Category Archives: International Media

A Marriage of Convenience: The Many Faces of Iraq’s Sunni Insurgency

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may have stolen the limelight, but the current Sunni insurgency in Iraq is dominated by a number of Sunni groups, with ISIS forming possibly less than a third of rebel forces. Each group has its own reason and motivation for siding with ISIS, but far from sharing ideology or a common end goal, the main binding factor is hatred of the Shiite government and Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki (Middle East Monitor, June 17; Rudaw [Erbil], July 7).

The key to ousting ISIS and arriving at a peaceful solution ultimately lies in the hands of the Sunni tribes and the local Sunni population, not in the guns of the Shiites. It was the Sunnis that turned the tide against al-Qaeda once before, but wary Sunnis may not bail out Baghdad so easily again. The danger now after 11 years of bloodshed and Sunni marginalization is that Baghdad may find it impossible to resurrect the notion of a united Iraq, let alone heal the gulf of sectarian mistrust and animosity.

A number of the Sunni armed groups currently fighting Baghdad are remnants of the previous insurgency against U.S. occupation. Many of these groups have formed alliances and grown in strength since the revitalized Sunni uprising evolved from popular protests at the end of 2012 to renewed armed conflict and sectarian war. Indeed for this reason, many Sunni tribal leaders discount ISIS as the spark of the revolution and accuse them of taking advantage by jumping on the Iraqi Sunni bandwagon.

  • · General Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries (GMCIR)

One of the main groups that fought alongside ISIS is the GMCIR. This group was formed in early 2014 from an alliance of various other military councils or tribal revolutionary groups with the aim of establishing a unified command as a result of renewed fighting with Baghdad (al-Ahram Weekly[Cairo], March 20). The GMCIR includes a large number of former officers of the disbanded Iraqi army and has the general aim of establishing a Sunni autonomous entity without compelling any break-up of Iraq. The group is associated with the Muslim Scholars’ Association led by the influential Shaykh Harith Sulayman al-Dhari. GMCIR has an uneasy cooperation with ISIS that saw large areas of northern Iraq slip from the control of Baghdad, but differences between the groups are discernible in their approach to governance in Mosul and the issue of ISIS’ dominant role on the ground (al-Akhbar[Beirut], June 16).

Days after the occupation of Mosul, GMCIR spokesman and former general Muzhir al-Qaisi described ISIS as “barbarians” (BBC, June 14). Distancing themselves from ISIS’ extremist ideology, the GMCIR has tried to emphasize a non-sectarian agenda and a political solution to the crisis.

  • · Military Council of the Tribal Revolutionaries (MCTR)

The MCTR is the largest non-ISIS force and is believed to include a coalition of approximately 80 Sunni Arab tribes and 41 armed groups, including former officers from the Saddam era. Its presence is especially strong in Fallujah, Ramadi and parts of Nineweh and Salahuddin (al-Araby al-Jadid [Beirut], June 14).

  • · Military Council of Anbar Tribal Revolutionaries (MCATR)

One of the main military councils, the MCATR was formed in early 2014 (Journal of Turkish Weekly, June 25). The MCATR has pressed the remaining Sahwa (Awakening) forces to fight for their cause – many of the groups that comprise MCATR today relinquished their Sahwa allegiance after key demands were not fulfilled by al-Maliki and the prime minister ordered a violent crackdown of sit-in protestors. However, in the battles for Ramadi and Fallujah earlier this year, it was clear that remnants of the Sahwa forces battled insurgents on the side of the government.

Shaykh Hatim al-Sulayman is the leader of the MCATR and chief of the powerful Dulaim tribe in Ramadi (with significant influence in Anbar). The Dulaim tribe, including the al-Bou Nimr, al-Farraj, al-Bou Issa and al-Fallaha sub-tribes as well as gunmen from the al-Jamilat, al-Jabour and al-Janabat clans, has played a central role in the uprising since last year (Al-Monitor, January 8).

Al-Sulayman, like many other tribal leaders, is hardly full of praise for ISIS but sees al-Maliki as more dangerous. Pointing out various disagreements with ISIS, he signalled that the inevitable fight against ISIS was merely postponed (Rudaw [Erbil], July 7). For al-Sulayman, ISIS came only to take advantage of the Sunni revolution and their quest to win back Sunni rights.

  • · Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshabandia (JRTN – Army of the Men of the Naqshabandi Path)

Another major group, with particular influence in the provinces of Nineweh and Kirkuk, is the JRTN, which has a close alliance with the GMCIR. The JRTN, spearheaded by Saddam Hussein’s former deputy, Izzat al-Douri, is based on a mix of old Ba’athist pan-Arab secular nationalism and Naqshabandi Sufi Islam (see Terrorism Focus, July 28, 2008).

The goals of the JRTN are the return to power of the Ba’ath party and the safeguarding of Iraqi sovereignty through the simultaneous end of the strong Iranian influence in Baghdad. Their key aim is to “fight for the unity of Iraq’s land and people to preserve the Arab and Islamic identity.” [1]

  • · Al-Jaysh al-Islami fi’l-Iraq (JII – Islamic Army of Iraq)

The JII was particularly potent at the height of the initial uprising against U.S. military occupation (Telegraph, June 20). The movement went from being a thorn in the side of the Americans to being a key player in the Sunni Sahwa (Awakening) councils that turned the tide against al-Qaeda before later turning full circle by re-joining the anti-Baghdad insurgency.

Shaykh Ahmad al-Dabash, founder of the Islamic Army of Iraq and an influential imam from the Batawi family, is determined to accept nothing less than the removal of al-Maliki and has noted his movement’s common interest with ISIS in removing the Shiite prime minister (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 27). Its demands, like those made by the majority of Sunni groups, include a political solution to the ongoing crisis, the establishment of a Sunni federal region and the removal of al-Maliki.

  • · Jama’at Ansar al-Islam (JAI)

JAI is a jihadist group from the post-2003 era that shares the general ISIS goal of a caliphate, but rejects a leading role for ISIS in an Islamic state (BBC, July 1).

  • · Jaysh al-Mujahideen (JAM)

JAM is another group that dates back to the early post-Saddam era with an anti-Shiite agenda and the goal of overthrowing the central government (BBC, July 1). It is known to have disagreements with ISIS and the Islamic Army of Iraq.

  • · Kata’ib Thawarat al-Ashrayn (KTA – 1920 Revolution Brigades)

Named for an anti-British nationalist uprising during the British mandate in Iraq, the 1920 Revolution Brigades is a lesser known Sunni militia originally formed in 2005 to fight the American occupation (al-Jazeera, June 27).

There is a growing unease between Sunni tribes and ISIS. ISIS recently executed 30 people, including a tribal leader and his son, after they refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and pay “royalties” (Shafaq News [Erbil], July 10).

Most of the Sunni groups have insisted that they are in control of key areas and facilities and have pushed back ISIS where necessary. For example, the Islamic Army of Iraq prevented ISIS from entering Dulu’iya after they took control of it due to ideological differences between the movements (al-Arabiya [Dubai], June 11). Al-Maliki has tried to manipulate Sunni tribal anxiety by encouraging Arab tribal leaders in northern areas to fight ISIS (BasNews [Erbil], July 8). There have been skirmishes between these tribes and ISIS militants but for any real impact on the ground Sunnis must turn against ISIS in much greater numbers.

What is clear, however, is the increasing tension between former the Ba’ath party, JRTN factions and ISIS. These groups have already been involved in deadly clashes in the Kirkuk area with reports of JRTN assassination campaigns against ISIS leaders in the Diyala region (al-Sumaria [Baghdad], June 22; Shafaq News [Erbil] July 9). There are other reports of generalized clashes between tribal forces and ISIS in Mosul, Salahuddin and in other areas (al-Mustakbal [Baghdad], July 12; al-Estiqama [Baghdad], July 11).

With so many groups and varying end games, the danger of Sunni infighting can only grow. Furthermore, the more Sunni groups in the field, the more difficult it becomes to establish a negotiating partner. Sunni tribes have to find a solution to ISIS, but are more likely to deal with that problem when al-Maliki is removed from power and a Sunni region is endorsed under an agreement. Either way, Sunni tribes have learned their lesson from the disappointments of the first Awakening initiative and Sunni support to expel ISIS or offer Baghdad any respite will not come cheap this time around.

First Published On: The Jamestown Foundation

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Latest Sunni insurgency threatens to put final nail in the Iraqi coffin

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have continued to assume centre stage with more towns and borders crossings falling in dramatic fashion.  However, the lines have been blurred between a Salafist-Jihadist and a Iraqi Sunni insurgency. It is no longer acts of terrorism on show. This is a powerful, motivated and determined force that will be hard to extinguish without major concessions to the long disenfranchised Sunni minority.

Influential Sunni tribes do not approve of the extremist ideology of ISIS but their disapproval with Shiite rule particularly under Nouri al-Maliki is much greater.

In the meantime Shiite militias parade the streets of Baghdad in a show of force with thousands more joining the battle against the Sunni insurgency pumped up by their spiritual leaders.

As Iraq slides into sectarian anarchy and inevitable partition, the future of Iraq as an integrated nation is looking increasing bleak.

Sunni insurgent revival

In 2008, the Islamic State of Iraq (as it was known at the time) in a leaked communication deemed itself as being in a state “extraordinary crisis”. So how did a diminishing Islamist movement regain such ascendancy in Iraq?

Although, the widely acclaimed surge strategy of US president George W. Bush is credited with largely defusing the sectarian civil war in Iraq, it was the establishment of the Sahwa or Awakening Council’s that really turned the tide.

Influential Sunni tribes, fed up with violence and al-Qaeda dominance, turned against the movement. This was not going to come cheap and the Sunnis expected a larger share of political cake, integration of the Sahwa militias into official forces and decentralisation of power. This was a unique opportunity for Baghdad to solidify gains but was missed.

Today, Sunni sentiment is hardly different to that of 2003 or at the height of the original Sunni insurgency. Long the rulers of Iraq, the Sunnis suddenly played second fiddle to the Shiites by virtue of the fact that Shiites had higher numbers.

The simple fact remains, just as the Kurds will never succumb to been ruled by Baghdad, the Sunnis will never accept rule under Shiites.

Even if the US and Iranians supported the Baghdad government and quelled the Sunni uprising. Another one will simply spring up. You can cut the branches of the Sunni resistant but without addressing the root it will never vanish.

This branch is ultimately the division of Iraq into 3 autonomous components.

Sectarianism in Iraq is hardly new and dates back many centuries. The public especially the youth, are particularly influenced by religious leaders such as Moqtada al-Sadr and influential cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Indeed, it isn’t an “Iraqi” fightback that is holding off ISIS on the doorsteps of Baghdad but a Shiite one.

The influence of spiritual leaders and Fatwas was clearly on display as truckloads of young Shiite volunteers heeded Sistani’s call to resist.

The fact that Iraqi security forces numbering in the hundreds of thousands needed to be rescued by militias tells its own story about sectarian allegiance.

Iraq vs. terrorism or Shiites vs. Sunnis?

The US has hesitated to intervene realising that as former US commander in Iraq, David Patreus, warned it is effectively the Shiites that they will be siding with, thus further adding fuel to the fire.

Sistani in a recent statement urged on the creation of “an effective government” and one “that enjoys broad national acceptance [and] that reverses past mistakes.” This was a thinly veiled reference to the failings of Maliki marginalisation policies.

From an initial Shiite call for resistance, a more cautious Sistani is now insisting on an Iraqi identity by putting “all Iraqis on the same level” to stand against the insurgency.

The danger is that after 11 years of bloodshed and marginalisation, can Baghdad muster the notion of a common “Iraqi”?

For that to happen, the real influence is in the hands of the Sunni tribes and the local Sunni population not in the guns of the Shiites.

The Sunnis drove out al-Qaeda once and conceivably can do to the same to ISIS, but why should they? A loose alliance of ISIS militiaman, armed local tribes and ex-Baathists has a common goal and at least for now can serve the goals of each other.

If the Sunni tribes ousted ISIS, what guarantee is there that this time Baghdad will take heed and implement their demands? At the same time, by losing ISIS, the Sunnis risk losing the spear to their arrow.

Sunni tribal influences

The Sunnis are composed of a number of influential tribes including Dulaim, Shamma, al-Jaburi, the Ubaydis, the ‘Azza and the al-Bu Nasir.

The founder of the Islamic Army of Iraq, Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash, and influential imam from the Batawi family and for many years a thorn in the side of US, acknowledged in a recent interview that thousands of his men are participating in the ISIS-led insurgency.

al-Dabash, whose demands like many other tribal leaders will not stop short of an autonomous Sunni region,  stated “Is it possible that a few hundred Isis jihadists can take the whole of Mosul?…No. All the Sunni tribes have come out against Maliki. And there are parts of the military, Baathists from the time of Saddam Hussein, clerics, everyone came out for the oppression that we have been suffering.”

Other tribal leaders have joined the fray in outlining their position.

The leader of the political wing of the Tribal Revolutionary Council, Sheikh Zaydan al Jabiri, in a similar vain to al-Dabash doesn’t endorse ISIS ideology but highlighted their common enemy, the Shiite dominated government

Ali Hatim Al-Suleiman, an emir of the Dulaim tribe echoed the sentiment of other tribal leaders, “It is the tribal rebels who are in control of the situation in Mosul. It is not reasonable to say that a group like ISIS, which has a small number of men and vehicles, could be in control of a large city like Mosul. Therefore, it is clear that this is a tribal revolution, but the government is trying to force us all to wear the robe of the terrorists and ISIS.”

Sheikh Khamis Al Dulaimi, a tribal leader in the Anbar Military Council of Tribal Revolutionaries, exclaimed “This is a revolution against the unfairness and marginalization of the past 11 years.”

A common them among these tribal leaders is their fear of ISIS and Sheikh Bashar al-Faidhi, Association of Muslim Scholars, was no different, “We’re terrified of them. They are a problem. But we have to have priorities.”

The tribal leaders were the key to recent snow-balling of ISIS influence and they are the key to any move to oust ISIS.

Growing sectarian divide since 2003

Animosity, hatred, fanaticism and revenge are a vicious cycle that is hard to break. The sectarian bloodshed since 2003 will be hard to ever heal let alone the deep history that entrenches the divide.

Passions are so high that even the slightest damage to any Shiite shrine will see the battle morph into all-out war (not to mention thousands of enraged Iranians joining any bloodbath). Just look at the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra in 2006 to see the 2 years of sectarian mayhem it unleashed.

Many of the youth, who are in now in their teens, grew up in a cycle of sectarian terror. It is these youth than joined the ranks of Shiite militias such as that of the Mehdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr and vehemently opposed US occupation.

Indeed, the sectarian landscape has changed immensely since 2003.

One look at makeup of the neighbourhood of Baghdad tells its own story. The city has segregated greatly along religious and to a lesser extent ethnic divisions.

The continuous demarcation of ethnic and sectarian divisions across Iraq put into focus the only real solution – Iraq’s breakup. Even then, sectarian and ethnic cleansing in such a scenario will run rife.

Shiite insurgencies in the past

The Sunni insurgencies against Baghdad are in some ways not too dissimilar to Shiite insurgencies against Sunni ruled Baghdad. Al-Da’wa al-Islamiyah (the Islamic Call), was established in 1967 by Shia clergy and activists against the Baathist rule.

The Da’wa was a revolutionary movement with the goal of creating an Islamic state in Iraq and fought through its al-Badr Brigade. Grand ayatollah Muahhamd Sadeq al-Sadr and his two sons including Muqtada al Sadr’s father and elder brothers were killed in 1999. It’s no secret which events Moqtada drew his anger.

However, in a similar way to how Sunnis were originally appeased to fight al-Qaeda, sometimes the bonds of tribal affiliation are older and stronger than religious affiliation, and Shiite tribes were affectively influenced to protect border regions in the Iran-Iraq war.

Ultimately, religious passions do not rule the head or heart of every Sunni or Shiites. But with lack of jobs, inclusion in society and government and a bleak future, a lot of Iraqis have little to hold onto.

First Published On: Rudaw

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Counting on the Kurds

Large shockwaves are reverberating across Iraq and the whole Middle East as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues its sweep through large parts of northern Iraq. While city after city falls, from populous Mosul to largely Ba’athist Tikrit, best known as the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, and now to Tal Afar, a strategic town west of Mosul, all the Iraqi armed forces have been able to muster so far is a faltering defense.

In contrast, in only two days the Kurds took control of some ISIS-threatened territories—ones that had been constantly disputed between the autonomous Kurdistan Region and the central government for the eleven years since Saddam Hussein fell from power. In the case of Kirkuk, the symbol of the Kurdish national struggle, the Iraqi forces hastily retreated and Kurdish forces, known as the Peshmerga, assumed control in a matter of hours. With Kurdish interests at great risk and a security vacuum to be filled, the Kurds were not about to remain idle.

The seeds of Sunni insurgency were sown long before ISIS came to town, and it is hardly the first time that the volatile Sunni plains and cities such as Mosul and Fallujah have been under the control of Sunni insurgents. Neither is it the first time the Kurds have had to step in to restore security. Indeed, it was the Peshmerga who helped bring control and stability to Mosul and the surrounding area between 2004 and 2005, and again in 2008, when the areas were threatened by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, one of the groups that would eventually merge to become ISIS.

Now, much like they were in the aftermath of the US invasion of 2003 that transformed Iraq’s sociopolitical landscape and sparked the fierce sectarian showdown that followed, the Kurds could yet become the main victors of the latest turmoil that has plagued Iraq. As the Kurds face off against ISIS on their doorstep, the Peshmerga are increasingly being viewed as key players against ISIS rebels and a main factor in the battle to secure stability. The price they could demand from Baghdad for this support in beating back an insurgency, however, could permanently alter the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s borders, its political status—and its fortunes.

Bailing out Maliki?

The ISIS attacks could not have come at a lower point for relations between Erbil and Baghdad. For years, there has been a fierce dispute between the autonomous region and the central government in Baghdad—over oil exports, the status of disputed territories, and the Kurdistan Region’s share of the national budget. Now, facing this growing insurgent threat, administering newly captured territory with significant minority populations, and hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the crises in Iraq and Syria, the Kurds must ask themselves if they should rush to bail out Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki. After all, it is Maliki’s policies the Kurds blame for stoking this latest sectarian fire.

The Kurdish leadership has long issued warnings about what in its view were divisive policies pursued by Maliki and his government. Instead, recurring themes in the Kurds’ post-2003 rhetoric were calls for national reconciliation and moves to bring Iraq’s Sunni community, which was feeling increasingly disenfranchised, back into the fold through political incentives and greater representation.

But if anything the sectarian divide only grew larger, especially during Maliki’s second term, when many Sunni political figures were exiled or ousted from government. Eventually, major Sunni protests in Anbar province at the end of 2013 were met with a violent crackdown. Now that those protests have mutated into a sectarian conflict exploited and exacerbated by ISIS militants, there are calls for all concerned—from Shi’ite militias to the Kurds and international parties such as the United States—to step in and help preserve the unity of Iraq.

The Kurds, however, have long aspired to the opposite of a united Iraq: they want an independent country for their nation formed, at least in part, out of the area of northern Iraq currently administered as the autonomous Kurdistan Region. As the ISIS crisis looms larger, they are not likely to step in to preserve anything other than their own interests—and certainly not to rescue Maliki or Baghdad from the mess that, in the Kurds’ view, they have created. Only a few weeks ago, after all, Erbil and Baghdad were at loggerheads about oil sales and arbitration, and Baghdad has failed to pay the Kurds their share of the national budget since January.

Now, if Baghdad wants the Peshmerga to step in as they have done in the past, it will have to promise something in return. Even if Baghdad met key Kurdish demands—for greater control over oil exports from the region, payment of the overdue portions of the national budget, and formal recognition of the territories the Kurds currently hold as part of the Kurdistan Region—it would likely not secure more than limited support from Kurdish leaders in the battle against ISIS.

While the contentious US invasion of Iraq in 2003 created something of a sectarian whirlwind that today continues to rip through Iraq, for the Kurds it marked the beginning of a national renaissance and the creation of a Kurdistan Region a world away from the dark years of oppression and genocide under Saddam. Their strong economy is underpinned by a rapidly growing energy sector and control of billions of barrels of oil that is serving as the fuel for independence—literally—and in recent fighting their security service has proven itself to be among the more effective and better-organized forces operating in Iraq.

Between economic growth and the longstanding pursuit of complete independence, the Kurds’ goals have been lofty. It is Baghdad that the autonomous region’s Kurds deem as the major impediment to their continued progress, with the ongoing oil dispute proving particularly damaging to the relationship.

Control of oil revenues and oil exports was in many ways the last umbilical cord that Baghdad had over the region. By agreeing lucrative energy contracts with Turkey, the Kurds called Baghdad’s bluff and pressed ahead with an independent oil sale, to Baghdad’s vocal consternation. The Iraqi government even filed for arbitration against the Kurdistan Region over the oil sale issue—in part because economic self-sufficiency would help propel Iraqi Kurdistan to greater autonomy and eventual independence.

But while even two weeks ago Kurdistan’s first independent oil sale, through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, was highly controversial, the tone has certainly changed now that Iraq is swept up in sectarian bloodshed and seemingly dependent on the Peshmerga for security support. It would be a bit rich for Maliki to dictate the terms of oil sales while he is fighting an enemy only the Kurds have won against so far.

On that platform of relative economic success, Kurdistan has prided itself on its rapid advancement and relative stability. At the same time, Iraq as a whole has suffered. But, the goalposts for the “Other Iraq” have now shifted substantially, due to the Kurds controlling territory outside their official autonomous region and with substantial minority populations. They must incorporate a large Arab minority and a number of smaller minorities, not to mention the many refugees, inside territory with a border shared not with the Iraqi state, but with a region now controlled by ISIS militants.

The price of an army

If they manage all this, the Kurds stand to gain a great deal, not least of which is control of the oil-rich Kirkuk region. They saw Kirkuk slip through their hands in 1991, the year of the Kurdish uprising against Saddam that saw their autonomous region first established. Again in 2003, Kirkuk fell just beyond their grasp as they succumbed to US and Turkish pressure. Article 140 of the 2005 Iraqi Constitution aims to deal with Kirkuk and other disputed territories, and it should have been implemented by the end of 2007. Much to the frustration of the Kurds, Baghdad has had no appetite to address the issue, and even a national census—an important first step in dealing with the disputed territories—has been repeatedly put off. Today, the Kurds are not about to forego yet another golden opportunity to seize Kirkuk, said by many to be the “Kurds’ Jerusalem.”

To keep Kirkuk—and the entire Kurdistan Region—safe, the Peshmerga have formed what for now has been an effective security barrier against ISIS and its allied forces. For now, the Peshmerga are in defensive mode only: While there have been skirmishes, ISIS do not have endless forces or firepower, and it is unlikely they could wage and win a war against well-prepared Kurdish forces. And, where the Iraqi forces, which were organized along sectarian lines, swiftly retreated, the Peshmerga have stronger ties of loyalty—and would likely defend Kurdish lands to their last breath.

Perhaps even greater than the prospect of more territory in Iraq or greater control of oil revenues is the chance for increased unity with Kurdish populations living outside the autonomous region, namely in Syria and Turkey, and for improved ties with old enemies such as Ankara.

Amid cries that the Middle East’s borders are eroding, Syria’s Kurds have carved out their own autonomous territory in the northeast of that war-torn country, and in a symbolic move the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) forces fought side-by-side with the Peshmerga along the Syrian border in the effort to drive out ISIS rebels. At the same time, Syrian Kurds, bolstered by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have built strong ties with the Turkish Kurds—and, of course, there is the fact that Iraqi Kurdistan’s recent unilateral oil sales could not have come without the cooperation of Turkey.

The Turkish government has fast realized that, far from being a threat, the Kurds are its natural partners and a newfound strategic player Turkey needs and can rely on in stormy regional waters. The ISIS onslaught has undoubtedly changed Turkey’s Iraq calculus, pushing Ankara closer than ever to Erbil. In a bizarre twist of fate, the US spent years and much effort bringing Ankara and Erbil closer together. Now that Turkey and Kurdistan are enjoying strong economic, political and strategic ties, they are viewing the developments with great caution. While in 2003 the Kurdish occupation of Kirkuk caused an outcry from Ankara, Turkey may now actively support it, especially with the protection it affords the Turkmens living in Kirkuk and the potential benefit to Ankara if Iraq’s Kurds control even more oil resources.

Of course, the ultimate goal of the Kurdish population has long been complete independence. As the Iraq crisis continues almost unchecked, the Kurds could be getting closer to outright independence. The short-term goal for the Kurds is about consolidation and stability. ISIS forces may not invade the newly demarcated line between the territory they hold and the expanded Kurdistan Region, but they can certainly wreak havoc on Kurdistan and its interests. The immediate goal for the Kurds, then, is to preserve the security and stability of the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdish populations in the greater Kurdish area.

The Kurds will keep a close, diligent eye on developments, and once Kurdish interests are secured, they will not jump in with both feet into the Iraqi quagmire. Depending on how the Iraq crisis unfolds—and the staying power of an alliance of ISIS, armed locals and old Ba’athists—the Kurds may well need to strike a deal with Baghdad in order to keep their own peace. Either way, the Kurds will need to maneuver carefully between Sunni militants and a weakened Maliki administration.

First Published On: Majalla (part of Sharq al-Awsat newspaper)

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Commentary for Vo Tima Newspaper (Greece)

Greek Version (English version below)

Ο πετρελαιοκίνητος εθνικισμός των Κούρδων

Τούρκοι και κούρδοι ηγέτες έθεσαν σε εφαρμογή μια ενεργειακή συμφωνία που υπόσχεται να ενισχύσει την ημιαυτόνομη περιοχή του ιρακινού Κουρδιστάν με μια ανεξάρτητη ροή εσόδων από το πετρέλαιο

«Καύσιμο για την ανεξαρτησία» Δημοσιογράφος και αναλυτής του Ekurd.net μιλάει στο «Βήμα»

«Τα εκατομμύρια βαρέλια του πετρελαίου από το Κιρκούκ χρησιμεύουν, κυριολεκτικά, ως καύσιμο για την ανεξαρτησία των Κούρδων του Ιράκ» λέει μιλώντας στο «Βήμα» ο Μπασντάρ Ισμαήλ, δημοσιογράφος και αναλυτής στο Ekurd.net.

«Οι πρόσφατες πετρελαϊκές συμβάσεις με την Τουρκία έχουν προκαλέσει σάλο στη Βαγδάτη και στην Ουάσιγκτον, που φοβούνται νέα αποσταθεροποίηση στο Ιράκ. Αλλά η Αγκυρα έχει καταλάβει ότι οι Κούρδοι είναι φυσικοί εταίροι της και αναδυόμενοι στρατηγικοί παίκτες στη νέα Μέση Ανατολή. Για τους Κούρδους, η Τουρκία είναι μια πύλη ζωτικής σημασίας, χωρίς την οποία δεν μπορεί να ανθήσει η οικονομία τους. Από αυτή την άποψη, η Αγκυρα γίνεται, με πολύ παράδοξο τρόπο, ο καταλύτης του κουρδικού μετασχηματισμού» τονίζει ο Ισμαήλ.

«Συνειδητοποιεί η Τουρκία ότι ο δρόμος προς την ανεξαρτησία είναι ο φυσικός προορισμός για το Κουρδιστάν; Φυσικά. Αλλά ένα ισχυρό ιρακινό Κουρδιστάν θα είναι παράγοντας ειρήνης και σταθερότητας για την Τουρκία, και για τη δική της ταραγμένη κουρδική μειονότητα. Στην Τουρκία, στο Ιράκ, στη Συρία και στο Ιράν οι Κούρδοι είναι εδώ για να μείνουν, και η Αγκυρα έχει καταλάβει ότι η ξεπερασμένη πολιτική της που βασιζόταν στον στενό εθνικισμό ήταν μια αυταπάτη, που δεν την προστάτευε. Ακόμη και η Τουρκία δεν μπορεί να αγνοήσει το τεράστιο στρατηγικό, οικονομικό και πολιτικό βάρος που έχουν αποκτήσει οι Κούρδοι σήμερα» καταλήγει ο Ισμαήλ.

English Version

The Kurdish national renaissance is underscored by a booming Kurdistan Region that is far cry from the dark days of the past. A booming economy is underpinned by a rapidly growing energy sector and billions of barrels of oil that is serving as the fuel for independence – literally. Recent Turkish oil contracts with Kurdistan have caused a stir in Baghdad, but in truth Ankara is already neck deep in Kurdistan with billions of trade and hundreds of companies. In many ways Turkey has seemingly chosen Erbil as its partner over Baghdad and these oil contracts placate growing strategic ties. Yet ironically just a few years ago, Turkey was ever-anxious at Kurdish national developments and setting red-lines for intervention.

With a fast unravelling and conflict strewn Middle Eastern, Turkey has fast realised that far from a threat, the Kurds are its natural partners and newfound strategic actors that Turkey needs and can rely on in stormy regional waters. At the same time, Turkey is the vital gate that Kurdistan cannot flourish without. Ankara in many ways is the enabler of the rapid Kurdish transformation. With a win-win situation for both sides, it’s no wonder that new pipelines and contracts are been signed.

Does Turkey realise the independence path that is a natural destination for Kurdistan – of course. But a strong Kurdistan Region actually helps brings peace and not instability to Turkey and its own restive Kurds, and also helps influence Kurds elsewhere.

Whether in Syria, Turkey, Iraq or Iran, the Kurds are here to stay and Ankara has realised that its out-dated policies based on a narrow nationalistic mind-sets were a delusion that hampered Turkish nationalism, not protect it. Even Turkey cannot ignore the sheer strategic, economic and political weight that the Kurds now bring.

Will Iraq experience ‘withdrawal symptoms’

A sight of departing US forces was a long-time dream for sections of the Iraqi population opposed directly and indirectly to the American occupation. However, as the remaining US combat forces trickle over the desertous border, ahead of the 31st August deadline as per their strategic agreement with Baghdad, what kind of an Iraq will they be leaving behind?

Back in April 2003 amidst short-lived euphoria, the ambition and vision for the new Iraq was bold and inspiring. Not only did the US overthrow a brutal dictator but aimed to induce a sense of western values and democracy to Iraq that at the same time would serve as a model for the greater Middle East. 

Seven battle-hardened years later with over 4,400 troops dead, 30,000 wounded and not to mention war costs that now run into trillions of dollars, the Iraqi adventure will always remain a blot on US foreign policy and one that will symbolise the contentious tenure of George W. Bush.

While the US was seemingly bogged in a quagmire and stuck in a vicious cycle between insurgents on the street and bickering politicians in parliament, the situation in Iraq was averted from a total failure with Iraq finally turning a corner, the appeal of sectarianism slowly waning and security improving dramatically.

However, the situation in Iraq is by no means irreversible and the crunch period for the stability and future of Iraq is yet to be seen. No better way sums up the continual frailties that remain than the current circumstances that encompass the US withdrawal.

Almost six months after the milestone national elections that was hoped to foster the first genuine post-war national government, Iraqis still bicker on the choice of prime minister lest forming a new government to deal with the decisive issues that loiter on the parliamentary shelf.

While Iraq may not necessarily make the front pages of the news as it used to, this shouldn’t mask the fact that Iraq is still tentative and has great strides to make. As such, even as Washington can breathe a sigh of relief after almost a decade of two brutal wars that stretched even the might of the world’s greatest army to its very limits, Iraq is far from a “job done”.

While certain circles have been all too frequently keen to highlight US deficiencies in Iraq, Iraqi politicians must take a lion share of the blame for protracted progress and slow reconciliation. The US is hardly responsible for every Iraqi misfortune and the controversy over the US occupation merely masked key issues on the ground that was tapered for decades by totalitarian rule.

The huge US presence particularly in the aftermath of the surge campaign was designed to offer Iraqis crucial “breathing space” that was hoped to cement political progress. However, much of the benchmarks set by the US failed to be achieved by the Iraqi government.

Even as Baghdad has progressively moved towards full sovereignty in recent years and become more confident to stand on its own feet, the same fundamental handicaps continued to undermine the Iraqi mission.

Iraq is a disparate nation with a deep history of mistrust amongst its ethnic and sectarian mosaic. Too often direct US influence in the Iraqi political chambers allowed key legislation and government forming to ensue. More strikingly, whilst progress and milestones were often hailed over the years to showcase Iraqi path to success, many achievements could only be ushered by brushing key political hot-potatoes under the political rug.

For example, seven years later, enmity and ideological divides on the running of the country plague relationships between Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite camps. The Iraqi oil industry, which on paper has the power to propel Iraq to great economic heights, continues to linger behind with a lack of a census amongst groups on a true way to share its immense oil wealth.

Years after the onset of the constitution, the implementation of key terms such as article 140 continues to gather dust. While for many years, the spotlight was on the Sunni-Shiite showdown resulting in almost all out civil war, the strategic differences between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad were not as relevant. However, one of the greatest dangers that continue to gather pace is the simmering tension in the disputed border regions in the north, particularly in Kirkuk.

Although, relatively calm for now, the growing issue is yet to bear its full fruit owed to years of foot-dragging in resolving key standoffs between Arabs and Kurds.

In reality, the US has invested too many lives, money and foreign policy to wave good bye just yet. Far from the end of an era, the presence of 50,000 full armed US soldiers is hardly a meagre figure. The US with its eyes on the growing menace of Iran and its ongoing war in Afghanistan, can not afford an Iraq that slips into deeper infighting and insurgency and drags the rest of the Middle East down with it.

In essence from the 1st September 2010 under its new label of Operation New Dawn, all that may be happening is a rebranding of the American escapade. Remaining “non-combat” troops have the legal jurisdiction to continue counter-terrorism operations, assists Iraqi forces and act in self defence.

Owed to the fractured nature of the state, Iraqis are very much susceptible to foreign meddling and without a strong government in Baghdad Iraq may well play a role of a client state for neighbouring countries in the years to come. Iran continues to exert strong influence on Shiite parties, Turkey continues to build and strengthen its ties with Kurdistan and Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan observe diligently to ensure that Sunni interests do not succumb to a new wave of Shiite revolutionaries on their eastern borders.

Political frustrations aside, security in Iraq is hardly clean-cut. One only has to point to the notion that there are now “only” 50 or so deaths a week. That is still 50 lives too many that Iraqi families have to endure. Although, Iraqi forces numbering over 600,000 are formidable on paper, by their own admission they are not ready to assume full responsibility for all aspects of security without US assistance.

Furthermore, just where loyalties lie within the forces is open to question. Until the security forces broadly comprise all three groups, sentiments will be cautious to the effectiveness and impartiality of the forces.

Above all else, as at least a phase of the US adventure comes to a close, people have lost sight of the overall picture. The new Iraq and foreign actors must realise that a brutal dictator, who killed thousands of his own civilians with chemical weapons, launched deadly wars, drained national resources and repressed three quarters of the population was removed thanks to the US. Just ask the Kurds in north at their gratitude towards the Americans.

The new Iraq can in theory excel economically and strategically. However, as the US has come to terms over seven years, they can only push Iraqis so far, the rest of the journey only Iraqis can assume whilst Americans anxiously watch. Iraqis must start to look at key differences that continue to blight progress and realise only they can muster a new dawn. There is nothing the US can do but hope that their grand and costly excursion in Iraq comes to fruition.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Epoch Times, Peyamner, Various Misc.

Interview with Falah Musatafa (KRG Foreign Minister)

With regards to democracy in Kurdistan, with the upcoming elections in July, what is your feeling about democracy as it stands in Kurdistan?

Of course, we have started to build the path towards democracy but we can not claim we have a perfect democratic experience yet. Although we have been trying our best to establish a democratic system in this region, I believe we have a long way to go. Democracy is not a package that you can distribute and handover to people so they can get change from another system to a democratic system. As Prime Minister Barzani has stated, it is a practice of daily life, it takes time and it’s a process but for sure the KRG is determined to go to the end of that road.

Regarding upcoming elections, the KRG welcomes this. This will be another effort that we put forward in order to make sure we are on the right track.  It provides an opportunity for people to make their own choice, and this is when an individual can vote, it makes sense for people to be able to choose those who believe in their capabilities and trust them.

I have often noted the openness of the government in acknowledging its deficiencies, for example in the current democratic experience, or the current state of the judicial system, how are these deficiencies been actively resolved into practice?

I believe one of the key successes of Prime Minister Barzani is the fact that he has been  open and honest with himself, his cabinet and his people. He has always tried to come forward, tell the people what do we have, where do we stand and what are our problems and what shall we do. It is important for a leader to acknowledge, to admit, and when mistakes have been made to say we have made mistakes and when we have problems, to say we have problems. He tries to consult with others in order to find the right way to go. It was the Prime Minister, in terms of human rights, woman issues and other issues who was the first to come on the stage and state that we can not hide our problems anymore, we have to expose our problems in order to tackle them and find proper solutions for them. I believe we are witnessing a transitional phase in our history, in the region and also in the entire Iraq, we may not get what we desire or wish, but the most important thing is to have the political will and the determination in order to overcome the difficulties, try to fill in the gaps and also make sure that the future is better than the past

Regards, the upcoming elections in July, will international observers monitor these elections?

KRG welcomes international observers to come in and monitor those elections, to make sure that we have free and fair elections in this region. It is very important for us since we want to prove to the outside world, to those inside Iraq and of course to our own people, that we welcome these elections. We want to make sure that the results are not challenged. Therefore, the more international observers we have, the better and more credible the results there will be.

How can you guarantee that there will be no irregularities and fraud when the elections are held?

We hope that the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq, which will  be supervising the elections in this region, will be preparing the results in the best way, so that they will not allow for double voting, so they will have all registration forms ready and the ballot boxes and the polling stations, in order to ensure that that there will be no irregularities. However, this is the Middle East and this is Iraq, which we have to take into account, but we are determined to cooperate fully with IECI and also with international observers to make sure that the results are welcome.

Relations between the Kurdistan Region and Ankara have seen a gradual warming, how do you foresee future relations will be shaped?

The KRG is optimistic about its future relations with Turkey. Turkey is an important country and we look forward to expanding of relations with Turkey, in terms of economic activities, business cooperation, commercial activities, cultural and education activities. Overall the Kurdistan Region as part of Iraq can also play an important bridge to the rest of Iraq, and we are looking forward to expansion of ties, increasing the volume and scale of economic exchange between the region and the entire Iraq with Turkey,

Therefore I believe we are on the right track and welcome the positive developments in Turkey and we believe these are important steps that should not be underestimated. There have been positive changes from the Turkish side and we look forward to continuing to work with them. As you know, there has recently been direct dialogue between the KRG and Turkish officials and we welcome that, and we will make sure that we continue this kind of cooperation.

Clearly appears foundations are been laid for better bilateral ties, in terms of the future shape of relations, is there general support for a future confederation between Turkey and the KRG?

Well, the Kurdistan Region is a part Iraq, and the parliament of the Kurdistan Region adopted a federal solution, we are committed to the Iraqi constitution and we want to make sure that we will have a free, federal, democratic and pluralistic Iraq, an Iraq that treats its citizens with respect and dignity, and lives in peace with itself, within its communities and with its neighboring countries.

At the same time we welcome increasing our relations and widening our relations with neighboring countries and Turkey is an important country that we can have very good relations with. Turkey has helped us in the past and it will continue to cooperate with Iraq and also the Kurdistan Region. Therefore the KRG are committed to the Iraqi constitution and its stipulations.

Does that commitment to the constitution, that commitment to the overall sovereignty of Iraq, has also its preconditions as well from a KRG perspective?

The commitment must be reciprocal based on an Iraq that is peaceful, stable and has a future for all sides.

Why have the KRG not been able to create a more powerful lobby in the US or the EU?

Well, the KRG is trying its best in order to broaden its ties and also to work closely with foreign governments, including the US government, British government and EU governments. We have been trying to encourage them to open business offices, consulates and embassy offices in the region. As far as we are concerned we have done everything that we can and we will continue to do so. We have also been trying to encourage the Kurdish communities, and the Kurdistan communities in the Diaspora, to also play a positive role in that. But it needs continued efforts.

Will a future Kurdistan, have a base of support from abroad, perhaps somewhat akin to Israel, that is committed and supports its existence, and not just as a part of federation but as a rightful entity?

The situation in Kurdistan is different, the Kurdistan Region is here today, we were here before the liberation of Iraq, and we remained after the liberation. We had our own government and parliament and we continued to work with the coalition forces as well as with other Iraqi forces, in order to make sure that there will be a better future for all Iraqis. Therefore I believe this is a transitional phase, it needs patience, it needs effort and it needs international support. The international support that we need today is political support for Iraq, for the political process, to send the right message to Iraq that we support democracy, we will not support dictatorship, that we support commitment to the constitution, and to the process that we have started. I believe that the best support the international community can give to Iraq is to stay committed to the constitution, which lays down principles of federalism, democracy, and also making sure the future of Iraq is better than the past.

How supportive have the US been to the idea of more Kurdish self-rule?

Well, this has to be an Iraqi decision. We were almost independent from 1991 to the time of the fall of the former regime in 2003. We had our own international relations, international business dealings; even the currency which was in circulation here was different from that of the rest of the country. The economy here was doing better, the education system, the health system, there was no control whatsoever from the Iraqi regime at that time. But with the fall of the regime, based on the principles of federalism and democracy, pluralism and partnership, we decided to go back and work for a better Iraq. Therefore it is an Iraqi issue, it was supported by all those who were involved in the implementation process, and also during the drafting of the constitution. The Kurdistan Region as an entity has been recognized in the Iraq constitution as a legitimate entity, and I believe it has to be respected because the Kurdistan Region has got its own characteristics. The region has been run professionally since 1991, we are doing much better than some other parts of the country, and we believe we are ahead. Had it not been for the problems created every now and then by the federal government such as problems of the national budget, problems of the movement of troops, and problems regarding other issues, there would have been even more progress. But also the security situation in the rest of the country has affected us negatively, in terms of discouraging people to come and invest in this region, although the KRG has started a very powerful campaign to start attracting investment to this part of Iraq, using Kurdistan as a gateway to start business establishments in this part of Iraq, and then moving towards the rest of Iraq when the situation stabilizes.

The US brought about the change in Iraq in 2003, with the Kurds as close allies in that liberation, do you feel that the US could do more to promote Kurdish interests.

We do not ask beyond what the constitution says. Our demands are Iraqi demands, for example, when we talk about democracy, democracy is for all of Iraq. We would like the US, and the international community as a whole to support the democratic principles in Iraq. When we ask for federalism, this is something stipulated in the Iraqi constitution, referring to Iraq as a federal state. This is a system of government that makes sure all communities in Iraq share the power and wealth of their country. Therefore we want the US support for the constitution, since they played a role in the drafting phase of the same constitution in question. We ask for the respect of human rights, we ask for the rule of law, we ask for more transparency. These are all demands that will serve Iraq as a whole as well as our region. But at the same time we would like US support for this region, politically, economically, encouraging more companies to invest in this region, improving education links to build bridges between our universities, so there are many ways and means of supporting this region as part of Iraq, and to ensure that the future of this region is guaranteed.

First Published On: The Media Line

Other Publication Sources: Kurdistan Regional Government, Kurdish Globe, PUK Media, Peyamner, Various Misc.

In one part of Iraq, democracy is not a new phenomenon

Much has been said about the advent of democracy in Iraq, however democracy in one part of Iraq, albeit not always in a perfect form, has been practiced since 1992.

With the run up to crucial parliamentary and presidential elections in the Kurdistan Region in July of this year, it provides a gauge to determine how far politics and democracy has evolved in the region. KRG Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa Bakir, hailed the upcoming elections as a chance for people to make key decisions and ensure the region is on the “right track”, while strongly advocating as many international observers as possible.

From fighting in the mountains to running in parliament, fundamental achievements have been made since 1991 but democracy is still hampered by key deficiencies and shortfalls such the judicial system, elements of corruption and bureaucracy. According to Bakir, the Kurds are witnessing a transitional phase in their history and “have started to build the path towards democracy but can not claim to have a perfect democratic experience yet”. However, Bakir stresses that his government has the political will and the determination to “go to the end of that road”.

Political opposition is increasing, and there are signs that even the two dominant Kurdish parties, Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are evolving under pressure from changing times and increasing expectations of the people. There is somewhat of a notion of a conceptual battle between old schools of thought and new liberal minds in Kurdistan.

According to Dindar Zebari, Special KRG representative to the UN, the Kurds have been leading actors of democracy in Iraq, and believes the upcoming elections “serve as another commitment of Iraqi Kurds to the sovereignty and unity of the country”, while urging more international support for issues in Iraq and Kurdistan.

The KRG have perhaps been their worst critics at times. According to Bakir, they have acknowledged the need to highlight their deficiencies, seek solutions and consult with others in bridging gaps. Progression in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq according to Bakir “needs patience, effort and international support”.

Whilst it is easy to pick out failing in the Kurdish democratic experience, one must judge a subject within its context. With the exception of Turkey, which houses many constraints of its own, neighboring countries can hardly be classified as model democracies. Democracy in Iraq itself is flawed, with many constitutional stipulations voted by millions, such as article 140 failing to attract serious attention in its implementation

Although by their admission democracy in Kurdistan is far from perfect, achievements in less than two decades and particularly in the last six years have been noteworthy. No democracy has ever flourished without its pains and conflicts, and Kurdistan is no different.

The Kurds have suffered immeasurably under authoritarian Arab rule since the creation of the artificial state of Iraq. Finally free from the totalitarian grip of Saddam Hussein after immense sacrifice, Kurds were able to decide their own future and also showcase the virtue of self-determination that they had been deprived for so long.

And what better way to showcase your credentials for statehood and self-rule than show the world and your nemesis in the region that you are capable of a democracy and a way of governance that not only would be unique in Kurdistan as it would be a first, but one that could also serve as a benchmark for the rest of region.

Kurds have tried hard to implement a system of tolerance to other religions and ethnicities that they themselves have not received. Ever keen to attract a positive view from the West, Kurds have been keen to fight disputes such as over the city of Kirkuk, in a democratic manner to legitimize and bolster their experience.

In the time since its inception, the parliament has passed a number of important laws, covering women rights, press, economy, civil liberties and general society. The improvements in freedoms and laws since 2003 have been noticeable, for example with increasing rights for woman and increased government tolerance to opposition.

However, although at times too general, reports from human rights organizations have continued to highlight shortcomings in terms of the application of the rule of law, opposition and general freedoms. According to Zebari, these reports are taking “seriously” and the government has setup committees and reinforced their desire to bring “human rights to international standards”.

There is still an element of apprehension that the parliament is really supporting and serving the people.  There is a general consensus that parliamentarians have to be more attentive to public concerns and demands. Accountability must increase for this to be realized. For Zebari , “elections will add to the legitimacy of the setup of this region as elections always bring back credibility, transparency and trust, from the authorities to the people and vice versa.”

Moving forward, the Kurdistan parliament should work to become a reflection of the will of the people, and there must be a closer correlation between both sides. Politics must adapt to the people and environment and not the other way around.

First Published On: al-Arabiya News Network

Other Publication Sources: Kurdish Globe, eKurd, Online Opinion, Rudaw, PUK Media, Peyamner, Various Misc.

Breaking the Kirkuk deadlock?

Of all the current issues in Iraq, the dispute over the oil-rich Kirkuk region could go a long way in deciding future fortunes of the “new” Iraq.

Kirkuk was a persistent thorn in the side of the Iraqi Kurds and Baghdad for many decades and the new Iraq after the downfall of Saddam Hussein has done little to change that, in spite of the fact the stipulations under article 140 of the Iraqi constitution adopted in 2005 was designed to bring a democratic solution to the control of Kirkuk once and for all.

Once the deadline for the implementation of article 140 inevitably passed at the end of 2007 and without much progress, the UN was tasked with the responsibility of diffusing tensions, or in the words of UN special envoy to Iraq, Steffan di Mistura, stopping the ticking time-bomb.

Fast forward to 2009, after many months of fact finding, research and analysis, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) finally submitted their detailed report outlining recommendations to Iraqi leaders on resolving the numerous border disputes, of which Kirkuk is the most notable.

Kurds have ubiquitously accused Baghdad of dragging their heels, and heeding to pressure from neighbouring countries particularly Turkey, who is naturally unfavourable to seeing Kirkuk’s immense oil wealth ‘fall into the hands’ of the Kurds.

As tensions have reached a knife-edge between the Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen, Kirkuk has often been referred as a touch-paper for the rest of Iraq with international powers keen to prevent civil war.

Kurdish frustrations are compounded by Baathist Arabisation policies that saw thousands of Arabs resettle in the area at the expense of the Kurds and the changes to the provincial boundaries to dilute Kurdish population figures.

Now Kurds, who have remained insistent that article 140 is a red line, wait anxiously for resolution of Kirkuk, especially with the US withdrawal plans expected to gather pace. The exact details of the UN report are still unclear, whether the suggestions will lead to an agreement is even more uncertain.

According to KRG Special Representative to the UN, Dindar Zebari, UN Resolution 1770 and 880 gave the UN involvement crucial legitimacy which was aided further by the direct request for “technical” assistance from Iraqi leaders. “The involvement of the UN has been a big help to the political process in Iraq”, remarked Zebari.

According to Zebari, UN recommendations are intended as a “complete package” that is not designed to appease one Iraqi group or any neighbouring country.

“UN is providing consultancy, technical and logistics support, assistance in terms of data, and other criteria that have to be used to formulate solutions. So the UN involvement is essentially in an advisory and consultancy capacity”, stated Zebari who emphasized from an executive perspective that the implementation of any solution can only come from the Iraqi side.

Iraqi leaders now have the opportunity to analyze the report, based on elements that were officially requested for the UN to determine, and come up with their own feedback or recommendations. All four solutions proposed in the report, however, deal with Kirkuk as a single unit.

“The UN reports doesn’t say these areas have to part of a certain authority but may state that according to criteria that have been used, let’s say geographical, historical and cultural backgrounds, previous elections result, the majority of the certain districts of these areas are supporting annexation or support to be part of that authority. However, it does not stipulate that the UN decides,” Zebari reaffirmed.

Whether agreements lead to sustainable solutions is unclear, however Zebari warned that that there must be more urgency to progress.

Zebari emphasized that from a KRG perspective they are eager for a quick solution, and are keen for more compromises amongst all the sides, but moreover any discussion or solutions must be formulated around article 140 of a constitution that is essentially “a package and you can not ignore a part of that package”, otherwise as Zebari warned, “other groups or minorities can take other articles out of the constitution”.

As far as the KRG are concerned, “the solution must be immediate and more urgent, because it affects the political process and the trust between Iraqis in this important period of transition.”

According to Zebari, the UN and international community have a key responsibility in the post-liberalisation of Iraq and “have a key role in successful reconciliation, where the current involvement serves a part of the UN commitment to the political process”. Zebari underlined that the International community are committed to the peace and security of Iraq and still have “a huge responsibility to make Iraq a success.”

Either way, it remains to be seen whether the UN stopped the ticking-tomb or simply just delayed its implementation. The real desire to reconcile, compromise and enforce democratic principles is down to Iraqi’s alone. International powers can facilitate the process but ultimately in Iraq it may be a case that ‘you can take a horse to a well, but not make it drink it’.

First Published On: The Media Line

Other Primary Sources of Republication: Kurdistan Regional Government, Kurdish Globe, Rudaw, Peyamner, eKurd, PUK Media, Online Opinion, Various Misc.

Iraq: contentious, controversial and explosive

The Iraqi transitional road to democracy has been difficult and historic, but nothing compared with the future implication of the time-bombs that have littered the path.

Five years on from the liberation of Iraq, the US occupation of the Mesopotamian plains remains as contentious, controversial and explosive as ever.

While Iraq has dominated international media almost daily, hopes for a swift and successful transition to democracy have been all but dashed. Rampant insurgency, a stagnant economy and bitter squabbling among the Iraqi mosaic has effectively placed Iraq in a worse position in respect to its stability and economy than it was under Saddam.

Battling a deadly Sunni-inspired insurgency and the forces of al-Qaida has left the US coalition in a quagmire. Daily suicide bombings, attacks by sectarian militias, high-profile assassinations and mass unemployment took a dramatic toll that was only later partially bridged by a controversial US surge strategy.

However, short-term gains and initiatives have all too often over-looked the long-term implications in Iraq. Ultimately, no plan is effective, if the will of the factions, plagued by common mistrust and animosity, is lacking the appetite to make the state a success.

Post-2003 euphoria

The short-lived euphoria that followed the Iraqi liberation from decades of brutal totalitarianism was quickly submerged by mass looting and anarchy. A number of high-profile blunders, such as the disarmament of the entire army and rapid de-Baathification by the Coalitional Provisional Authority only added fuel to a raging fire.

Although, clearly, none of the weapons of mass destruction were found as had been suggested by US intelligence, the majority of the Iraqi population, particularly Kurds and Shiites who suffered repression and lived under the shadows of Baathist nationalism, were grateful that in their eyes the real weapon of mass destruction was dethroned and later dramatically hanged.

As the problems compounded, the stance of the US administration slowly turned from attaining victory to achieving “success”. What was hoped to be a short-term operation has seemingly lengthened month by month. Within weeks, Iraq became the battle-ground for Islamic terrorism, fuelled by a disenchanted Sunni population whom after decades of supremacy were now affectively playing second-fiddle to the Kurds and their Shiite arch-nemesis.

History making at the polls

The transitional road to democracy was rocky but nevertheless historic. In 2005, the population defied terrorists’ threats and went to the polls in their millions. Elections for an unprecedented Iraqi constitution in October 2005 were followed closely by the first elections for an elected Iraqi National Assembly.

However, although pictures of Iraqi’s with voting cards served as great marketing boost for the US, mass boycotting by the Sunni population only undermined the process.

While the constitution was approved by the required threshold, the Sunnis have demanded ever since that before any talk of political reconciliation, the constitution must be amended, a greater Sunni representation must be afforded in government and for the Iraqi security forces to be overhauled to dilute the virtual Shiite hegemony over the distrusted forces.

This is easier said than done in Iraq, with factions reluctant to loosen their hard-fought gains, just because Sunnis “regretted” their stance at the polls. Under strong US pressure, mindful that without enticing Sunnis into the political fold terrorists and insurgents may never be undermined, the Iraqi government has attempted to reach out to the Sunnis. Loosening of the de-Baathification laws and a promise to establish a constitutional review committee have provided limited dividends.

The wait for true democracy

The elections in Iraq were as predictable as they were historic. Voting patterns only highlighted the fragmented nature of the society. Most political parties representing each group united to maximise gains at the elections.

The elections only served as a political census and by no means revealed great insight into the policies and vision of an elected Iraqi government.

Iraqi negotiations were often bogged-down by protracted negotiations, missed deadlines and bitter squabbling. Frequently at a stalemate, it was only with fervent US pressure that the political process did not grind to a halt altogether.

However, all too often for the sake of progress, the real issues were swept under the political rug and remained unresolved as ticking time-bombs.

Years later, the highly contentious issues of sharing of natural resources, the extent of federalism and the role of religion are still gathering dust in the Iraqi political chambers.

A year after the initial Iraqi hydro-carbon law was perpetuated in government, Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis remain as divided as ever. With the second highest oil reserves in the world, oil revenues are key for the revitalisation of an Iraqi economy virtually shattered by UN sanctions under Saddam and then by a lack of stability and investment.

Growing discord between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad

It is difficult to assess the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the same breath as the rest of Iraq. While violence and sectarian bloodshed has engulfed much of Iraq, the Kurds, flourishing under de facto independence have been quietly building a model state with growing prominence, economic prosperity and strategic importance.

Impatiently waiting for what they perceive as a failing state, the Kurds have since sought a unilateral path while successfully marketing the Kurdistan region as “the other Iraq”.

However, the rapid gains and transformation of their region into a credible economic hub has come at a price. After the Kurds approved their own oil laws, international oil companies flocked to the region. A number of exploration contracts were awarded but were followed by a strong rebuke from Baghdad insisting that any deal signed without the consent of the central government was “illegal”.

Increasing allegations of over-reaching by Kurds, have added to a growing rift between regional powers, the legal implications of the current constitution and the allocation of the Iraqi national budget.

Clearly, the Shiites in particular can ill-afford to alienate their Kurdish partners, and with the much-maligned and shaky Iraqi government spear-headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki under intense spotlight, the Kurds will feel confident to continue developing their region unchallenged.

The recent tensions between Arbil and Baghdad only served as a reminder that key issues between both sides have only been papered over by the greater difficulties in the rest of Iraq.

The Kurds are suspicious as ever that Baghdad does not want to see a successful Kurdish entity developing. The lack of a decisive response from Baghdad over the recent Turkish invasion of Kurdistan only added to their frustration.

Ominously the issue of oil-rich Kirkuk, side-stepped for many years by Baghdad, is coming to the boil and another delay in the referendum, original scheduled for the end of 2007, may well test Kurdish bluff and induce a deadly conflict.

The US surge

Under the controversial US surge strategy initiated in early 2007, violence has steadily declined and security has dramatically improved. However, while the US has been credited with a successful strategy, there have been a number of key factors in the turn around that may yet produce a future minefield that Iraq could well do without.

Increasingly alienated by heavy handed al-Qaida tactics, chronic lack of employment and years of fighting, the Sunnis turned against the insurgents. The advent and expansion of Sahwa or Sunni Awakening Councils, armed and funded by the US, were a poetic success story that at least on paper paved the way for greater national reconciliation.

The benefit of driving out al-Qaida cells from their neighbourhood is a bigger slice of the political cake, the inauguration of the Sunni militias into the Iraqi security forces and ultimately an overhaul of the constitution.

The other factor in the decline in violence is the ceasefire by influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who enjoys great support in the Shiite-dominated south. However, recent well documented violence in Basra may yet mean that the 60,000 strong Mehdi Army may enter back into the fold for good.

As important as the Sunni support remains, the key for the US is containing al-Sadr and ensuring his party remains on the political track. In 2006, sectarian hit squads on the back of high-profile bombings of key shrines threatened to send the country to the brink of civil war.

The trillion-dollar war?

By most conservative estimates, the war in Iraq has already cost the United States more than US$400 billion, however according to a Nobel Prize-wining analyst the war, at the current rate of expenditure, could astonishingly surpass three trillion dollars by 2017.

With the number of American casualties in Iraq now past the critical 4,000 mark, coupled with the huge cost of combating a war with no end in sight, the growing disillusionment of the US public is easy to see. The good name of the US has been severely tarnished abroad and public opinion at home has turned slowly from anguish to anger.

The US mid-term election of 2006 for control of Congress was by far dominated by the Iraq war with the Democrats making significant gains.

Both Democratic presidential candidates have called for a comprehensive troop withdrawal. Hillary Clinton promised to undertake serious troop reduction “in the first 60 days” of her administration, with her rival, Barack Obama, pledging to see combat troops “out within 16 months”.

Reconciliation in Iraq

Although, the US and Iraqi governments have tried in vain to embed a national unity government by appeasing Sunnis and promising political accommodation, the long-term strength of the devastating insurgency remains to be seen.

The defeat of al-Qaida in many quarters has now resulted in a “mosaic war” across Iraq with a collection of battles rather than any concentrated fronts. However, promise of reconciliation by Baghdad must be finally delivered if Iraq is to stand any chance of capitalising on the few positives gains.

An all-encompassing concord remains intangible. Just recently, Shiite and Sunni blocs in parliament boycotted a conference on Iraqi reconciliation. True reconciliation may yet be a dream while in the interim the US may have to suffer the repercussions of a lack of an Iraqi appetite for urgency to unity and compromise.

One can not understate the rivalry and sectarian passion that underpins the current gulf between the factions in Iraq. Sectarian animosity lasting hundreds of years can not be healed in a matter of years. At a minimum, many military strategists reference a 10-year average for insurgencies, with an expected drop in strength and recruitment after a decade.

Clearly, any hasty US withdrawal now will only create a vacuum that will severely undermine the hard-fought gains. The fear of the US administration is therefore understandable. According to US President George W. Bush, who insists that the war launched five years ago was right, any chaos leftover from Iraq would mean “… the terrorist movement could emerge emboldened with new recruits … new resources … and an even greater determination to dominate the region and harm America”.

The importance of lasting the course was echoed by US Vice President Dick Cheney, who claimed that premature withdrawal would mean that Iraq would remain a place of “stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export”.

The proxy war that has been fought by the Iranian government to undermine US efforts and constant meddling by Iraqi neighbours has only served to increase tension. The majority Shiite population has a natural warming with the Shiite theocracy in Iran. However, conversely, the US remains bitter enemies of the Iranian state and Sunni nationalists strongly despise any Iranian influence on Iraq.

The correlations that surround the artificial state of Iraq are simply vast. While the US may have inherited the problem, in reality the problem was sown with the creation of Iraq as a country long ago.

Factions within a faction

The belief that the key to political reconciliation is bringing Sunni, Kurds and Shiites together is misleading. Such is Iraq that there are many divisions within each faction itself.

There is increasingly violence between Sunnis that remain loyal to al-Qaida and those who are pro-American. Divisions within the Shiite majority are much graver however. Fighting between Shiite government forces and Shiite militias have already cost hundreds of lives in recent weeks and threaten upheaval in the Shiite south.

Bridging the gap between moderates and extremists in each bloc is proving a tough measure.

Conclusion

Ominously, Iraq now boasts three major groups each armed to the teeth by their respective militias.

Political progress has been far-too slow but even then it has been affectively undermined by long-term uncertainties inherent in any agreement. Indeed, it is these all too frequent time-bombs which may yet invoke a bloody civil war, with or without US presence in the country. As political gains have ensued, the democratic road in Iraq has been paradoxically littered with these time-bombs.

Ultimately the surge has failed. It was always going to be a temporary measure to allow breathing space for greater national reconciliation. With no agreement on oil, disputes about federalism and provincial powers, and the issue of Kirkuk intensifying by the day, the Iraqi government has yet again failed to meet most of its critical benchmarks.

Five years on, the US is far from a successful exit strategy. It looks more and more likely that President Bush will hand over the headache and the time-bombs to the next US president.

The strategy of the next US president has naturally come under intense spotlight. Whether they continue their dream of a democratic and prosperous Iraq and battle on, or they withdraw all together, Iraq will continue to dominate the international fold for decades to come.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Epoch Times, Online Opinion, Peyamner, Various Misc.

Are Sunni-led Awakening Councils a Growing Success Story in Iraq or Ticking Time Bombs?

The Expansion of Awakening Councils

Ninevah and Kirkuk provinces may be next likely areas for Sunni Sahwa. Are Sunni-led Awakening Councils a growing success story in Iraq or ticking time bombs?

A year after US President George W. Bush announced his controversial surge strategy to rapidly bring security and stability to Baghdad and the suburbs, a marked decline in violence has been reported and security has increasingly improved, a fact that even Bush’s Democratic challengers have found hard to deny. However, perhaps Bush’s greatest success story was not the effectiveness of the deployment of 30,000 additional US troops, but the onset and expansion of contentious Sunni local Sahwa, or Awakening Councils, armed and brokered by American forces.

The first tribal council in Anbar province was designed to take advantage of growing public unrest at the brutal al-Qaida tactics on the streets, with daily murders making life for communities untenable. Before then, the volatile Anbar region had been a notorious icon of the rampant Sunni-led insurgency.

The evident success of the Awakening Councils, also referred to at times as Concerned Citizens and other aliases, prompted the US government to expand the movement: it is now estimated to number at least 70,000 forces in mainly Sunni-dominated areas with about another 20,000 embedded in the Anbar police force.

On one hand, the disenfranchised Sunni population turning against al-Qaida forces as opposed to the traditional American “invaders” was naturally a welcome relief for US forces, seemingly stuck in a quagmire and still chasing an elusive exit strategy. On another hand, it marked a turn of fortunes in Iraq and made a terror-free and united Iraq at least a theoretical possibility.

Although at times embraced as a great tactical success for the US, the establishment of the councils has turned many a head within the Iraqi ethnic-mosaic and raised fear, predominantly among the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, of bolstering Sunni militias only to increase the magnitude of their war with Shiite-controlled Iraqi Security Forces and Shiite militias, where Sunni’s hold a deep mistrust.

Due to tribal affiliations in Anbar province, the Iraqi government reluctantly accepted that the risk of rogue splinter groups was less, due to the influence of tribal leaders in the region.

However, further expansion into Diyala province – where al-Qaida relocated and formed a new, self-proclaimed Islamic State – and talk of mobilising Sunni forces further north into ethnically disputed areas in Ninevah and Kirkuk, have caused a great deal of unrest for the Kurdish administration and become another deeply contested political issue on the Iraqi national level.

Kurdish fear of unrest

The Kurdish objective has always been to keep Iraqi civil strife at bay from the prosperous and stable autonomous Kurdistan Region, which they have achieved with much sacrifice, at all costs. The hotly disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk has been an intense focus of terrorists and rogue elements intent on creating sufficient unrest in the city to derail a planned referendum on its future status and spark bitter infighting between Arabs and Kurds.

Extending the Awakening Councils to arm and support Sunni Arabs in the Kirkuk province may make some sense to the US administration, which is hell bent on evicting terror groups in the area, but the Kurds, with a deep mistrust of their Iraqi brethren, fear the worst from such a proposition.

With the likely annexation of Kirkuk to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) once a referendum is finally held, the risk of a Sunni backlash is high. However, the potential bloodshed and unrest that could emanate from a newly armed Sunni Arab population would be catastrophic.

This led to a statement this week from Kurdish official Mohamded Mullah Qader, strongly emphasising that the Kurdish leadership would not allow the formation of any such councils in Kurdistan or surrounding ethnically disputed cities.

Kurdish officials and their Shiite counterparts in the Iraqi government have conceded that Awakening Councils have played a pivotal role in improving security in some restless and violent provinces. However, clearly the US may have unwittingly released a deadly virus into the Iraqi socio-political landscape by overlooking long-term implications of such a broad move by introducing another potential time bomb that Iraq could well do without.

Many fear that as thousands of Sunni insurgents dramatically turn against al-Qaida forces, sometime in the future if their demands are not met they may just as rapidly turn against the Iraqi government once more, only this time with a much more explosive velocity.

Awakening Council incentive

Evidently, newfound support from the once-avid American adversaries comes at a price. After years of bloodshed in Sunni-dominated provinces, the tribal sheiks and local population quickly realised that ongoing violence and support of terrorist cells was becoming increasingly fruitless when it came to supporting their basic necessities. The fierce sectarian passion that came from playing second fiddle to the Shiites in the new Iraq and being dominated by foreign occupiers was obviously high, but this could not be sustained under a backdrop of years of bloodshed, a crippling local economy, lack of food and medicine, and above all chronic unemployment.

Sunni militiamen demand, in return for ousting foreign terrorist organisations, permanent jobs and a greater influence in national Security Forces.

The new financial incentive is an evident advantage and highly popular among Awakening Council recruits.

As of December, total recruits are thought to be about 73,000, of which about 65,000 or so are paid a regular salary of an estimated $300-$400 a month, with tribal leaders and generals paid more.

Some reports have indicated that a big recruitment base has been Sunni teenagers between 14 and 16 years of age, who not long ago where brainwashed by hard-line cells and are now enjoying a substantial and previously unprecedented regular salary.

Currently, the group is active in eight provinces with about half of the Awakening Council forces in Baghdad alone. In addition to dealing a great blow to al-Qaida and terrorist organisations, their effective knowledge of key points in the districts of Baghdad and surrounding towns and their knowledge of the local insurgent network makes them a formidable ally.

Without winning the “hearts” of the Sunni population, America alone would find it impossible to permanently uproot terrorists and introduce long-term stability. For the US, the risk of future repercussions of encouraging a newly armed Sunni population was worth taking after nearly five years of battles with insurgents had proved inconclusive.

Pro-Sunni councils have been particularly effective in the so-called Sunni Triangle in Babil province, once a virtual terrorist production site and a conveyer belt for the distribution of explosives.

Awaking Council expansion

In Nineveh, Salahuddin, and Kirkuk provinces, only about 10,000 council forces are active with violence steadily rising. The US aim to bolster councils in these areas has caused a great deal of discomfort for the Kurds, who in the case of Mosul and Kirkuk share common neighbourhoods.

Recently, although currently on a smaller scale, Shiite Awakening Council recruiting, particularly around Baghdad, has increased.

As Awakening Councils have steadily increased in numbers and grown in effectiveness against al-Qaida forces the al-Qaida leaders have sent a strong warning to Sunni Muslims about taking up arms against them.

In a taped broadcast in late December, al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden warned that anyone who took up arms against his group would be considered traitors.

Earlier in January 2008, eight Shiite Awakening Council members and their leader were killed in the Shaab neighbourhood of Baghdad. In addition, in the past few months a number of prominent council leaders have been killed.

For the time being, at least, Sunni and Shiites may just have a common enemy to fight in Iraq.

Long-term ramifications

The Awakening Councils that have been formed with a communal underpinning and guided by local sheiks and tribal leaders are more likely to be effectively controlled and organised. However, the rapid expansion of the councils throughout the rest of the volatile, and now ethnically mixed, provinces may well mean that the number of armed Sunnis, alarmingly, could reach more than 100,000.

Even before the onset of a popular anti-insurgent movement, some sections of the Sunni population were divided. The risk of splinter groups joining al-Qaida-led forces cannot be discounted.

Furthermore, the independent-minded view of most of the tribal leaders formulates a key problem for the Iraqi government. If the Awakening Councils cannot be embedded into the Iraqi security force apparatus as they hope, thus diluting current Shiite domination of such forces, then potentially Iraq may well have three armed, autonomous, and formidable forces in the country: the established and widely respected Kurdish Peshmerga force, the Shiite-led Iraqi Security Forces and other regional Shiite militias, and an emboldened and dangerous Sunni force.

For the time being, the Iraqi government has been generally supportive of the councils while watching developments very closely in the background. Prominent Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim recently credited the councils with practicing an honourable national role and hailed the councils as an expression of unity against the enemies of Iraq.

Clearly, the key question is the long-term status of such councils. The primary question is whether the councils will the support the government for the long-term or whether they are just a more powerful substitute for the same insurgent forces that they helped eradicate.

For some Sunnis, the question is far greater now than driving the Christian “invaders” out. Increasing Iranian influence has taken equal footing to the “ill-fated” presence of their foreign occupiers.

Animosity toward their Shiite brethren is, however, untouched, and in reality this will remain in the long term. Centuries-old sectarian tension can never be swept aside with such a degree of ease. Perhaps the knowledge that they are now armed and protected inside strongholds may alleviate Sunni fears of being sidelined in the future Iraq, but deep mistrust of Shiite-dominated Iraqi Security Forces will remain until a satisfactory sectarian balance has been achieved.

Another key factor in the declining violence is the decision in the summer of 2007 by influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to temporarily cease fighting. This has contributed greatly to the drop in violence that the American administration has hailed. Once the powerful Mehdi Army is back in full swing, their influence on the sectarian stage will provide an interesting observation.

Conclusion

Iraq may in theory be heading toward stability and an era of improved security with a dramatic drop in violence and seemingly on a return to national harmony and co-existence: unfortunately, the lasting nature of short-term gains remains uncertain and to an extent artificial.

The Awakening Councils, although credited with playing a key role in bringing stability to Iraq, are supporting the security push under a number of caveats. For all the credibility they have mustered, the councils have equally stirred up fear, hostility, and deep mistrust.

Equally, what must not be overlooked is the significant fraction of Sunnis still fueling the insurgency and providing crucial support to terror networks.

Shiites fear that eventually, with more power, the councils may turn on them and suspected local forces may contain al-Qaida sympathisers wishing to infiltrate the Interior Ministry. Kurds equally fear Sunni Arab groups wreaking havoc on their region and their aim of bolstering and expanding their region.

As a reward for their efforts, the Sunnis want a bigger role in the Iraqi Security Forces and ultimately a bigger slice of the political cake. If they can be effectively enticed into supporting a democratic and economically sound Iraq that will provide future jobs, social services, and better opportunities, as we have witnessed in Sunni provinces, this may form a viable and attractive alternative to passionately pursuing sectarian loyalties and bloodshed.

However, reaching the stage where the shattered Iraqi economy can recover, with basic social services reinstated, medical facilities provided to all, and each household enjoying a comfortable wage and a good standard of living, may still be years away. The question of whether Iraqis are willing to succumb to more promises and wait patiently for another several years while experiencing daily discontent and resentment is very hard to determine.

Until a national unity government is truly established, harmony is short term and certainly reversible. Equally, a national unity government can never be established until all parties agree on the real hot topics, such as federalism, the future role of religion, the status of Kirkuk, oil sharing, and the future role of militias-topics that have been brushed aside for far too long.

As we have seen for almost five years in the Iraqi transitional road to democracy, promises are easy but real compromise is next to impossible. In spite of Bush’s claim, Iraq may not be a different place from a year ago.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Epoch Times, Online Opinion, Peyamner, Various Misc.