Iraqi Kurdistan: Political Development and Emergent Democracy
by Gareth R. Stansfield
London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. 261 pp. $80.
Reviewed by Michael Rubin
Middle East Quarterly
Iraqi Kurds hold five of the Iraqi Governing Council's twenty-five seats. Masud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) not only control an area the size of New Jersey, but since the fall of Saddam Hussein, they have expanded their sphere of influence inside Iraq. In November 2003, Talabani assumed Iraq's interim rotating presidency while the KDP's Hoshyar Zebari crisscrossed the globe as Iraq's new foreign minister.
Don't expect any reference to Iraq's new reality in Stansfield's study, written before Iraq's liberation. However, the KDP and PUK remain dominant in northern Iraq, and so Iraqi Kurdistan remains relevant. The author spent three years in Iraqi Kurdistan, interviewing politicians and observing the workings of government. He describes the structure of the two major Iraqi Kurdish political parties, as well as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) umbrella under which they operate. His discussions of KDP and PUK decision-making distinguish between politicians who wield real influence and those who only hold a title.
Unfortunately, Stanfield's access contributes to Iraqi Kurdistan's main weakness. His analysis is often myopic, placing the Kurdish view front and center, but ignoring the reality of numerous other actors. It is curious, for example, how Stansfield can address the 1975 Algiers accords (which led to the collapse of the Kurdish uprising) without any mention of Henry Kissinger, who brokered the agreement that cut the Kurds off from their foreign patrons. Likewise, while chronicling the foundation of the PUK in Damascus, Stansfield mentions neither the Syrian government's role nor motivation. He breezes through Barzani's 1996 alliance with Saddam Hussein but fails to mention the Republican Guards' subsequent liquidation of Iraqi opposition forces. While corruption runs rampant, Stansfield prefers neat modeling and diagrams that confuse theoretical structure with on-the-ground reality. An accurate understanding of Kurdish politics simply is not possible without considering how Talabani and Barzani have compromised themselves for personal and political gain.
There are other gaps: with the exception of a single passing remark in the introduction, there is no mention of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) or the violent insurgency it waged against both major Iraqi Kurdish parties. There is only cursory mention of Barzani and Talabani's sophisticated intelligence networks and little mention of opposition tribal leaders Jowhar Sourchi or Karim Khan Bradosti, forced into exile as the Kurdish leaders consolidated their fiefdoms. Likewise, Stansfield ignores the Turkmen community, a small but active and politically complicated minority inside Iraqi Kurdistan.
Dry and detailed, Iraqi Kurdistan is well suited for a university library (and budget), but unless a reader wants to know who the minister of agriculture was in the second KRG cabinet, Stansfield's study should remain on the shelf.
Related Topics: Iraq, Kurds | Michael Rubin | Winter 2004 MEQ
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