By Nicole F. Watts, San Francisco State University
* This memo was prepared for the “Rethinking Nation and Nationalism” workshop, February 6, 2015.
In early February, Kurdish lawmakers gathered in a special parliamentary session to put the final touches on plans to designate Halabja the fourth official province in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. News reports quoted Youssef Muhammad, speaker of the Kurdish parliament, as saying that making Halabja and its environs a province would “heal some of the wounds that Halabja has been carrying as they will run their province by themselves and for themselves.” Halabja, a town of around 100,000 people about eight miles from the Iraqi-Iranian border, was bombed by Iraqi warplanes on March 16, 1988, killing an estimated 5,000 people in one of the worst single chemical gas attacks of civilians of the 20th century.
The decision to make Halabja a province is striking for many reasons. First, it is a symbol of survival and reconstruction in the face of brutal repression. Additionally, it expands the administrative scope of Kurdish rule relative to the rest of Iraq. Further, dis-attaching this symbolically crucial geography from the Sulaimani province of which it has been part can be seen as further evidence of the changing balance of power between the dominant Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the once influential Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) that until recently controlled the northeastern part of autonomous Kurdistan. Continue reading on the Monkey Cage.