Self-Government for Kurds
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The Kurds are a Muslim ethnic group that lives in northern Iraq, eastern Syria, southern Turkey, western Iran, and Armenia. Without their own state, Kurds have suffered persecution, not being able to use their own Kurdish language. There was a violent Kurdish rebellion in Turkey, and in Iraq, the Kurds were brutally attacked with poison gas. Since the end of Gulf War I in 1991, the Kurds in Iraq have had a large degree of self-governance as part of the northern no-fly zone.
The political boundaries of the Middle East are recent colonial constructs. The Turkish Empire ruled what is now Iraq and Syria until World War I. After that war, the British and French split up the Arab lands, the French taking Syria, the British ruling Iraq. As previously in Africa, the European colonial powers ignored the ethnic divisions in the Middle East, including the Kurds. The conference that divided the land after World War I dismissed the opportunity to create an independent Kurdistan, as desired by Kurds.
In an ideal world, the Kurds would be able to secede from these countries and set up an independent country. However, that is currently politically impossible. The political boundaries of all countries except for some disputed areas are internationally recognized as legitimate and not to be altered, even if they are historical accidents. A reason for this is that respecting current boundaries helps avoid war. This is why there was a world-wide coalition against Iraq when it invaded Kuwait.
The realistic solution for the Kurds would be to set up autonomous regions within each of the countries the Kurds live in. They could call these "republics," as the Soviets did in the USSR. They could even issue their own currency and postage. The Kurdistans would have their own school systems and use Kurdish as their national language. There would be free trade between the Kurdish land and the rest of the country.
The international boundaries would be as they are today, and the Kurds would not be represented in the UN or other international agencies, except perhaps as non-voting observers or participants. The Kurdistans would not have diplomatic relations with states.
The government of Turkey suppressed Kurdish culture, fearing an independence movement. Kurds were not acknowledged as an ethnic group; they were called "mountain Turks." The Turkish government has eased the restrictions, and there seems to be an opportunity now for the Kurds in Turkey to express their culture in peace. But the Kurds in Iraq are fearful of possible Turkish intrusions. The decision of the Turkish parliament to not allow US troops to be based at the border with Iraq was welcomed by Iraqi Kurds.
Even if autonomous Kurdish districts are established, the state boundary lines will still separate them. However, there could be a Kurdish league, an organization of all Kurds, with representatives from the countries the Kurds live in, including those who now live in Europe. The various countries with Kurdish populations could make it relatively easy for Kurds to cross national boundaries for travel and trade.
Kurdish autonomy would be more complete if the Kurdistans could have their own public finances, independent from the country governments. This could be handled the way the Articles of Confederation specified for the United States prior to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. The Articles stated that the US treasury would collect from each State its share of taxes in proportion to the land value of the state. If a Kurdistan has ten percent of the total land value of the country, the Kurdistan government would pay ten percent of the country's taxes.
If there is a war in Iraq and an American governing of Iraq, here is what the US should do for the Kurds. Set up an autonomous region in northern Iraq called "Iraqi Kurdistan." Have each village and town and rural district elect a council. These councils would send representatives to the parliament of Iraqi Kurdistan. The council would elect the president of Iraqi Kurdistan. This indirect method of election will make the Kurdish democracy more stable, since anyone who wished to topple the Kurdish government would have to eradicate all the local councils.
The government of Iraq would not impose any taxes on the autonomous region. The American administration would establish a Constitution of Iraqi Kurdistan that would outlaw taxes on commerce. The public revenue would be derived only from land rent, including some share of the oil revenues. By taxing land value and not commerce and trade, the Kurdish economy would grow rapidly, and would not need outside aid after a brief transition time.
Indeed, this should be a model for all Iraq. Some say that it is impossible to establish a democracy quickly in Iraq. Nonsense! Democracy can be quickly established if it is bottom-up rather than top-down. First have elections in the villages. Divide Baghdad into neighborhood districts that elect local councils. These village and neighborhood councils would then send representatives to a provincial or city council. These would in turn send representatives to a national parliament, which would then elect a president.
The US military occupation should put in a land-value tax for all Iraq and scrap all its other taxes and controls other than the prohibition of force and fraud. Pure free trade would eliminate smuggling. With no tax barriers, the economy of Iraq would gush up like Old Faithful. Within weeks there would be swarms of businesses from America, Europe, Asia, all seeking workers.
We don't need a war to bring on this happy outcome. The chiefs of Iraq could do this right now. Democratize with bottom-up voting. Shift to taxing rent. Disarm completely. Stop financing terror. Let people speak freely. The chiefs of Iraq could do this today and prevent war.
For their part, the Kurds should demand not just governance autonomy but tax autonomy. The Kurds themselves could pave the way to fiscal autonomy by taxing their rent rather than wages. Someone needs to go there and tell them.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2003 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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