|Sat Dec 24, 2011 10:35 pm Pinochle...Iraqi Style
by Gerald A. Honigman
It’s been decades since I played the game.
I remember watching older college friends mastering the Pinochle deck, and then later becoming pretty good myself.
Four-handed Pinochle, pitting opposing pairs of players against each other, was the most popular version, but I soon learned the far more personal three-handed variety as well. The latter involved each player working just for himself; inevitably, this led to two teaming up against the player in the lead…for the time being at least. I recall my late father, of blessed memory, getting upset with me and my younger brother over this. We tried to explain that it was nothing personal…but to no avail.
Keep this in mind as we proceed.
As promised, President Obama has pulled all American troops out of Iraq before the end of the year…for good or for bad. Washington’s war in Mesopotamia is now officially over.
I’ve written lots about this subject over the decades, and my work has been showcased in scores of analyses in print and web publications all over the world. Some examples include the heavily Nobel Laureate-sponsored, Fall 1981 academic journal, Middle East Review ; inclusion on the recommended reference list of Paris’s acclaimed Institut d’Etudes Politique (Sciences-Po); my interview in The Kurdistan Tribune; analyses in the Kurdistan Regional Government’s own publication; dozens of op-eds in web publications such as ekurd.net. Kurdishmedia.com, the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, and others as well; major print newspaper articles; etc. and so forth.
Before continuing, for the reader new to Iraqi politics, a review of the following sample articles should prove to be useful. I’ll start out with the latest, before this current analysis, and then provide several earlier op-eds from different sources as well…
Iraq: What Not To Do … http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/ar.....cle110.htm
State Department Math … http://www.krg.org/articles/de.....9&smap
Why The Double Standards? … http://www.kurdmedia.com/article.aspx?id=9279
Who Won’t Be Making Jokes About WMD … http://www.turkishdigest.com/2.....aking.html
What’s Your Plan B ? … http://www.israelnationalnews.......aspx/5793
Okay, enough of the background stuff…let’s move on.
The power-sharing plan in Iraq’s post-Saddam, American-backed federal games gave representatives from each of the three major religious and ethnic blocks key positions in government–Shi’a Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds.
To no one with functioning neurons’ surprise, no sooner did America exit the scene, there was a return to an upsurge in sectarian violence. Scores of Shi’a were recently blown apart by Sunni suicide bombers.
At the same time that the above was happening, the Sunni Vice President, Tariq al-Hashemi, had taken refuge in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north–a guest of Iraq’s President, and one of the two main Kurdish leaders, Jalal Talabani. The Shi’a Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, accused him of orchestrating hit squads against Sunni enemies.
As I’ve written often before, if ever there was a counterpart to the now extinct non-nation nation of Yugoslavia, Iraq is it.
Millions of diverse peoples who hated each other were brought together after the break-up of empires in the wake of World War I. And just as the glue which held together the former was manifested in a powerful, feared dictator (Marshal Tito), the same held true for decades in Saddam’s Iraq. When Tito passed on from Earth, Yugoslavia’s days as a unified state were numbered. Likewise, I wouldn’t place bets on the long-term unity of Iraq with Saddam now gone either…short of massive outside intervention, once again, to further others’ interests.
Throughout millennia, Mesopotamia had been fought over by powerhouses to its east and its west.
During the past several centuries, Turks and Iranians faced off in this arena. Don’t be surprised if they both make grabs on it once again. The Turks have already made intrusions into northern Iraq going after Kurds from Turkey taking refuge there.
Keep in mind that the Iraqi (Arab)-Iranian war of the ’80s was largely fought over the oil-rich real estate to Iraq’s east (Iran’s Khuzestan/”Arabistan” province), and the Turks have long felt robbed because of the award of the oil-rich area of Mesopotamia’s (Iraq’s) largely Kurdish north to the British Mandate via the League of Nation’s Mosul Decision in 1925. Add to this mix the fact that Kurds were promised independence after World War I in at least part of Mesopotamia–until the Brits abandoned them and solely embraced Arab nationalism instead–and the fire burns even hotter.
Given the right circumstances, anything becomes possible.
Back to the pinochle deck…
Sunni Arabs have been slaughtering Kurds in Iraq since the 1920s.
In just a few months in1988, Saddam Hussein’s Sunni Anfal Campaign killed almost 200,000 Kurds. When his cousin was presented with this figure, “Chemical” Ali Hassan al–Majid protested, claiming “it could not have been more than 100,000.” Numerous other Sunni Arab genocidal blood baths against Kurds preceded Anfal. The late New York Times journalist, William Safire, for example, did a whole series in the ’70s about an earlier American sellout of the Kurds and its horrific consequences. Another would follow in the ’80s…
In February 2004, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, of Sunni al-Qaida fame, wrote a letter that was intercepted by U.S. forces in Iraq. He’s the guy–until his own death–who was believed responsible for the slaughter of Shi’a in places like Baghdad and Karbala.
In the letter he listed four main enemies. America, of course, was No. 1. But No. 2 were the Kurds. Here’s what he says about them…
Kurds, these are a pain and a thorn, and it is not time yet to deal with them. They are last on our list, even though we are trying to get to some of their leaders. God willing.
Iraq’s majority Shi’a, long suppressed by the Sunni minority and fourth on al-Zarqawi’s hit list, were basically handed Iraq as a result of America’s defeat of Saddam.
While America has struggled to create a balancing act whereby Sunnis, Kurds, and others have equal rights in a united federal state, the reality is that centuries of bloody relations and memories between the various groups have taken their toll. There is little, if any, trust between them–and for good reason.
Despite brief interludes in between despots and during the British Mandate era, in modern times Arab nationalism has always won out over a more inclusive “Iraqi” nationalism…and the latter is the only real hope for the success of a federal Iraq.
As for the Shi’a, now largely in control of the new American-built military, the influence of the Shi’a Islamic Republic of their Iranian neighbor is the looming question at hand. Given the artificial nature of the Iraqi state–as discussed earlier–this becomes even more serious.
Despite hating each other, Arabs of both major stripes still see Iraq as “purely Arab” and have called the potential birth of Kurdistan “another Israel.” How this plays out in a post-Saddam, ascendant Shi’a era in Iraq when confronting incursions by other non-Arab Iranians is yet to be seen. The Shi’a are split regarding ties with Iran.
Since the fall of Saddam, Shi’a Arabs have needed Sunni Kurds as a counterweight to Sunni Arabs–who like to blow both of them up.
Kurds have worked closely with the Shi’a in the recent past. But the Kurds’ insistence on real economic and political autonomy in their own oil-rich region (Kirkuk, in particular) will be a major cause of friction as the Shi’a Arabs increasingly come to run most of the show in Iraq. This was something that the Sunni Arab Vice President addressed recently as well from his safe haven among the Kurds in Sulaimaniyah. And the latter have not ruled out secession if the Shi’a power grab continues.
The Kurds represent the party with the most to lose in this ordeal.
While there is a giant Iranian state to the east, a powerhouse of a Turkic state to the west (and a half dozen others in the adjacent area as well), and almost two dozen Arab nations in the neighborhood, the only place where some 35 million truly stateless Kurds have at least some semblance of autonomy–not independence–is in Iraq. And ironically, they predate their Arab and Turkish conquerors in the region by millennia.
So, the reality is that playing a game of 3-handed pinochle will obviously only get the Kurds so far if it’s not completed.
At some point, it will no longer be two against the lead hand…and that lead hand–Sunni Arabs–which massacred and terrorized both Shi’a and Kurds, while still a serious threat, is now also on the verge of changing identities. While Sunnis, for now at least, still remain more of a physical threat to Kurds, the power in the country has definitely shifted to the Shi’a.
If the Shi’a Arabs opt for the same “purely Arab patrimony” approach to Iraq that their Sunni Arab neighbors followed and bloodily adapted, then the Kurds must assert their own rights to full sovereignty. They lost this chance due to a collusion of British petroleum politics and Arab nationalism in Mesopotamia almost a century ago. Providence has perhaps now delivered to them another opportunity. Who knows if it will ever come again…
No doubt, many other players will be upset about this eventuality–Turks, Arabs, and the Kurds’ cousins, the Iranians, in particular. And if a federal, egalitarian Iraq survives America’s departure, then a Kurdish secession may not be necessary (especially when considering the cost that will surely come with it).
But at some point in 3-handed pinochle each player must finally come down the home stretch and play to win.
Tens of millions of repeatedly used and abused Kurds finally deserve to win…
And finally, would it not be great to see others–both in and out of the region–at long last step up to give the Kurdish people the same support that genocidal Arabs–bent on Israel’s destruction–routinely get from most of the rest of the world in their quest to create a 22nd state of their own?