Tragedy Knocks on Kurdistan’s Door

Stephen DeAngelis

August 15, 2007

In my reports from Kurdistan, I’ve noted that one of the things that sets it apart from the rest of Iraq is its security. Its peaceful environment has allowed its economy to boom. Kurdistan also boasts a tolerant society where people of all faiths are free to worship. That is why yesterday’s massive coordinated attack against members of a small, Kurdish speaking, religious sect, the Yazidis, was even more tragic. Their small settlements sit on the border of the area that defines the Kurdistan region. Although some reporters label the attacks having taken place in Kurdistan [“4 Truck Bombs Kill 190 in Kurdish Area of Iraq,” by Damien Cave, New York Times, 15 August 2007], that description is not quite accurate. The Yazidis try to isolate themselves from the world and, therefore, placed themselves outside of the security forces that maintain peace in the rest of the Kurdish region [“Truck Bombs Kills 175 in Northern Iraq,” by Megan Greenwell and Dlovan Brwari, Washington Post, 15 August 2007]. Greenwell and Brwari explain more about the Yazidis:

“The Yazidis are an ancient group whose faith combines elements of many historical religions of the region. They worship a peacock archangel and are considered Satanists by some Muslims and Christians in Iraq, a characterization they reject. Yazidis largely live apart from other Iraqis, in villages near the Syrian border, to maintain religious purity, and they are forbidden to fraternize with other groups. Most Yazidis speak Kurdish but object to being called Kurds.”

The exact number of people killed in the bombings is unclear — the latest reports place the deaths over 200. What is known is that the attacks were carefully orchestrated to generate casualties. Damien Cave suggests that the explosions resulted from the stoning of a Yazidi woman by members of her sect for fraternizing with a Sunni Muslim man. He also reports how massive the explosions were:

“[An] Iraqi officer described the scene as apocalyptic: ‘It looks like a nuclear bomb hit the villages’ he said. The bombs — including at least one rigged to a fuel tanker — detonated in quick succession around 8 p.m. in Qahtaniya and Jazeera, two towns populated mostly by Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking sect that mixes elements of Islam with the teachings of an ancient Persian religion. The group has long been a minority in Iraq, and after some Yazidis stoned a Yazidi woman to death for dating a Sunni Arab man in April, members of the sect became frequent targets of Sunni attacks. When a video of the Yazidi woman being stoned appeared on the Internet, gunmen stopped minibuses full of Yazidi laborers and killed 23 of them. Many Yazidis have recently moved to villages farther west, where they make up a majority. The deadly assault on Tuesday crushed the hope that there would be safety in numbers — especially near the border with Syria, which American officials have long described as an entry point for foreign fighters.”

Greenwell and Brari insist that the 17-year-old woman who was stoned to death not only dated the Sunni Muslim, but eloped with him and converted to Islam. Hence, they imply the attack was retaliation for killing a Muslim. Attacks like this will likely continue on the fringes of Kurdistan and will undoubtedly heighten security awareness within the region and tighten security procedures. Greenwell and Brari write:

“Like other recent, large-scale bombing attacks, Tuesday’s took place in an area with a relatively small military presence. Since the United States sent an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq this year, insurgents have increasingly targeted areas outside military control. Last month, a bombing near the city of Kirkuk — another northern city that did not receive additional troops — killed about 150 people.”

As these attacks continue, people living on the edges on Kurdistan are likely to see the benefits of moving under its protective umbrella. This will likely weigh heavily on the minds of voters in Kirkuk as they decide whether to become part of the KRG. The Yazidis, too, might reconsider their relationship with the KRG. The fact that attacks like this continue to occur along the borders of Kurdistan is one of the reasons I call it the Edge of Globalization. There is a stark difference between conditions once you cross over that edge. The goal of the developed world must be to expand the Edges of Globalization so that people can be safer and more prosperous.