Baghdad is not Washington, Mr. President

Insight from a Kurdish professor.

Residents of Kirkuk with Shia flags celebrate the Iraqi advance, as many Kurds fled the city. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Residents of Kirkuk with Shia flags celebrate the Iraqi advance, as many Kurds fled the city.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On September 23, 2017, I gathered together with more than 50,000 people for the Kurdistan Independence Referendum in the Erbil Stadium in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani gave his final speech just before the political broadcasting deadline came into effect. He mentioned a meeting in 2005 with the US president George W. Bush.
“Let me tell you of this conversation between myself and President Bush in 2005,” he said, “during a visit to Al Anbar, a violent city in the Western, Sunni part of Iraq.”
President Bush had remarked, he said, that: “We in Texas, like Kurdistan, are strong and brave. But it’s simple and logical: united with Washington, we are stronger. Which is exactly like your Kurdistan – unity with Baghdad is the right decision.”
Barzani responded, “Mr. President [...] with all due respect, had Washington done to Texas what Baghdad did to us, you would never have agreed to accept Washington, ever.”
President Bush was loved by Kurds, for his courage, wisdom, visionary thinking, and tenacity. But Barzani’s anecdote confirms that in the West there really is no awareness regarding Kurds’ situation in Iraq. What can they expect us to do with a neighbor who stole our baby girls in 1988, and sold them to Egypt?
Another story from my notebook: in 1988 I was one of the top six graduate students from six electrical engineering departments in Iraq, and the only Kurd. We were sent for a six-month training course in Baghdad, in preparation for studies in France. After six months of studying, they told me, point blank, that I would not be joining my five colleagues, only because I am a Kurd. Soon after, my peers were on their way to Paris, and I to the front lines of the Iraq- Iran war, as an ordinary solder.
In 1989, Iraqi militants collected from every school in Erbil one of the 10-year pupils, publicly mocking and admonishing them in broad daylight, on the open street for all the world to hear. I witnessed this with my own eyes! Again from my notebook: in 1991, the Iraqi Arab army entered Erbil, causing hundreds of thousands to flee the city to avoid being slaughtered and to protect their women and girls from being seized. I found myself together then with a friend of mine, Ismail Barznji, a famous Kurdish poet, just two kilometers out of Erbil. Amid all this terror, Ismail’s wife had passed away, leaving behind two very frightened daughters.
As I witnessed her being laid in her grave, Ismael read a poem which made both of us cry. His words were thus: “Please, dear earth, this which was yours, please take back into your warm embrace once again.”
We are seven million people in Iraqi Kurdistan, each with dozens of these stories, each denoting what Baghdad did separately to him/her.
Later, the day after the referendum, the majority of Iraqi Arabic publications in Baghdad are asking to have our girls enslaved yet again! Their religious mullahs have announced that Kurds are kuffar, that the men deserve death the women enslavement.
This is our neighbor, whom you advise and even insist we should be part of.
The author is a professor at Salahaddin University-Erbil.