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Kurdish North Rethinking Independence in Iraq

Appearing in the Chicago Tribune is a look at the general demeanor of Kurdish northern Iraq, where the idea of eventual independence has been no secret.

But despite their long-held aspirations toward independence, many Kurds may now be at a crossroads in their thinking. The recent threat of an incursion by Turkey in pursuit of Kurdish guerrillas has caused many here to recognize how much they need Iraq. While some of the region's leaders pushed for a more active role for the regional government in negotiating a solution, they also were forced to confront the reality that they could not go it alone.

"Many of us have come to recognize that nationalism is both limiting and limited," said Barham Saleh, a Kurd and deputy Iraqi prime minister. "While I as a Kurd always dream of a Kurdish state, and consider it a fundamental right of the Kurdish people, I have come to see that being part of the larger market of Iraq, with the protections afforded us by a democratic Iraq, offers the Kurdish people tangible advantages."

Since the Kurdish enclave became semi-autonomous after the 1991 gulf war, under the protection of a UN-established no-fly zone, it has been surrounded by neighbors with sizable Kurdish ethnic populations and therefore wary of the Kurdish experiment in self-rule. At various times, Syria, Turkey and Iran have all launched attacks inside the territory.

In the most recent crisis, many watchers of the Kurdistan region believe that if it had not been part of a sovereign Iraq, the Turkish military would not have hesitated to launch a major attack across the border. While concerns about that possibility have diminished, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that his Cabinet had authorized the army to mount "a cross-border operation," without specifying its size or timing.

And as localized security goes, so goes localized reconstruction and development. Much of the development seen in the Kurdish north, as Bay Fang notes well throughout the article, was intended for Baghdad. But the early specter of unbridled violence shifted projects to the relative calm of the Kurdish regions.

The new, private American University of Iraq has just started classes in a cluster of prefab structures off the highway near the city of Sulaymaniyah. Like many other projects, the university—conceived by Deputy Prime Minister Saleh—was supposed to have its first campus in Baghdad. The students, many of whom speak English better than Arabic, interrupt their teacher freely in a boisterous, American classroom environment. Kurdistan Fatah, an earnest 18-year-old, dreams of becoming a human-rights lawyer. She says she wants to go overseas but eventually come back to the region. "There are not enough opportunities now to do what you want here," she said, "but if we work hard, maybe we can make our own way."

It all begins with local security, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city, ultimately including Baghdad. The counterinsurgency strategy rolled out successfully thus far by General David Petraeus embraces this and proves its viability.

Local security begins with local Iraqis protecting their own with a view to overall security beyond their own neighborhood and city, making them inhospitable to a brutal terrorist enemy who seeks to dominate them beneath the radical jackboot of a totalitarian theocratic menace.

This realization is a fundamental key, and make their own way they surely will. Neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city, and hopefully as a united Iraqi nation.