Kurdistan

Wall Street Opinion Journal Judith Miller October 28, 2006

A conversation with the president of Iraq’s most successful region.

ERBIL, Iraq–Unlike Baghdad, 200 miles away, the air here does not echo with the sound of gunfire, car bombs and helicopters. Residents of this city of a million people picnic by day in pristine new parks and sip tea with friends and relatives at night. American forces are not “occupiers” or the “enemy,” but “liberators.” Mentioning President Bush evokes smiles–and not of derision.

American forces were “most welcome” when stationed here at the start of the invasion of Iraq, says Massoud Barzani, the president of Kurdistan in the north. Not a single U.S. soldier was killed in his region, he adds proudly, “not even in a traffic accident.” Would U.S. forces be welcome back now? “Most certainly,” he declared this week in an interview in his newly minted marble (and heavily chandeliered) palace. The more American soldiers the better, a top aide confirms.

The secret of Kurdistan’s relative success so far–and of America’s enduring popularity here–is the officially unacknowledged fact that the three provinces of the Kurdish north are already quasi-independent. On Oct. 11, Iraq’s parliament approved a law that would allow the Sunni and Shiite provinces also to form semi-autonomous regions with the same powers that the constitution has confirmed in Kurdistan. And while Kurdish leaders pay lip-service to President Bush’s stubborn insistence on the need for a unified Iraq with a strong centralized government, Kurdistan is staunchly resisting efforts to concentrate economic control in Baghdad.

The U.S., Mr. Barzani believes, should leave it to the Iraqis to decide if they want “one or two or three regions.” Then, he adds: “But it already exists. The division is there as a practical matter. People are being killed on the basis of identity.” As for Baghdad, “it should have a special status as the federal capital. But the rest should be regions that run their own affairs. Or they should be separate. Only a voluntary union can work. Either you have federalism with Baghdad as a federal capital with a special status, or you have separation. Those are the facts.”

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