The second Israel...
An interesting look at the Kurds...
Twenty-two years ago, in this dusty town hard up against the mountainous border with Iran, Saddam Hussein's military used chemical weapons to murder 5,000 Kurdish men, women and children.
The Halabja massacre was only the most infamous atrocity of Operation Anfal, a name Saddam took from a sura of the Koran that details permissible conduct against enemies of Islam. Of course, most Kurds are Muslims. But they are not Arabs. Kurds have had their own distinctive culture and language since long before armies from Arabia embarked on the first wars of Islamic conquest in the seventh century.
The goal of Operation Anfal was genocide. At least 150,000 Kurds were slaughtered, many having first been herded into concentration camps. More than a million Kurds were driven from their homes.
Six months after the collapse of Saddam's regime, the Kurds erected a memorial on the edge of Halabja. It includes haunting photos; those of mothers clutching babies to their breasts as they died in the streets are perhaps the most heart-wrenching. A sign, in fractured English, reads: "Live and victory for all nations. Death for all kinds of racism."
Kurds see Americans as their allies and friends. "We appreciate the sacrifices Americans have made to liberate Iraq and bring the possibility of freedom," Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government, tells me and other members of a delegation of journalists and think-tank analysts.
Many Kurds also have empathy for -- and even feel an affinity with -- Israelis and Jews. Unusual as this is within the "Muslim world," it makes sense: Like Kurds, Jews are an ancient Middle Eastern people. Like Kurds, Jews have been targeted for genocide. Like Kurds, Israelis face an uncertain future among neighbours who range from merely hostile to openly exterminationist.
At a university in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, students meeting with our delegation express admiration for Israelis' courage. A Kurdish driver launches into a lively conversation that begins with praise for America. He soon tells me there is one other country he'd like to visit: Israel. A Kurdish journalist says that Iran's Islamist rulers cannot be trusted, noting that they
recently executed five Kurds "because they were Kurds." He adds that Iran "supports Hezbollah. And we know what Hezbollah does to Israel."
Publicly, Kurdish officials state that Iraq ought to have peaceful relations with all its neighbours -- without exception. Some go farther: "We have no problems with Israel," explains Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government's Department of Foreign Relations. "They have not harmed us. We can't be hating them because Arabs hate them. And the day after the Israelis open an embassy in Baghdad, we will invite them to open a consulate here."