Kurdish leaders and Iraqi Kurds on the street are angry with the Baker-Hamilton report. Angry isn't really the appropriate word, but out of respect for my elders I won't use the more accurate phrase.
Kurds believe that they (once again) will be the victims, the sacrificial lambs, of national and regional politics. The report proposes (once again) delaying dealing with the contested city of Kirkuk, which holds about 60% of Iraq's oil. An historically Kurdish city, Saddam sent Arabs (mostly from the south) and kicked Kurds out in order to limit their control there. Most Kurds want the displaced Kurds sent back to Kirkuk and for the Arabs who were settled there to return to their places of origin. According to the Iraqi constitution which was passed by voters last year, there should be a referendum by December 2007 to determine if Kirkuk is integrated into Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan is a federal state with some autonomy from the central government in Baghdad.
The Baker-Hamilton report proposes holding off on the referendum (which would violate the constitution) because it might instigate violence between Kirkuk's numerous sectarian and ethnic groups. Kurds are also angry because the report advocates that oil be centralized in Baghdad instead of controlled by the regions. Three wells are currently being drilled in Kurdistan and that's oil that the Kurds no doubt want to profit from and control, particularly as the rest of the country spirals into war and chaos.
So far, the Kurds have been the Americans' best friends in Iraq. But one person I've talked to said Kurds might actually be drawn into the war if Kirkuk and the other issues aren't dealt with. Over the past few years, Kurds have been attacked in clearly ethnic-related violence outside of Kurdistan, but the Kurdish government hasn't responded with force so far. If the Peshmarga (Kurdish forces) were involved in the Iraq conflict it would be disastrous, as the Peshmarga are very well-armed and were strong enough to defeat Saddam's Republican Guard. I truly hope that it won't come to this.
Baker, who was secretary of state under George Bush Sr., wasn't the most popular man in Iraq even before the report came out. Another Kurd I spoke with here said he felt like the report was written more for the U.S. than for Iraq -- i.e. it was a strategy for the U.S. to feel good about its role in Iraq, but it isn't necessarily good for Iraq itself.
I laughed when I saw a poll that Americans support the report -- most don't even read newspapers, let alone an 82-page report on a foreign country. I'm also certain that most Americans were encouraged simply because they knew the report gave some fresh ideas. Americans, who tend to be optimistic, also tend to gobble up any "good" piece of news or hope about Iraq. Iraqis are quite the opposite -- they are generally pessimistic, and with good reason. I don't think I've heard one positive statement from an Iraqi in the month I've been here. In fact, in the year I lived here I worked with dozens of Iraqis from throughout the country, and I think I heard maybe three positive or hopeful sentences about the future of their country. Being here, even in the stable north, is downright depressing.
It wasn't like that in 2003, I've heard, but car bombs, assassinations, shootings, declining services, an economic depression and deadlock among Iraq's politicians (who are also widely rumored to be sending out their militias when they don't get their way politically) killed that hope. The newscasts in the U.S. and elsewhere make Iraq sound bad, but the situation on the ground is much worse: Kids can hardly go to school, (their teachers are often shot) the government is hardly functioning, the economy is spiraling downward, six million people have fled, residents are afraid to leave their homes and services such as electricity, water and sewage are severely limited.
Most Iraqis I've spoken with don't think there's a solution. Generally the U.S. is blamed for creating the problem, but there's not a lot of hope that they can fix it. Whether the Americans should stay or go isn't the questions most Iraqis ask -- that was debated a year or two ago. Today, the question is: How long will this war last?