AT THE end of World War I, many ethnic groups were able to get a patch of land for themselves, with the area and population therein largely dependent on the extent to which they had pleased the imperial powers that came out as victors of that war – France and Britain.
The Kurds were one group that missed the bus and ended up scattered over four countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. They are a restless lot and the countries in which they lived often had to keep them quiet by one means or another.
The late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein gave them a limited measure of autonomy. But there was always the implicit understanding that if the Kurds got too ambitious, then they would be met with blanket slaughter. Dictators like Saddam — and his neighbour, the late Hafez al-Assad of Syria — do not do things by half-measures and for years the Kurds were content to remain within their allocated freedoms.
After the Gulf War of 1991, there was, for a while, protection in the form of western fighter jets that patrolled a no-fly zone; after the war, the Kurds rose up in protest against Saddam in the hope that their long dormant hope for a country would be realised. But they were tricked by the US which, after initially backing them, changed its mind when George Bush Senior realised that a weak Iraq would lead to Iran being the dominant power in the region.
And that the Americans did not like – they have not had much to do with Iran after the events of 1979. So the Kurds had to eat what Australians call a shit sandwich and stay on as part of Iraq.
Now Washington — and its so-called coalition against the extremist Islamic State — is arming the Kurds in order to get them to fight the militants. In doing so, they are setting themselves up for a lot of trouble in the future. The Americans have forgotten what happened after they armed resistance fighters against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. One of the side effects of that policy was a little event that happened on September 11, 2001.
But the Americans have not learnt. If they read their own history books, they will realise that they are incompetents of the highest order when it comes to intervening in foreign countries. Yet they keep doing it over and over again.
In 2003, George Bush Junior invaded Iraq and broke the entire system. The Americans did not merely topple the government, they ripped out the entire bureaucracy and left the country without any functioning systems at all. The results of that have been self-evident over the last 11 years.
After Saddam came to power in a coup in 1969, he realised that he had a mess on his hands, created by the British and French drawing borders at right angles to satisfy the requests of this group or that. And so he ruled with an iron fist and kept the country intact. Anyone who even indicated a mild dislike for him was shot in cold blood.
The Americans released all his controls. And in so doing, they opened the gates for every sectarian group to do what they wanted. Power was given to the Shias and hence the Sunnis took up arms. The Islamic State is just the most extreme manifestation of that resistance – another group that rose up in reaction to American screw-ups.
Internecine warfare between countries or groups in the Middle East is a routine thing. The West should keep out of these squabbles. But the Americans have oil interests in many parts of the region and hence they intervene again and again. No good has ever come of it.
The outcome will be similar this time too.