U. S. Colonel Richard “Dick” Naab: America has never had a clear policy towards Kurdistan

Sofia Barbarani – BasNews (Erbil): 24-12-2013 – “Kurdistan is not what I imagined it would be , this is a miracle, they have gone so far and in a relatively painless way,” said Colonel Richard Naab in an interview with BasNews.Naab was involved in Operation Provide Comfort in 1991, a series of US operations aimed at defending Iraqi Kurds fleeing their homes in the aftermath of the First Gulf War. This in turn lead to the implementation of a no-fly zone on Iraq’s Kurdish enclave.

He was also responsible for assisting in the resettlement of the 400,000 Kurdish villages that had been destroyed by Saddam Hussein during the genocidal campaign against the Kurds.

“When I left in 1992, I cried, I didn’t think that they had a chance because they were not dealt with as a sovereign entity – the US State Department wanted to deal with Baghdad even with Saddam still in power,” said Naab.

According to the American colonel, America’s flimsy policy towards Kurdistan is partly to blame for what the autonomous region lacks in today; such as a US military headquarter and undisputed autonomy in their oil deals.

“America has never had a clear policy towards Kurdistan. They’ve had a policy towards Iraq and it reinforced the old system of haphazard amalgamation of a country that never was,” explained the colonel.

While American rhetoric vehemently supports a centralized Iraqi state, Naab envisions a weaker government, with more autonomy for the governorates and the implementation of a fully functioning federal state.

“There is a way with a federation, with a weak central government. The governorates should have autonomy; for example, Washington doesn’t tell the state of Texas what to do with their oil policy, but it still benefits the whole of the US,” said Naab.

“But the US still insists on a strong central government. When I was coordinator for the northern seven governorates in 2003, no Arab, no Yezidi and no kurd would ever willingly submit themselves to another strong central government – they’re too suspicious and they’ve been hurt too bad,” explained Naab, whose understanding of Iraq’s social fiber is that of a man who has shared much with the Kurdish people.  

In 2006, the now American vice president Joe Biden, caused controversy when he suggested that Iraq be divided into three separate regions – Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish. Like Biden, Naab is an avid supporter of decentralization, but is also aware of the potentially catastrophic demographic implications that such a plan would entail.

“It does not divide conveniently, Kurds are all over, Christians and Yezidis are all over,” said Naab matter-of-factly. Despite the West’s desire to see an Iraq united under Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) recently defied Baghdad’s authoritative stance by signing an independent oil deal with Turkey. “Oil can force Baghdad to understand that we are a federal state here, the pipeline will give the Kurds political leverage with Baghdad,” said Naab.

The colonel also praised the astute manner in which the Kurdish prime minister Nechirvan Barzani, dealt with the question of oil: “he’s a visionary, Barzani said you can come look at it, and look at the price, the bank account. But we will pay our oil companies and then we will pay our dues back to Baghdad.”

There has been much speculation that Kurdistan’s oil can be key to an independent state, and while a recognized sovereign state has long been a Kurdish dream, Colonel Naab does not view independence as necessarily beneficial.

“I understand the unfulfilled dream, but I think that at this point it wouldn’t benefit them. I think at this point it would sour their relationship with Turkey, Iran and Baghdad. As soon as they declare independence they will have enemies on all sides,” said Naab.

And while Kurdistan has cultivated strong ties with countries who could otherwise pose a threat, like Turkey and Iran, Colonel Naab believes that Kurds should be entitled to stronger military protection.

“Every sovereign state has a right to defend itself, we sell F-16s to Baghdad, someone aught to be able to sell to Erbil. Kurds haven’t been getting a share of the equipment left behind by the US, and they should be getting it,” he explained. For Naab, a US military headquarter in the Kurdistan Region is just a dream, and a currently unattainable one at that.

“I think it’ll take a new US president. We had argued  for a small residual force here, but they didn’t get it, that would have been a stabilizing factor for all neighbors to see that the US is committed to the survival of the kurds. they couldn’t reach an agreement with Baghdad because the Iranians didn’t want it, it was weak negotiation on our part.”

Regarding the myriad of ways in which Kurdistan has transformed since the 90s, Naab warns that the economic changes are also transforming Kurdish culture. As one of the few foreigners who witnessed Kurdistan before its economic boom, the colonel wonders whether the new generation of Kurds will be able to preserve Kurdish culture as he knew it.  “This is a miracle, but it is not the Kurdistan I fell in love with. I fell in love with the people who live out of town, they live simple lives with a lot of dignity, they share anything they have with you, I’m still struck by that. Outside the city is where my heart really is,” he said.

“I think my generation of Kurds has not convinced the younger Kurds of what it was all about. The younger kids have a different, almost western view, of what it is to get ahead – to get money, a car, a t.v. But that is not what it was all about, it [the Kurdish struggle] was for dignity and recognition as normal human beings,” added Naab. Although he sees potential threats to culture and tradition, Naab remains a strong supporter of the Kurdish cause, and while his country turns a blind eye on the enclave and much of the region, the colonel remains vocal about the need to back Kurdistan: “They are our friends, and a model for the rest of Iraq,” he concluded. – http://www.basnews.com/en/News/Details/Colonel-Dick-Naab–America-has-never-had-a-clear-policy-towards-Kurdistan-/8745