Your average Iraqi is 19 years old—so many were not even born when two devastating earthquakes ravaged their country in 1991.
The first exploded when the Iraqi Army was routed from Kuwait.
In the second, millions of Kurds abandoned their homes and dashed to the borders of Turkey and Iran to escape deadly chemical and biological weapons of Saddam Hussein and his thugs.
George H. W. Bush, US president at the time, played a key role in both events. After he died November 30 in Houston, Texas, he was glowingly remembered in Washington, DC.
Part of his eulogies involved Kuwait, and President Bush’s firm promise to its Emir:
“This will not stand.”
Kurdistan, alas, never came up.
“Victors write history books,” is an observation of war analysts.
Kurds were the losers in that war. And just because most Americans fondly reminisced about their victorious president, it doesn’t mean we Kurds should join the chorus and pretend all was hunky-dory in the spring of 1991.
Three years before that, Saddam Hussein had gassed Kurds, thinking that he had forged new shackles to ensure our continued slavery. Two years later, when he invaded Kuwait, he assumed that America wouldn’t bother with inter-Arab rivalries.
He bet wrong on both counts.
It’s good news when a dictator throws caution to the wind and plays Russian roulette with the greatest military power on earth.
Euripides said it best: “Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.”
The madness of Saddam Hussein began when he declared Muslim Kurds infidels, quoted the Quran and used gas—in the same sentence—to send our loved ones, freight class, to his hell.
When Americans showed up in Saudi Arabia, he reminded his lackeys of the mythical story of angry birds, which had stoned Abyssinian elephants (with a hoodwinking from God) at the gates of Mecca in 570 A.D., expelling foreign invaders from Arab lands.
The fact that George H. W. Bush’s Republican Party had the symbol of an elephant was interpreted as an auspicious omen by Saddam’s trifling mind and used to “fortify” the will of his beguiled hooligans.
President Bush wasn’t impressed. He patiently assembled his coalition and massed close to half a million American troops on the border of Kuwait.
He also dusted off poison gas residue from the skeletons of our loved ones to sway public opinion to his side of war.
Not used to seeing our dead paraded for the cause of war, we wondered if President Bush’s anger was real or make-believe?
In January of 1991, the war began. God chose not to provide any stone-throwing birds this time—but the US Air Force and Navy blackened the skies with swarming flocks of bomb and missile-throwing fighter planes.
The match was unequal. After ferocious US aerial bombing, Saddam Hussein’s forces surrendered or retreated quicker than they had invaded Kuwait.
As the calls for restraint and cease-fire arose, George H. W. Bush devised another plan for Iraq. He urged its people, Arabs and Kurds alike, to rise up against the Butcher of Baghdad:
“There’s another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.”
Rebellions broke out in 14 out of 18 provinces in the country. Shiites in the south and our Kurds in the north liberated their towns and cities in a matter of days. For a few weeks, Kurdistan, though scarred by war, was as free as Kuwait.
Then the second earthquake erupted.
Saddam Hussein, the man Mr. Bush had compared to Adolf Hitler, was still allowed to brandish his helicopter gunships. His Sunni generals fearing hanging from the nearest trees, coalesced behind him and threatened to finish off the leftovers of Anfal Campaign with chemical and biological weapons.
Many Kurds thought President Bush would not allow such things, but he did—triggering the uprooting of millions of Kurds, forcing them to seek safety in Turkey and Iran.
On average, a thousand Kurds perished daily from cold and hunger.
When CNN paraded their corpses to the world, Mr. Bush was fishing in Louisiana and hoped the media would find another topic to cover or talk to Kuwaitis to collect grateful testimonials for his legacy.
The First Ladies of Great Britain and France, Norma Major and Danielle Mitterrand respectively, came to the rescue of his legacy and those of Kurds when they nudged their husbands to recruit Mr. Bush to be the protector of Kurds.
Thirteen countries flew into what we fondly call southern Kurdistan with military aid: Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, and Turkey. Seventeen others rushed in material support.
At Mr. Bush’s funeral oration, when the eulogists competed with one another to praise the departed American president with superlatives, they all avoided the word Kurd like a plague.
Former Senator Alan Simpson cut to the chase and said the former president’s tombstone only needs a single letter: “L for loyalty.”
He went on, “Loyalty to his country, loyalty to his family, loyalty to his friends, loyalty to the institutions of government.”
No one mentioned this word: freedom.
Sorry, Thomas Jefferson, we are now its loyal soldiers and fighting its myriad battles to make sure darkness and despotism never feel at home in our lands.
Meanwhile, RIP George H. W. Bush.
Kani Xulam @AKINinfo
This op-ed first appeared on Rudaw Media Network’s website: rudaw.net