Commentary Magazine


End the Thuggery in Iraqi Kurdistan

Today was Day 60 of protests in Iraqi Kurdistan. The protests erupted after Masud Barzani’s forces fired into a crowd after Kurds holding a demonstration of solidarity with the people of Tunisia and Egypt. The Iraqi Kurdish president apparently believes that, with international attention focused on Libya and Syria, he has free reign to crack the heads of anyone who dares to question his family’s rule and its embezzlement of Kurdish assets. Today, his militia sought to disperse the protestors by force. Meanwhile, Facebook reports suggest that Kurdistan Democratic Party militias have attacked protestors in the Kurdish capital of Erbil with knives and clubs, and that opposition parliamentarian Muhammad Kiyani has been seriously injured.

There’s a noxious mix in Iraqi Kurdistan of America’s own making. On one hand, the White House remains largely silent about Kurdish human rights and their struggle for freedom and democracy. On the other, former U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and former Coalition Provisional Authority official Dick Naab now do high-profile business with Barzani, and CPA-era Colonel Harry Schute now advises the security forces engaged in the bloody crackdown.

Given the behavior of Khalilzad, Naab, and Schute (and Peter Galbraith before them), Kurds would be right to be paranoid that American officials will turn a blind eye toward their oppression in the hope of keeping their own golden parachutes open. So long as the White House remains silent on Barzani’s assaults on journalists and the murders of students, the Kurds will assume that Obama’s commitment to human rights is cynical, and that senior National Security Council officials—and perhaps Vice President Biden himself—ingratiate themselves to Barzani only so that they might finance their retirement with Kurdish oil.

That’s not good for America’s image, but there is an easy remedy: It’s time for the Obama administration and Congress to demand an end to government-sponsored thuggery in Iraqi Kurdistan.