Among the "Others": Encounters with the Forgotten Turkmen of Iraq
by Scott Taylor
Ottawa: Esprit de Corps, 2004. 208 pp. $21.99 (Cdn).
Reviewed by Michael Rubin
Middle East Quarterly
The Turkmen are Iraq's third-largest ethnic group, following on the Arabs and Kurds. Canadian journalist and occasional Al-Jazeera contributor Taylor seeks to document their history and advocate for their claims in Among the "Others." Based on information gathered during more than a dozen trips to Iraq, Taylor weaves together a narrative of historical explanation interspersed with anecdotes.
His discussion of the Turkmen community during Iraq's formative years provides valuable insight into current problems. For example, he describes how relations between the Iraqi monarchy and the Turkmen community soured after the Turkmen supported the 1941 coup and short-lived government of Rashid 'Ali, a pro-Nazi army officer. To avert subsequent persecution, Taylor explains, many Turkmen classified themselves as Arabs in the 1957 census (Iraq's last), leading to an undercount. Turkmen complaints about the 1957 census persist to the present, made more urgent by demographic disputes in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
The Turkmen have played a vital role in Iraq, and their story deserves telling. Unfortunately, their history has yet to be written, for Among the "Others" is undercut by Taylor's thorough unreliability.
Much of Taylor's narrative derives from explanations offered by the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), a group that claims to represent the Iraqi Turkmen community but has in fact failed to mobilize it. He accepts its commentary uncritically, often omitting vital facts. ITF leader Sanan Aga may have told Taylor that the stumbling block in March 2003 negotiations between the Americans, Kurds, and Turkmen (in which I took part) was extremism on the part of Iraqi Kurds, no doubt because he found uncomfortable the real reason: U.S. officials objected to Aga's presence after information surfaced linking him to a terror plot against U.S. personnel. Even then, had the ITF recognized the legitimacy of other Iraqi opposition groups, a basic compromise to which all other Kurdish and Arab political parties had agreed, it might yet have joined the Iraqi leadership council.
Taylor throws around conspiracy theories. The 1963 Baathist coup in his account is "a bloody coup staged by the CIA-sponsored Baathists." Without a single footnote or reference to a historical document, Taylor argues that the CIA had been so impressed by Saddam Hussein's charisma and intelligence in 1963 that it engineered his rise. Likewise, he alleges that Washington was secretly behind Saddam's 1980 decision to invade Iran.
Factual errors large and small permeate the book. The predominantly Turkmen city of Tel Afar lies not in Duhok but in the Nineweh (Mosul) governorate, and its population is not 500,000 but at most 200,000. It may be fashionable to blame the U.S. government for all Iraqi ills, but West German companies—not American ones—provided the chemicals that Saddam used against the Kurds in 1988. Few Turks or Kurds would ever claim, as Taylor does, that Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani is a more "hard-line [Kurdish] nationalist" than Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani. Calling the Salahuddin Massif "the KDP's mountain hideaway" is undercut by (1) the mountain being bisected by a major (by Iraqi standards) highway, (2) the town being a former resort still popular for its restaurants and hotels, and (3) Barzani's complex being visible from the road.
Taylor's inaccuracies may be acceptable at Al-Jazeera but not to serious readers.
Related Topics: Iraq | Michael Rubin | Summer 2005 MEQ
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