Middle East expert at TTU talks about war with Iraq

"The United States should better prioritize its enemies."

That’s what Tennessee Tech University political science professor Michael Gunter says about another probable U.S. war against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, with whom the Persian Gulf War was fought in 1991.

Gunter — an expert on Middle East politics and the Kurdish ethnic group that inhabits northern Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran — says Iraq poses only a secondary threat to the United States, and taking military action would severely limit our country’s ability to protect against its primary enemies.

"The al-Qaeda terrorist organization, which was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, and North Korea, which has repeatedly refused to abandon its reinstated nuclear program, have proven themselves to be more immediate threats to this country than Iraq has," Gunter said.

Pursuing military action against Hussein’s regime would also likely "make the U.S. look like a hypocrite to the rest of the world. It violates the very idea we say we stand for most strongly — and that’s being a proponent of both Kurdish human rights and international law that forbids the use of force without Security Council authorization," he said.

Military action would threaten the safety of northern Iraqi Kurds, who have been protected by the U.S. since an agreement after the Persian Gulf War established a no-fly zone over their Kurdistan territory.

That protection has helped allow the minority ethnic group to create a successful but unofficial democratic administration, which surrounding countries — including Turkey, a needed U.S. ally — view with suspicion.

"The Turks fear that the more independence gained by Iraqi Kurds, the more likely it is that Kurds living in their own country will revolt," said Gunter. "They view the situation as a territorial danger."

In addition to the perceived Kurdish threat, severe economic losses during the Persian Gulf War have made Turkish leaders hesitant to let U.S. troops use the country as a base of operations, and they’ve requested up to $30 billion in aid to help prevent a similar situation from happening again.

Another factor contributing to the country’s hesitation, however, is the majority of Turkey’s general population being made up of Muslims who oppose U.S. war with Iraq.

Even more ironic is that its government is a secular democracy similar to the one created by the Iraqi Kurds and headed by a moderate Islamic leader elected this past November.

That makes both administrations prime governmental examples for a post-Hussein Iraq — but the Kurdish minority has little hope of rising to power, and a regime based on the Turkish model is unlikely to relieve the ethnic group’s longstanding oppression.

"Based on all these factors, therefore, one must conclude that the Kurdish future in a post-Hussein Iraq will be problematic," Gunter said. "It unfortunately appears that the U.S. is willing to throw away the human rights issue and virtually abandon the Iraqi Kurds for Turkish support."

(The opinions and views expressed by Michael Gunter do not reflect the position of Tennessee Tech University or the Tennessee Board of Regents.)