Mullah Krekar, the founder of a militant Islamic organization based in northern Iraq, supposedly wore a knowing smile as he watched television coverage of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell telling the U.N. Security Council that the organization was providing a haven to members of al-Qaida while aligning itself with Saddam Hussein’s regime. By the next day Krekar had suddenly become one of the most important men in the world, the latest (read: only) piece of evidence linking Saddam and al-Qaida.
No matter that Krekar was quoted as saying, “Saddam Hussein is my enemy. I have never met a member of al-Qaida.” This was just another outlaw denying responsibility, trying to avoid paying the consequences of his actions. The White House may complain that the accused always gets away, but that is not why Krekar was smiling when Powell started dropping his name.
Krekar had been expecting the accusations. It is true, as Krekar admits, that he has been operating in Iraq; that he runs a secret organization (most nonstate organizations in Iraq are secret); and that he, like millions of Muslims across the Near East, has expressed admiration in the past for Osama bin Laden. In all those ways he has opened himself up to the most strident American criticisms.
Despite his denial of being an intermediary for Hussein’s regime and bin Laden’s network, and the fact that there is no concrete evidence connecting him to either, he has become Exhibit A for the unholiest of unholy alliances, which the White House clings to as the trump card in its diplomatic game leading up to war.
Krekar says that making Saddam responsible for every group within its borders is like holding Tony Blair to account for harboring Richard Reid, or for the hatemongering rhetoric of recently expelled preacher Mohammed El-Faisal, or holding America itself responsible for its own crop of belligerent Muslim clerics. Krekar and his associates have explained to press agencies that they expressly sought out the north of Iraq because it is politically independent from Saddam’s regime. They can operate there, as Kurdish institutions do, without oppression.
What is really behind this bizarre accusation of yet another fundamentalist leader whose profile, except for hating the Kurds, should make him a sworn enemy of Saddam’s avowedly secular regime? If Powell claimed Krekar was a friend of Turkey it would make more sense. Both Krekar and the Turkish government would admit to that, at least before Krekar became a persona non grata. The other monkey wrench in the White House’s propaganda machine is that Krekar has been offered asylum from Saddam’s regime by the Norwegian government and has been living peacefully outside of Oslo, apparently awaiting the predictable American accusations. At least someone believed him.
Krekar is a terrorist and will always be a terrorist. The important question is how Krekar can seem so unconcerned about American allegations, and the answer has to do with how the war on terror has lost its moorings.
The most important obstacle America’s war planners have yet faced is failing to secure rights to Turkish bases. Turkey has refused to let us station troops there, meaning not only that Tommy Franks has to redraw his war plans and use airborne divisions if he sticks with a two-pronged attack, but also that Turkey will have a large role in dictating the terms of engagement in northern Iraq, both during and after the war.
That means Krekar’s group will continue to flourish, since in opposing the Kurds they are natural allies of the Turks. That is why Krekar was smiling: whatever Foggy Bottom tars him with, America’s war in Iraq will give him the best opportunities he has ever had for committing acts of terror and getting away with them. His fighters will have free rein to attack self-governing Kurds; if not killing them, then destroying their political institutions and economic autonomy. Krekar was smiling because, as the war on terror has becoming singularly focused on Iraq, it has ceased to target lesser terrorists like him.
This single-target monomania has come at the expense of people like the Kurds. And if Krekar gets his way, since the Kurds are the only Iraqis with experience in democratic self-governance, their assistance in creating a stable post-Saddam environment will be sorely missed. Experience with democracy is invaluable for societies emerging from authoritarian dictatorship. The Israelis have been in the West Bank and Gaza for 35 years, for most of which Yasir Arafat has denied the Palestinians democratic representation and, with it, both rational negotiation and the promising institutions needed to assure the Israelis of a self-possessed and trustworthy Palestinian state. To many Palestinians, it seems the Israeli occupation will never end — which is precisely the fear for an American occupation of a lawless Iraq filled with warlords and hollow accusations, accusations against men like Krekar that are politically expedient but lead to nothing.
The alternative is Bush going back to the bargaining table with the Turks and offering them more than the $15 billion we offered before. Then the bases will be secured and the war can go ahead as planned, with somewhere between 62,000 troops entering northern Iraq and forcing Saddam to fight a second front. But even in that case Turkey will extract such concessions as Bush’s tacit approval for imposing martial law in Kurdish areas of Anatolia and the right to use troops across the Iraqi border to suppress Kurds under the guise of protecting Turkey’s borders from Kurds attempting to flee the war.
So which is better? For the Kurds it obviously doesn’t matter much whether we sacrifice them to secure Turkish bases, or sacrifice them and don’t secure Turkish bases. Krekar’s fighters will still roam the countryside, and Turkey will continue its repression of Kurds at home and, soon, abroad. And supposedly this is a war partly in the name of Kurds gassed by Saddam.
Powell may or not have made the case for a Saddam-Qaida nexus, but he did make the case for protecting the Kurds while that is still possible, for cracking down on Turkey’s abuse of its Kurdish minority, and for America not being so focused on Saddam that it fails to follow through on the broader campaign against terrorism. And why? Because transcending mere rhetoric against the Krekars of the world is inexpedient to the immediate interests of war.
Aaron Goode is a junior in Calhoun College.