iraq the Kurdish region continues to suffer from a series of bombings such as the most recent bombings in the northerh Iraqi and predominately Kurdish cities of Kirkuk and Baquba.

Kurdish leaders avoid statements in favor of the popular Kurdish support for secession from Iraq but the Kurds increasingly do not see that Iraq is going to change enough to be both tolerant of them and democratic.

No one doubts they sympathize with the popular view. The politicians say they are deeply frustrated by the lack of responsibility on the part of other Iraqi groups. What is disturbing is that many Kurds are now openly arguing it is not in their interest to sacrifice their gains by committing themselves to the almost impossible mission of transforming Iraqi society. In a recent interview the most prominent Kurdish poet, Sherko Bekas, said bluntly that Kurds were not Iraqis and he demanded a UN-sponsored referendum so that the Kurds could determine their own future.


There is also concern that Kurdish communities in Arab cities such as Baghdad and Mosul would suffer. Baghdad alone is home to an estimated 800,000 Kurds. In recent weeks many Kurds have been killed in Mosul, where Kurds from Irbil and Dohuk now avoid traveling. If this continues business will suffer too.

As hostility between Kurds and Arabs escalates expect to see continued migrations of Kurds back to the Kurdish region and Arabs out of the Kurdish region back to Shia and Sunni Arab areas. Money made available now to facilitate those migrations would help reduce bloodshed in the future.

The Arabs are obviously illiberal in their attitudes toward women. The Kurds are enormously more Western and modern than the Iraqi Arabs in their views of women's rights and the role of religion in public life.

By margins of roughly 75 to 35 percent, Arabs are more likely than Kurds to favor giving religious leaders a “direct role” in such matters as deciding school curriculum, drafting legislation and determining who should run for office. In the all-important “women’s issue” the Kurds come off as veritable suffragettes compared to their Arab brethren. When asked if women should have the same rights as men, 98 percent of Kurds said “yes,” versus 42 percent of non-Kurds. More incredibly, in answering whether women should have more freedom than before the invasion or less, 82 percent of the Kurds said “more,” while 60 percent of Arabs believed than should adopt even more stringent “traditional” roles than they had before Iraq’s liberation.

George W. Bush and Paul Wolfowitz are in fantasyland with their dreams of Arab liberal democracy. We can ill afford to have powerful American leaders dreaming in the face of a reality that is incompatible with their dreams.

If the Kurds were united into a single country they'd have a larger population than that of Iraq or Syria or Saudi Arabia.

There are 26 million Kurds spread across Iran, Iraq, and Turkey -- a large and strategically important geographical expanse. The culture contains more moderate Muslims than other Arab lands. Kurdish women for instance, are not required to veil themselves, can receive regular education and work outside their homes. A successful democracy there would be an important regional ally for America in the war on terrorism.

Syria, with a total population of 18.5 million, has about 1.5 million Kurds which have been emboldened by the overthrow of Saddam and the increase of the size of the area of Iraq now under control of Kurdish administrators. The Syrian government is currently waging a crackdown on the Kurds of Syria.

SYRIAN authorities have arrested more than 1000 Kurds as part of a continuing campaign against the Kurdish minority, a Syrian human rights group claimed today.

It was the second report in less than a week of an alleged clampdown on Kurds in Syria since last month's clashes between Syrian security forces and Kurdish rioters in which 25 were killed and more than 100 wounded.

Amnesty International reports arrests, torturing, and dismissal of Kurds from universities in Syria.

At least two men have reportedly died in custody. A number of people including children have reportedly been tortured.

In addition, at least 24 Kurdish students have been expelled from their universities and dormitories in what appears to be an increasing prosecution of Kurdish people. Syrian Kurds are reportedly being arrested or attacked because of their ethnicity or for speaking Kurdish.

The Syrians are afraid of Kurdish demands for autonomy.

A few members of Syria’s Kurdish community called for statehood during clashes between the police and rioters in March after a soccer match brawl, but all Kurdish political groupings in the Arab state deny such aspirations.

Check out some colorful maps of Kurdistan. The Nationmaster Kurdistan map provides perhaps the most useful view of what is Kurdistan. However, the number of Kurds and their distribution is hard to ferret out from web sources. The countries in the region may well be undercounting their Kurdish populations. An Israelis site claims that the Kurds are reproducing faster than the Turks, Persians, and Arabs in Syria and Iraq and it claims a Kurdish population for those states that totals 36 million for the year 2000. I have no idea as to the accuracy of those claims.

Pay close attention to the relations between the Kurds and Arabs in Iraq. The Kurds want autonomy and it seems clear given Arab attitudes toward the Kurds and the differences in Arab and Kurdish views on democracy and society that they do not belong together in the same country. They see themselves as separate groups. Large differences in values and historical grievances separate them. The hostility and mistrust between them is growing rather than shrinking.

I have previously argued that US interests would be better served by a partition of Iraq that creates a Kurdish state. I offer the news reports above as further evidence in support of that view.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 May 13 03:49 PM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Cleansing

Michael Kelemen said at May 18, 2004 6:10 AM:

Re Kurds progressive attitude toward women. Maybe in Iraq but not in Turkey. The Toronto Star had an article about honour killing in Turkey. Much of it is apparently caused by an influx of rural Kurds into the cities. This puts their women into more frequent contact with strange men and that prompts honour killing of their daughters. The article was in the paper Sunday so it's still online.

Randall Parker said at May 18, 2004 10:46 AM:

Michael, I have no doubt that there is a large gap between the West and the Kurds culturally. It is just that the gap between the West and the Arabs is even larger.

It would be interesting to know whether Kurds in Iraq are, on average, more urban or rural than Kurds in Turkey. I do not know the answer to that one.

cyrus said at May 31, 2004 11:56 AM:

In reply to Randall's comment re: the level of urbanization in Iraqi [Central] Kurdistan vs. that in Turkish [Western\Northern] Kurdistan.

Depends what region of Iraqi Kurdistan you're talking about. In general, the Sorani or southern portion of it is highly urbanized with the large majority of the population living in urban centers [e.g. Slemani [appx. 1m], Kirkuk [appx 1m]. Even areas like Halabja, Said Saddeq or Qala Daza would be called small cities\large by American standards [they're each appx. around 50k].

The northern part of Iraqi Kurdistan, Badinan, which is predominatly Kurmanji speaking, tends to be more rugged and greener and as such supports a a greater number of villages with it's major urban centers being Zakho and Dohuk [each about 250k] being relatively small. Arbil [or Hawler in Kurdish] about 1m is on the dividing line between the two regions with a mixed populationg

Long and the short of it is, Iraqi Kurdistan is wealthier and in general more urbanized then the Turkish Kurdsitan, esp. when compared to the Sorani portion The north does have large cities, with the most notable being Diyarbakir. These cities grew dramatically as the countryside was depopulated by the Turkish military [interestingly enough, similiar to what Saddam did] during the 1990's and overtime that portion of Kurdistan both thru war and a high degree of population growth is becoming increasingly urban as well.

The whole rural vs. urban issue is an interesting one as cities are the driving force behind nationalism. In an attempt to control the Kurds, both Ankara and Baghdad have created circumstances and the vehicle for the growth and perpetuation of Kurdish nationalism.

I think though if you're viewing urbanity as a vehicle for 'westernization', you need to see it in the context of what those cities provide. Cities with opportunities [e.g. Slemani and Hawler] are tending towards greater liberality and cosmopolitism in line with prior western trends. Primarily this is due to economic and social opportunity although it is innfluenced by prior trends [Slemani has long been a relatively liberal area]. But, cities where rural residents were herded into them by force and that lack economic opportunity, do not necessarily result in liberal trends but instead can cause the opposite as displaced rural villagers fall back on conservative islamic theology [which was never very strong in general in Kurdistan with it's strong Sufi influences but do exist] as that it is all they have [not different from Arab towns or small American towns with their trends to conservative Christianity].

Noticed this in Kurdistan when I traveled there. Women tend to veil in the cities to a higher degree then the countryside as a defense against the fluidity and the percieved immorality that life amongst strangers can bring. Saw this everywhere I traveled in Kurdistan with the possible exception of Slemani which again has a relatively long held and strong liberal trend.

Cyrus -

Mezin Uthman said at June 6, 2004 12:54 PM:


Im Mezin Uthman,a kurdish doctor in Sweden,i come originally from slemani and i can positively say that people there are really impressed and willing to take the western way of living,there is much more freedom to women there but there is unfortunately still some restrictions,there is a strong tendency for education and technology which is supported by both the kurdish leaders and the people themselves who are so keen on proving to the world and to themselves that they are like any other nation willing to live in peace and prosperity,a very unigue form of freedom that the kurdish leaders are openly criticized by journalists and most important no fear what so ever for the ruling government and there is two main parties like any democratic country and people are divided mainly between them,the people there have been isolated from the western world for a long and they need support from the west and democratic countries especially in teaching those people how democracy should work .Most people there are honestly keen on having good relationships with Israeli people but they were and are always under arabic pressure and threatening not to have any kind of relationships with israelis,which is typical arabic ,to hate and undermine and try to destroy all other nations in the world,lets face it,the only reason the arabs are not killing people in new york or russia or sweden is that they cant!these are a people who beleive that its only islam which is right and islam tells them to spread islam even with force if its necessary!
Im so sad to hear the previous comments about rural kurds in Turkey,the people there couldnt even say im a kurd ot talk in kurdish for God's sake,If you cant breathe freely then you are impaired in almost all your functions,you cant judge a people who were not on their own for ages,they were and are under extreme suppression.
I lived in Baghdad and were in kurdistan,and i can say that there is a great deal of differences in thinking and living habits,at the same time they are so different from the west too,Give those people a chance to breathe and live before judging them!
I really do hope that the kurds will have good relationships with Israel as the latter is the example of a nation trying to live in peace and democracy in the middle east.
Thank you USA,thank you UK for all the sacrifices and brave and sincere actions towards freedom in kurdistan,We will never forget!

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FREDDY said at November 25, 2014 4:37 AM:

The community of the Kurds And Arabs in the Iraq is now with the reasons for the new hostility that is arising. This may lead to the conflicts and cause much harm to both My Care On Call the communities. The tyrannical rule by the majority is behind all these.

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