The Kurdish Quasi-State: Book Review

Kurdish Quasi-StateThe Kurdish Quasi-State: Development and Dependency in Post-Gulf War Iraq. By Denise Natali. Modern Intellectual and Political History of the Middle East Series. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2010. Pp. xix, 158, with bibliography and index. $24.95 (hardcover). ISBN: 9780815632177.

Denise Natali’s area of expertise includes the Middle East, Iraq, the Kurdistan Region, and post-conflict relief and reconstruction. She has authored several publications on issues concerned with the Kurds and has also worked in disaster relief and post-conflict reconstruction programs in Washington, D.C.; Peshawar, Pakistan; and post-Gulf War Iraqi Kurdistan. Currently, she is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS), which she joined in 2011 after two decades of researching and working in the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria.

Natali’s book The Kurdish Quasi-State: Development and Dependency in Post-Gulf War Iraq is about the influence external aid has had on developing new dependencies, interdependencies, and conflict and cooperation between the Kurds and the Iraqi central government. This book is divided into five chapters; it contains maps, photographs, tables, an abbreviations page, and a glossary of terms.

The Introduction begins with Natali’s discussion of the methods she will use to measure the effects of development processes on Kurdistan-state relations. These include looking at economic and commercial relations, Kurdish political demands for autonomy, the dispute for the territory of Kirkuk, and cultural and social ties.

Chapter 1 discusses the isolation the Iraqi Kurdistan Region experienced from the early to the late twentieth century in the international market as well as in politics, while the Iraqi state was benefitting from international aid. Natali believes that even if aid had been offered to the Kurds, institutionalized policies did not exist for successful distribution of such aid because of the unstable conditions of the Kurdish north and the authoritarian, centralized Iraqi state.

In the next chapter, “The Relief Phase,” internal aid is finally directed to the Kurdistan Region after the 1990 Persian Gulf War, as a response to the negative impact the Kurds suffered when their uprising against Saddam Hussein failed in April 1991. Natali states that although the aid helped the Kurds in recovery rehabilitation, and resettlement of rural populations, nevertheless, conflict between the Kurds and the Iraqi central government continued, hampering self-sustainability because the aid was short-term.

Chapter 3 discusses the continuing support of the Oil for Food Programme (OFFP), which benefitted the northern parts of the Kurdistan Region, as these territories which were above the U.N. demarcation line were to receive 13 percent of the proceeds of the Iraqi oil sales for humanitarian goods. The author states that this second relief phase was different from the first because after 1996, outside supporters became more vigilant towards Saddam Hussein’s influence and therefore they stabilized the Kurdish north, with the U.S. government finally ending the Kurdish civil war in 1998. But the OFFP still continued to have a one-Iraq policy, thus leaving the Kurdish quasi-state powerless, isolated, and with no access to legal international trade nor an interest in negotiating with Baghdad.

Next, in “The Democracy Mission,” Natali talks about the dramatic shift international aid takes in helping the Kurdish quasi-state after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. This time the U.S. took on the largest reconstruction responsibilities and expenses, with the U.S. Congress allocating approximately 18.6 billion dollars. Natali states that the U.S. aid was based on ensuring it had access to petroleum and gas resources in the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea, making sure there was free enterprise, and that with the U.S.-allied Iraqi regime, it would be an alternative to Saudi Arabia as a petroleum supplier, and to weaken other Arab regimes and Iran. Also, this time the aid was directed more towards the central and southern parts of Iraq because there was a consensus among the donors that the Kurdish north was functioning on its own. However, as the Kurdistan Region had evolved into a more stable economy, new social reforms had been introduced, some improvements were made in infrastructure, and political cooperation between the two major Kurdish political parties had been established, ethnic and religious groups began to rise demanding independence within the Kurdistan Region. Moreover, youth and leftists and Islamic groups began to protest against what they believed was a corrupt political system.

In Chapter 5, Natali argues that several reasons have caused the Kurdistan Region to remain part of Iraq, the most important being that it is tied to Iraq by international law and regional politics. Also, the larger international oil companies refuse to engage in business with the Region, which they see as having no legitimate petroleum laws; therefore, they negotiate through the Iraqi central government. Furthermore, tensions have risen over territories, but mainly over Kirkuk, which has become a major source of contention between the Kurdish Regional Government, the central government, and Turkey. Moreover, although improvements were made in the Kurdistan Region in different sectors with the patronage of other countries, this was only up to a point, with the rest of Iraq receiving the majority of aid and benefits. So, with a region that is also becoming less unified politically and ethnically, is continually receiving aid, and must negotiate with the central government in order to keep its commercial borders open, the Kurdish quasi-state is still tied to Iraq.

In the Conclusion section, Natali makes recommendations that it is up to the Kurdish leadership to address its ongoing internal problems instead of blaming foreign governments if they want to become a legitimate quasi-state, and they must begin this process by changing their social and political ways.

This book is well researched; Natali has used primary sources, including interviews with notables. This is a thought-provoking book, especially recommended for Middle East study majors, and anyone interested in learning about the events that have led to the current state of Iraq.

Nancy Beygijanian

University of California, Los Angeles