Donald Trump’s address to the UN General Assembly on September 19 was a harangue of swaggering abuse and arrogant belligerence but his first public utterance, the day before, was not as spiteful and malevolent. Indeed it was greeted with relief and surprise by the many people who had expected a tirade against the United Nations Organisation on the lines of his comment that it was “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time,” which was as absurd, insulting and vulgar as so many of his remarks.
But he rightly adjured the UN to concentrate “more on people and less on bureaucracy” which would be a gratifying improvement.
It is obvious that reform of the UN is essential, and we should all applaud the Trump proposal, providing his strictures do not adversely affect the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which, although admittedly far from perfect in administration, is a particularly saintly organisation that needs to be helped, not hindered.
Trump is not sympathetic to refugees and wishes to ban them from his country, but the US aids the UNHCR a great deal, and we must hope this policy continues. The UN reports that there are nearly 22.5 million refugees worldwide, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who are denied access to education, healthcare and employment. As a result of Washington’s war on Iraq 4.2 million Iraqis have been forced out of their homes, and we are all only too well aware of similar consequences of the disastrous sixteen-year war in Afghanistan. All of these people need help.
Among the wretched victims are some two million Kurdish “displaced persons” of a total of 30 million Kurds who, CNN reports, “make up about 10% of the population in Syria, 19% of the population of Turkey, 15-20% of Iraq, and nearly 10% of Iran.” They have no country of their own and are treated with varying degrees of intolerance by the nations within whose borders they were born, and from where, periodically, they are forced to flee.
Many years ago, when I lived in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, my evening walk took me past the office of the UNHCR, opposite which some Kurdish refugees had erected a little hamlet of tents. As I walked by, one of them greeted me with a smile. His flinty blue eyes softened as he said Hello, and after a few days of mutual greeting we began to chat.
The story of his group was of unrelieved persecution and privation. Having fled the savage reprisals of Saddam Hussein, following encouragement by George Bush senior for Kurds and Shias to rise against their oppressor (after which Bush did exactly nothing to help either of them), they made their way across Iran to Pakistan and then to Islamabad, a trek of about two thousand miles.
Where on earth could they go, these Kurdish orphans of Washington’s Operation Desert Storm? Who would take them? Answer came there none, except from the government of Pakistan, led by a disreputable knave called Nawaz Sharif (recently dismissed after a High Court corruption hearing), whose solution was to gather up the Kurds in the middle of the night and move them all to the deserts of Balochistan, hundreds of miles away. In fact, not quite all of them ; for in one tent was a tiny baby, discovered at dawn by the scavengers who gathered to see what the Kurds, the poorest of the poor, might have left behind after they were once again hounded from one hell to another. Horrified local Pakistanis and some of us foreign do-gooding busybodies inquired about the fate of the child, but we came up against the usual brick wall of bureaucratic nonchalance. “There is no problem” we were told. No ; of course not. For the baby was only one of millions of anonymous and helpless mites born into a world grown only too accustomed to hideous inhumanity.
This band of despairing, homeless, helpless Kurds was a microcosm of the Kurdish problem as a whole. They are truly the world’s forgotten people, and we should be ashamed of our lack of concern about their plight.
At the moment Iraqi Kurds are trying to hold a referendum to vote on creation of a nation state, which is right and proper. But Western governments, notably the US and the UK, object strongly to this particular example of expression by the masses.
It doesn’t matter to Britain and America that the five million Kurds in northern Iraq have a semi-autonomous parliamentary democracy and the result of the plebiscite is not legally binding. So why do the Great Western Democracies object to a Kurdish referendum?
Washington’s line is that “The United States has repeatedly emphasised to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilise the liberated areas.” The White House declared that the Kurdish people’s referendum vote is “particularly provocative and destabilising.”
What rubbish. What possible “distraction” could a Kurdish non-binding referendum create that might affect the fight against the savages of Islamic State?
But of course it could be “provocative,” in a way, because in 2013 UPI reported that “Exxon Mobil, the world’s biggest oil company, is pushing ahead with its controversial drive to develop oil fields in Iraq’s independence-minded Kurdish enclave… Exxon Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson flew to Baghdad to meet [the then Iraqi prime minister] Maliki in late January but apparently refused to quit Kurdistan.”
Mr Tillerson is now US Secretary of State and last month telephoned Kurdish President Masoud Barzani to “renew United States rejection to the Kurdish referendum.” Why?
Then Reuters noted on September 18 that “Russian oil major Rosneft will invest in gas pipelines in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan, expanding its commitment to the region ahead of an independence referendum to help it become a major exporter of gas to Turkey and Europe.” And things became even clearer as World Oil noted that “Rosneft has completed its due diligence on infrastructure of the export oil pipeline in Iraqi Kurdistan… [the] pipeline will not only supply natural gas to the power plants and domestic factories throughout the region, but also enable exporting of substantial fuel volume to Turkey and European market in the coming years.”
It’s not surprising that Mr Tillerson and many other western business leaders and their governments aren’t happy about expansion of Kurdish economic influence in cooperation with a Russian oil company. Their opposition to a Kurdish referendum has got nothing whatever to do with Kurdish freedom or democracy or fighting Islamic State; it has everything to do with getting in to Northern Iraq, courtesy of the Baghdad central government, and making money from oil. They’re a bunch of hypocrites.