It wasn't my first trip. That took place in 1991, in the closing stages of the Gulf War. With a guerrilla escort, I crossed illegally into Iraq from Turkey and toured the shattered and burned and poisoned landscape on which Saddam Hussein had imprinted himself. In the town of Halabja, which has now earned its gruesome place in history, I met people whose hideous wounds from chemical bombardment were still suppurating. The city of Qala Diza had been thoroughly dynamited and bulldozed, and looked like an irretrievable wreck. Much of the area's lavish tree cover had been deforested: the bare plains were dotted with forbidding concrete barracks into which Kurds had been forcibly "relocated" or (a more accurate word) "concentrated." Nearly 200,000 people had been slaughtered, and millions more deported: huddling in ruins or packed into fetid camps on the Turkish and Iranian frontiers. To turn a spade was to risk uncovering a mass grave. All of Iraq suffered terribly during those years, but its Kurdish provinces were among the worst places in the entire world—a howling emptiness of misery where I could catch, for the first time in my life, the actual scent of evil as a real force on earth.
He wonders what might have been if the no-fly zone over Kurdistan in 1991 had been extended to the rest of Iraq:
While I am confessing, I may as well make a clean breast of it. Thanks to the reluctant decision of the first President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, those fresh princes of "realism," the United States and Britain placed an aerial umbrella over Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991 and detached it from the death grip of Saddam Hussein. Under the protective canopy of the no-fly zone—actually it was also called the "you-fly-you-die zone"—an embryonic free Iraq had a chance to grow. I was among those who thought and believed and argued that this example could, and should, be extended to the rest of the country; the cause became a consuming thing in my life. To describe the resulting shambles as a disappointment or a failure or even a defeat would be the weakest statement I could possibly make: it feels more like a sick, choking nightmare of betrayal from which there can be no awakening. Yet Kurdistan continues to demonstrate how things could have been different, and it isn't a place from which the West can simply walk away.
Read the whole thing.
I'm watching Bill O'Reilly right now and he stated that if we had it to do over again "I wouldn't do it" because the Iraqi people haven't pulled their weight. I just don't get it. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. He ruled Iraq with an iron fist, to put it mildly, for almost 25 years. The majority of Iraqis are doing all they can, all they are able to do. Who is Bill O'Reilly to judge? Has he lived under a brutal dictatorship for 25 years? Does he believe that just because Saddam is dead the terrorists will just go away quietly?
Christopher Hitchens is right, we cannot walk away.
***Update March 20***
Rancher at Llano Estacado has an excellent post on Kurdistan: "Our Friends the Kurds".