Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Trump joins the game of Kurdish betrayal

  • 14 October 2019


The Kurds share with the Jews a certain common ground. They have been, at stages of their history, promised and betrayed. Homelands have been sketched out on maps redrawn by great powers. But while the Jews did eventually find Israel, the Kurds continue to fight for an autonomous bit of earth they can call home.

There have been incipient efforts to create a homeland. Kurdistan arose within the borders of Iraq in the 1920s, but it was an exercise of brutal brevity. While the self-declared Kurdish Republic of Ararat did have some life, it was, in time, crushed. Great Britain and France toyed and teased with borders and boundaries.

By the 1950s, the United States had announced that it, too, could play a part in the game of Kurdish betrayal. Iraqi Kurds, for instance, were given encouragement by Washington during the ill-fated rule of Abd al-Karim Qasim. Kassem's regime fell in a 1963 military coup, one, incidentally, marked by a significant hand from Iraq's future bloodthirsty ruler, Saddam Hussein. With the US objective of Kassem's removal achieved, support for the Kurdish resistance was withdrawn.

Of all the chapters of promise, enticement and supply given by the United States to Kurdish ambitions, that provided by the Nixon administration remains the most sordid. In February 1975, the Village Voice revealed that the White House had been funding a covert action program supplying Iraqi Kurds with weapons and material over three years costing $16 million. A chance for autonomy had presented itself, though the Central Intelligence Agency warned that the program risked raising false hopes.

With a shift in fortunes over the Iran-Iraq agreement over the Shatt-al-Arab in 1975, the Kurds were left in the dark and encouraged to keep fighting. The covert operation was also concealed from the US State Department. For the border dispute, Iraq's Saddam got what he wanted: Iranian-US cessation of support for the Kurdish cause. The move cost 35,000 lives and 200,000 refugees.

Before the House Select Committee on Intelligence (also known as the Pike Committee), US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was cool and adamant: 'covert action should not be confused with missionary work'. The final report of the Pike Committee made specific reference to the chapter. 'Even in the context of covert action, ours was a cynical enterprise.'

The same pattern is repeated through the next three decades. Through episodes of gassing, airstrikes and resistance, the Kurds, straddling Turkey, Syria and Iraq,