By QUIL LAWRENCE
Reviewed by William Grimes in The New York Times
Quil Lawrence argues that the Iraq war has gone according to plan in the northern Kurdish provinces, creating a semi-autonomous enclave that is pro-democracy and pro-American.
The script for Iraq was supposed to go like this: The dictator topples; the oppressed masses celebrate; democracy takes root; and the United States, showered with gratitude, embraces a new, pro-Western ally in the hostile Middle East.
How the Kurds’ Quest for Statehood Is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East
By Quil Lawrence
Illustrated. Walker & Company. 367 pages. $25.95.
The Kurds, protected by an American-sponsored no-fly zone during Saddam Hussein’s last years in power, got a head start on the nation-building process that has convulsed the rest of Iraq. Quietly, and happy to be left alone, they have developed a semi-autonomous enclave that is pro-democracy, pro-American and even pro-Israel. It is Muslim but not theocratic. There is no insurgency, and no American soldiers have been killed there. Almost by accident, Mr. Lawrence writes, Iraqi Kurdistan has turned out to be “one of the most successful nation-building projects in American history.”
How this happened is Mr. Lawrence’s subject, as he sifts through events taking place in northern Iraq at a time when the attention of the world was focused on calamitous events farther south. It is a story well worth telling, although Mr. Lawrence, who has been reporting on Kurdistan for the last seven years for National Public Radio, The Los Angeles Times and The Christian Science Monitor, offers more of a chronology than a narrative.
He begins, sensibly enough, with a brief overview of Kurdish history and an answer to the irritating question inevitably put to every Kurdish spokesman: What exactly is a Kurd? Much hinges on the reply. For years the Turkish government simply denied the existence of its millions of Kurds, calling them “mountain Turks who have forgotten their language.”
In fact, the Kurds are a distinct, ancient ethnic group with their own non-Arabic language who inhabit parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Like the Palestinians, they are a people without a homeland and are much less likely than the Palestinians to get one. This is the discordant note in Mr. Lawrence’s otherwise upbeat account, a little-engine-that-could story in which courageous, determined Kurds, overcoming repeated betrayals by the Western powers, manage to create from the ruins of Iraq a virtual state that cannot become actual without throwing the entire Middle East into chaos.