April 12, 2003 - The Holland Sentienl: Turkey RPCV Robert Olsen says Kurds keep Iraq in check

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Turkey RPCV Robert Olsen says Kurds keep Iraq in check

Turkey RPCV Robert Olsen says Kurds keep Iraq in check

Expert: Kurds to keep Iraq in check

Staff writer

The United States wants to help the Kurds establish their independence, short of creating a recognized state, to keep Iraq in check so the U.S. can continue to have access to its oil, a Middle East expert said Friday.

By having an undeclared homeland in northern Iraq, the Kurds would control up to 20 percent of Iraq's oil. The U.S. sees a self-governing Kurdish population as a key strategy, said Robert Olson, professor of Middle East history and politics at the University of Kentucky.

"The U.S wants to make sure there is never a strong government in Iraq again," Olson told a crowd of about 120 Friday at the Kirkhof Center at Grand Valley State University. "It makes it easier to control the oil supply. I think that is why the United States wants a Kurdish state."

This state would be an unofficial government that would be part of Iraq.

The fall of Saddam Hussein's regime is great news for the Kurds.

"I think the Kurds have a great opportunity to expand their autonomy," Olson said. "There is a new effervescence about them. They feel they can now control some of their destiny."

Mostly Grand Valley students attended the talk, but there was a scattering of some university employees and area residents.

Mustafa Sayid, 30, came from Grand Rapids to hear the lecture. He is a Kurd, growing up in northern Iraq. He has lived in the U.S. for 4 1/2 years. Sayid said Olson understands the Middle East dynamics.

"He's very impressive," Sayid said.

He agrees with Olson that the Kurds should have their independence, but said the time's not right for an officially recognized state.

"Our neighbors are quite powerful," Sayid said. "It could be shocking for them."

Grand Valley State junior Nik Sheridan, 20, said he enjoyed Olson's insight.

"It's just interesting to see how the past is influencing our current politics in the Middle East," he said.

The Kurds have faced some of their worst oppression ever during the 1900s, Olson said. After Iraq's cease fire with Iran, Hussein's regime killed 183,000 Kurds because they sided with Iran, Olson said.

Olson estimates there are between 25 million to 30 million Kurds in the Middle East with about 2 million in Syria, 4 million in Iraq, 6 million in Iran and 15 million to 17 million in Turkey. While these nations have many differences, they have found they have to cooperate with each other to deal with any problems they have with the Kurds.

Olson has published numerous books and articles on Islam and Kurds including "The Kurdish Nationalist Movement in the 1990s: Its Impact on Turkey and the Middle East."

The recipient of many awards a a former Fulbright scholar, Olson is a current member of the strategic assessment group for the CIA's Future Panel on Turkey and the Kurdish Question.

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Story Source: The Holland Sentienl

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Turkey; Kurdish Studies;



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