Category Archives: Iraq

Cleaning polluted political waters in Iraq when streams are rising

The Kurds prepare to send yet another delegation to Baghdad but can the same formula produce a different answer?

The political forces in the Kurdistan Region are preparing to send a delegation ahead of Eid Ad’ha to Baghdad, hailed as a “final attempt” to solving the crisis.

The delegation, which was intended to represent a cross-spectrum of Kurdish political voices, is charged with reaffirming the Region’s adherence to the constitution and former deals concluded but also on the other hand to warn the government over its damaging monopolisation policies.

Kurdish political forces have agreed to take a united stand should attempts to find a solution prove futile.

While looking for factors to remain hopeful or positive, it is difficult to overlook the fact that such delegations, negotiations and attempts at reconciliation are hardly new.

Furthermore, they come at a time when a Kurdish olive branch has been severely burned by brazen and worrying statements from a leader of the State of Law Coalition, Yassin Majeed, who attacked Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani as a “a real danger to Iraq’s economy and national security” just as the Kurds were preparing their reach out.

While the statement from Majeed may not be reflective of the overall view of the State of Law Coalition, it severely derails any positive motions that are initiated and makes the bridge towards reconciliation and understanding all the more slippery.

Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, severely reprimanded Majeed for his statements, deeming them as a “call to war”. Talabani blasted Majeed’s “provocative” and “reckless” statements at a time when the Kurdish government was working to send a delegation to reignite dialogue with the National Iraqi Alliance (NIA) and other groups.

The Kurdistan Alliance (KA) also hit back at Majeed saying his stance was designed to cover the failures of the government, and as Barzani is against the onset of a totalatarian regime spurred towards sectarianism and the corruption that is rife in Baghdad.

The problem is Majeed’s stance is unlikely to be an isolated view and too often dialogue has proved fruitless and met with insincere ears. Nouri al-Maliki is the real danger in Iraq and his centralisation tendencies have too often been masked under narrow political or security pretexts.

All of the problems that grip Iraq today including issues between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad have been discussed before with agreed mechanisms for their resolution.

The problem in Iraq is not finding agreements amongst parties but the implementation of such agreements. The Iraqi constitution already lays the groundwork for the resolution of disputed territories, oil sharing, federal powers and the distribution of the federal budget. The Erbil Agreement and the 19 points that underpinned the agreement that formed a key precondition for the formation of the current coalition and broke the unprecedented political stalemate, already make the terms and basis for political partnership clear.

Why does an already settled and accepted Iraqi constitution or clear political basis for partnership need to be revised or restudied? How many more agreements need to be formed for a solution to the current differences or discrepancies to be adopted?

The issue is not striking agreement but the stomach and genuine intent to fulfilling the terms of such agreements. Until such a time, dozens more agreements will not be worth the paper they are written on.

This makes the Kurdish position all the more precarious. From the Transitive Administrative Law (TAL), the Iraqi constitution, to the Erbil agreement, they have watched as successive Baghdad governments and particularly Maliki have paid lip service to honouring such legally binding covenants.

The Kurdish leadership have emphasised that should the latest Kurdish delegation fail to yield solutions with the Baghdad government this time round, they will take a “united stand”. However, the manner of such a stance was not clear and ambiguities of reprisals in the face of broken Baghdad promises have hurt the Kurds on countless occasions before.

Any responses or actions by Kurds should they deem negotiations a failure should be met with definitive action. Conversely, if any agreements are struck, these should be measured by clear timetables and a join committee to monitor the implementation of the terms of agreement. What good is any political concord, such as the Erbil Agreement, if a little over a year to new national elections, the terms are not implemented?

Both internal developments as well as growing regional shifts and crises that are drastically changing the political and strategic outlook of the Middle East is pushing Iraq further apart with the stance of various factions becoming more engrained. Iraq does not have a coherent and commonly accepted domestic vision or strategy yet alone a national foreign policy and divisions are becoming more paramount.

While Iraq threatens Turkey as relations have nose-dived, the Kurds are growing ever closer to an economic and political alliance with Ankara. As the Kurds, favour an overthrow of Assad and have helped their ethnic brethren, Baghdad sought to the secure the Syrian border to avert any steps against the regime.

Baghdad remains ever weary of looking too far west by striking a new alliance with Russia and strengthening its ties with Shiite regimes in Damascus and Tehran. Sunnis remain wary of Shiite domination and naturally look towards their Sunni neighbours.

All in all, resolutions on Kirkuk, disputed territories and oil sharing become even more difficult to resolve.

Just this week, Exxon-Mobil was mooted to sell its interests in the West-Qurna field in Southern Iraq, seemingly removing itself from the political chaos between Baghdad and Erbil. Exxon was affectively asked to take sides and it is appearing to do so in favour of lucrative returns in Kurdistan.

More than ever, Kurdistan and Iraq are two distinct and distant entities and the policies of Baghdad and Maliki should assume a lion’s share of the blame.

Maliki continues to act as a Shiite leader rather than a leader of Iraq and recent arms purchases raises doubts on whose security Maliki is trying to boost.

Iraq national budget in 2013 is set to be a record, but where are the billions of dollars been spent as Iraqis continue suffer from a lack of services and infrastructure? While Iraqi oil and defence budgets dramatically grow, Kurdistan is asked to cater for all its expenses, including defence forces which should fall under the national budget, out of its own portion of the budget.

Baghdad has set aside billons to develop oil field further south, but criticises the Kurds for any moves to bolster its oil industry.

Kurdish leaders have emphasised their adherence to the constitution and have warned repeatedly that they will not accept violations or neglect of constitutional principles. This is the same message that the Kurdish delegation will convey once more and it is time to show whether these warnings are just empty rhetoric or the basis of real intent.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:, Various Misc.


New Iraqi arms deals stoke natural Kurdish anxiety

With a dark memories of an Arab Iraqi military might firmly on their mind, Kurds fear an extended Baghdad military arm, especially with Maliki at the helm, sectarian divisions that run rife and growing disputes between Erbil and Baghdad.

On the back of a recent multi-billion deal with the U.S. to supply 36 F16 fighter jets including training of Iraq pilots, Iraq signed further multi-billion arms deals with Russia and Czech this week with the intent to bolster its weak air defences but to ultimately reinvigorate its role as a major regional power.

Iraq hopes to have an eventual fleet of 96 F16s, with the first shipment of the planes due next year, which it aims to start flying by 2014-2015. Under the current agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, the Arizona AAir National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing is well on the way to training the quota of 27 Iraqi pilots.

Under normal circumstances a state aspiring to boost aspects of its armed forces it deems weak or its defensive capabilities is hardly unnatural, so what’s the big deal with Iraq when it comes to the recent procurement of arms and the bolstering of its air force?

The answer is simple. Iraq is not a normal state and history has cruelly shown the consequence of such a supposed right to build armed forces.

More crucially, arms purchases are masterminded by Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who is renowned for centralist tendencies and monopolisation of power, while consolidating a number of powerful posts under the guise of “acting” cover.

Under the constitution, the national defence forces are for the whole of Iraq, and when the Iraqi army was resurrected in 2003, the aim was to make it inclusive of both Arab and Kurdish officers. However, such is the effect of sectarianism and animosity that has gripped the disparate Iraqi social mosaic, that forces are unlikely to serve the benefit all of Iraq.

The danger of the ever growing Iraqi army been used in the political sphere cannot be discounted. Whether the army has an allegiance to a sectarian pooling or political faction as opposed to the greater nation of Iraq will always be an underlying uncertainty.

Kurds and particularly Sunnis have complained in the past about the disproportionate Shiite leverage and sectarian influence on the makeup of the Iraqi security forces.

Baghdad arms deals

The symbolic arms deals with Russia and later Czech Republic amounted to billions of dollars.

As part of the deal with Moscow Iraq is to obtain 30 Mi-28 attack helicopters and 42 Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile systems for a reported fee of $4.2 billion dollars. Although with such a significant commercial arms deal, Russia sought to reposition itself as a major arms supplier in the Middle East and rekindle old ties with Iraq that had turned somewhat stagnant since 2003, it was more of political relevance than anything else.

Moscow hailed the Russia-Iraq relations, as ties “based on traditional friendship,” with Maliki quick to emphasise the importance of their partnership with the Russians.

Baghdad has had to play a rather tricky game of keeping both Tehran and Washington happy. Tehran has a powerful political hand in Baghdad, whilst it was the U.S. that Baghdad greatly relied on for so many years and of whom Baghdad built what seemed solid and long-term strategic ties.

However, as Baghdad has slowly spread its wings in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal, and while it has tried to keep the US on its side, it has also sought put its foot down.

The deal makes Russia the second largest arms supplier to Iraq after the US. In this move, Baghdad sought to diversify its dependence on U.S. arms and thus the associated long-term training and rearmament of US weaponry that would be necessary but to also demonstrate that it would work on its own terms and not as a regional puppet of America.

Hot on the heels of the Russian arms deal came a $1 billion agreement with the Czech government to deliver 28 L-159 fighter jets.

The deals come in the midst of a deadly Syrian war, where Russia has been a staunch ally of the Syrian regime while Baghdad has tried to maintain a perception of neutrality. However, Baghdad has anything but a neutral position towards Syria and mindful of not upsetting its Iranian partners, it has remained part of the pro-Assad camp in one form or another.

Russia and Iraq clearly share the same view on Syria on ensuring non-Western intervention and potential break-up of Syria that would greatly change the sectarian and political balance in the Middle East.

At the same time, Iraq has had to succumb to the pressure of their American partners. This could be seen when the Americans insisted of an Iraqi inspection of Iranian passenger jets flying over Iraqi air space, which they suspected of carrying arms shipments to Damascus.

Kurdish fear

Whenever there is any motion to strengthen the hand of Baghdad, there is almost a natural unease that runs down the spine of Kurdistan.

Just what is the reason for Baghdad’s hunger for renewed military might? While Iraq wants to be a revived force to be reckoned with in the Middle East and to take an influential and powerful position in the region, the first Kurdish fear is that an extended Baghdad military arm means a direct threat to their population, their autonomy and their new found prominence. In others words it is not defence that Baghdad seeks with its new military quest but offence.

Iraq argues that it needs a revitalised and new air force to deal with terrorism and to protect what they deem vulnerable airspace. Baghdad has already warned that it won’t be able to protect its airspace until 2020 and that it cannot fully protect its borders and territorial waters. However, counter-insurgency is hardly about acquiring a deadly new air force. Iraq had the huge might of the Americans on its side for several years and yet failed to defeat insurgents.

The image of Iraqi forces repressing the Kurds, destroying Kurdish villages and bombing civilians with chemical weapons is hardly a distant memory.

Furthermore, a rapid rise to regional fame under Saddam Hussein with the amassment of a powerful military force led to an arrogance that launched a deadly war with Iran, an invasion of Kuwait and successive destructive civil wars with Kurdistan.

Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani has already voiced great concern on the likes of F16s falling into the hands of Maliki, warning in April 2012 that “I feel Kurdistan’s future is in severe danger because of (Maliki)…F-16 (jets) should not reach the hands of this man (Maliki).”

Barzani claimed that in meetings with his military advisers, Maliki showed chilling readiness to strike the Kurds with his new weaponry when the time was right.

Kurdish guarantees

The Kurds have sought guarantees from Western powers who have sold billions dollars’ worth of arms to Iraq, but remain unconvinced about the real intentions of Baghdad.

Worryingly for the Kurds, recent deals with Russia and Czech do not have the same clauses they forced on U.S. arms deals that newly acquired arms will not be used on the internal population.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has urged Baghdad to keep them informed and in the process around any such deals.

Furthermore, since the Iraqi defence forces are for the whole of Iraq, it is thus not only logical but a constitutional right that a portion of these defence forces goes to Kurdistan. It is not clear how and to what extent Baghdad supplies arms to Kurdish security forces or military training to Kurds, leading to a danger of imbalance and Kurdistan been in a position whereby it is forced to take defensive measures in light of the growing power of Baghdad.

The Kurdistan Peshermrga forces are part of the national Iraqi forces and thus the responsibility should clearly fall on Baghdad for the financing, military enforcement of the Kurdish regiments as well as providing Kurds with air defence training and capability. However, Baghdad has continuously objected to not only the size of the Peshermrga forces and its level of arming but to the actual funding itself.

Such is the alienation and mistrust that runs between Kurdish and Iraqi forces that often it is like two armies of two sovereign nations rather than a national army with two strands. There is a growing threat of an arms race, and continuing ploy by Baghdad to reinforce military capabilities will only stoke hostilities.

Furthermore, with a new air force to protect its vulnerable airspace, it will be interesting to see what Baghdad does to protect any violations of Kurdistan airspace or borders by Turkish or Iranian forces.

The agreement with Maliki and Russia must be referred to parliament as stipulated by parliament, and it waits to be seen how inclusive the political process will be.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:, Various Misc.

A long-term oil law, the making or breaking of Iraq

“This deal cannot solve all the problems currently but it is considered a good step,” Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani

One of the greatest items of contention in Iraq has been a formula to share its immense oil wealth amongst its distrusted and fragmented ethno-social mosaic. Since oil was discovered in Iraq almost a century ago, it has been akin to more of a curse than a blessing for the ordinary people.

It’s difficult not to imagine what Iraq would have been like today if its oil wealth was not in the hands of tyrants and those who have abused Iraq’s treasure.

Kurdistan oil is home to estimated 45 billion barrels of oil and trillions cubic feet of gas, yet ironically the Kurds have seen the oil in the past used to purchase arsenal in their repression them and destroy their villages and livelihoods. It is a little wonder that the Kurds were keen to muster a level of autonomy on their energy reserves as part of the Iraqi constitution negotiated in 2005.

Although, the Iraqi constitution has clear stipulations around oil exploration, revenue sharing, export and control of federal regions, oil has been a contentious thorn in relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad.

Oil minnows have flocked to the region as the early pace-setters and for the like of Gulf Keystone Petroleum, Addax, Heritage Oil, Western Zagros, Genel Energy and many more, the early bird really does catch the worm. Such is the spectacular promise and potential of energy in Kurdistan that akin to a rags-to-riches story, juniors have become majors in their own right almost overnight.

Oil giants coming off the fence

Any oil company anywhere in the world would have been misguided not to see the unravelling of the newest and perhaps last global oil frontier before their very eyes. However, while some smaller companies jumped in with both feet at the rewards and the lucrative terms of the Production Sharing Agreements (PSA) on offer, oil majors, while licking their lips at what was on offer, sat on the fence to preserve their interests and contracts further south and to appease Baghdad.

In spite of Baghdad’s fierce rhetoric against the KRG deeming their contracts signed with foreign companies as “illegal” and sending stern warning to oil companies, oil majors could simply no longer remain idle.

A spate of oil majors such as Chevron, Total and Gazprom have recently joined the fray with ExxonMobil’s oil deal a little short of a year ago serving as the ice breaker. Whilst from 2003 onwards there was a rush of juniors, now there appears to be a rush of majors keen not to lose out on the limited spots remaining at the Kurdish oil counter. Royal Dutch Shell is the latest major rumoured to be in discussions with the KRG which will serve as another symbolic feather in the cap for Kurdistan.

The possibility of Shell signing an agreement with Kurdistan, after twice coming close in the past before pulling back, comes as Baghdad continued to threaten ExxonMobil this week. As part of the timelines of the PSA with the KRG, ExxonMobil is starting logistical preparations to dig its first exploration well.

In reality none of the oil majors need to be reminded about the threats on offer, they are all fully aware. Furthermore, they have first class law teams and their confidence in the legal dealing with Kurdistan is a major endorsement to KRG policies. The fact that Baghdad effectively asked these companies to take sides makes the feat all the greater.

ExxonMobil has a major interest in the southern lucrative West Qurna-1 oilfield and Shell has its supergiant Majnoon field in addition to a multibillion gas venture.

But just what can Baghdad do to actually implement their threats? What would be left for Baghdad if it blacklisted all these oil majors? Simply put, Baghdad will do some sabre-rattling but ultimately it can’t afford to shoot itself in the foot and lose out.

Resolution over oil payments

The Kurdistan oil export taps have been frequently used in recent years for political gains, threats and concessions. While the production rate has been modest, it has the potential to significantly ramp up output.

Last week an agreement was ratified between the KRG and Baghdad ensuring that oil exports could continue and a dispute over oil payments could end with the Kurdistan receiving 147,000 barrels of oil products per day.

Lack of payment to foreign oil companies in Kurdistan and the stop-start nature of oil exports and thus oil revenues for these companies has been the only major blemish in an otherwise spectacular rise of the Kurdistan energy sector.

Kurdistan will keep export at around 140,000 bpd per day this month before ramping up to 200,000 bpd for the remainder of the year. In turn, Baghdad would pay around $857 million owed to foreign companies working in Kurdistan.

“It was agreed to form a permanent committee to follow up on the terms agreed, and give the committee authority to resolve any obstacles blocking implementation,” a KRG statement confirmed.

This committee is perhaps the most important step of all. If any side has any reason to doubt any elements of the oil revenues or the activities of any party, including foreign oil companies, then it must address them legally, politically and with clear audits, accounts and evidence to eliminate any doubt, accusations or grey areas.

While this agreement serves as a major relief or in the words of KRG Oil Minister Ashti Hawrami “a big breakthrough” and a promising step towards a new oil law, it is hardly comprehensive and may serve as another false dawn.

The bones of contentions stretch much deeper than just payments to oil companies. The question of federal autonomy and more importantly territorial disputes are etched much deeper. The issues of oil, article 140 and disputes territories and KRG foreign policies are very much intertwined.

Baghdad’s last remaining grip on Kurdistan is in the oil sector. It was naturally alarmed with the signing of landmark oil exportation deals between the KRG and Turkey in recent months. With the proviso of an independent oil pipeline under implementation, Kurds have much more control over the energy sector.

The national hydrocarbon law has stalled since 2007 and without formal ratification of an oil sharing law the Iraqi energy sector will remain rocky at best.

Iraq’s oil infrastructure is in urgent need of revitalisation and Iraq is in urgent need of additional revenue for it’s much needed and delayed reconstruction.

Oil for all of Iraq

Ironically, whilst Baghdad has accused the Kurds of manipulating its oil reserves, the oil in Kurdistan belongs to all of Iraq. The KRG has made it clear from the outset that they will abide by the 17% ratio agreed with Baghdad.

It is outdated mentalities that prevent Baghdad from realising that should Kurdistan gain then so does the whole of Iraq. Arab nationalists are quick to remind Kurds that Kurdistan is actually on Iraqi soil but then by the same token, treat Kurds like they are trespassers on their own soil, even if the Kurdish rise to prominence is essentially a major gain for all of Iraq

Kurdish oil exports and payments of foreign companies was actually on the of key prerequisites of the Kurdish political parties supporting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and joining the coalition and thus there was already agreements in principle, but in Iraq agreements are not always worth the paper they are written on.

The successful passing of a national oil law in Iraq could be the making or breaking of Iraq such is the immense oil resources Iraq has at stake. If it was not for oil, Baghdad would have given disputed Kurdish territories back to the Kurds many months ago, would have implemented article 140 and would not have implemented its Arabisation policy in the first place.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

As the oil dispute heats up, time for Obama and the US to come off the fence in Iraq

In many ways, the US adventure in Iraq was marked by failure. Billions of dollars, thousands of lives and countless years later, and the Iraq of day is not much different to that of 2003.

The US had the painstaking task of stitching warring factions, striving for its elusive goal of national reconciliation and playing the mediator, but all they did was buy time.

The US relied heavily on the Kurds at their time of need, with the Kurds stepping up to plate at the height of the Iraqi civil war and with US grip on security in free fall. The Kurds will always be grateful for the ousting of Saddam but remain weary of long-term US intentions towards them and have not always been rewarded for their pro-American stance.

Too often in the past the Kurds have been cruelly played and it remains to be seen what position the US will take long-term.

It has tried to remain neutral but sitting on the fence in a place like Iraq has its evident limits. Months after the withdrawal of US troops and Iraq is in a fresh and escalating crisis that has left Iraq at breaking point.

Dispute over oil sharing and oil contracts has always been in the thorn of Baghdad-Erbil relations, but when US oil giant Exxon Mobil entered the fray, the landscape suddenly changed. Frequent rhetoric from Baghdad about the illegality of oil contracts signed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is nothing new but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has tried to take the matter up a level by formally requesting that US President Barack Obama intervenes to stop Exxon Mobil from proceeding with its deal with the KRG.

Although, the letter has been received by the White House, Obama has not yet responded. Maliki had warned the deal would severely jeopardise the stability of Iraq.

The Kurds wait anxiously for Obama’s response, as they find out which side Obama will pick. Whenever a dispute has arisen, Washington has been quick to point out that all issues should be addressed based on the principles of the Iraq constitution and within its plural and democratic framework. However, clearly many aspects of the constitution have been continuously sidelined especially the implementation of article 140 and the US has remained largely idle.

Any oil in Iraq belongs to all of Iraq and the constitution is clear on rights of regions to control and explore oil. The notion of a disputed territory doesn’t necessarily mean that Baghdad has exclusive access as per the constitution.

While the Kurds have done more than their share in keeping Iraq intact, persevering with democratic channels and remaining patient, Baghdad works hard to display them as overreaching or jeopardising the unity of Iraq.

A man in Baghdad continues to amass power, control security forces, a number of ministries and breaks agreements with nonchalant ease, and yet has the audacity to write to the US to warn about the serious affects the Kurds are having on Iraq.

If the US endorses the Exxon Mobil-KRG relations, then this is a major feat for the Kurds and a de facto endorsement of their autonomy, strategic standing and rights under the constitution. If it sides with Baghdad, then it’s a warning sign for Kurdistan that as warm as their relations with the US may appear or have been, ultimately, the US will work to serve their greater aims, as witnessed on countless occasions in the past.

Hussein al-Shahristani has been as vociferous as anyone in his quest to derail Kurdish hydrocarbon ambitions, and warned French companies this week that their contracts with Baghdad would be deemed void if they inked deals with Kurdistan. French giant Total, appeared very keen to do business with the KRG, but it remains to be seen whether they have been sufficiently influenced to back away from Kurdistan.

From the outside, one would easily forget with the frequent attempts to shackle its development and onward drive, that Kurdistan is a part of Iraq. If Baghdad was really so intent on maintaining unity and serving Iraq, why would it be fixated on creating handicaps for the Kurds and limiting their ambitions?

According to al-Maliki’s spokesman, Ali Mussawi, the premier maintains that the oil deal between Exxon Mobil and the KRG region could mean the “breaking up the unity of Iraq” and the “outbreak of wars”. Such a statement resembles more as a threat than a warning. The deal was signed almost 8 months ago, but now with the immense political heat on Maliki, he is using all forms of tactics to divert attention and pressure.

Signing of oil deals between KRG and foreign companies is not new, and the only difference is that Exxon Mobil are a massive corporation whose entry into Kurdistan could spark a new phase for the oil industry in the region.

Even Ninenwa Governor Atheel Nujafi of Ninewa, has come to realise the benefits of the deal and has provided his crucial endorsement. Some of the Exxon Mobil exploration blocks may reside on disputed territories, but how long do the Kurds wait for the implementation of article 140 and let Kurds, that clearly form the majority of those areas, suffer?

When Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani warned Obama on the centralist tendencies of Maliki at a recent meeting in Washington, Obama only reiterated his support for a democratic Iraq that abides by the constitution and fell short of criticising Maliki, when clearly the writing was on the wall.

Now it would be interesting, if they side with the same man that is affectively strangling democracy in Iraq.

Maliki warned that the deal with Exxon Mobil would lead to conflict. Clearly, it is his actions that is the brewing the very wars he warns on. How long can Kurdistan stay idle when the issue of Kirkuk and other disputed territories is ignored, when there is no national hydrocarbon law or when the likes of Maliki in Baghdad continue to pursue the Arab nationalist policies of the past?

Is it the actions of Maliki or Kurdistan that smell of war?

Iraq does not want to see Kurdish growth and prosperity, but the aim of Kurdistan should not be to serve Baghdad but only its people. American policies serve their short-term interests and for Baghdad its Arab nationalist goals. Kurdistan is siding ever closer to Turkey with historic oil deals and a new move to build pipelines that would completely bypass Iraq.

Kurdistan must ensure it is never at the mercy of any regime or power, even one as powerful as the US. The days when it could be bullied or swayed are over.

With or without the help of Baghdad, the endorsement of US or even the Exxon Mobil contract, the Kurdistan project will not be derailed. At the end of the day, the oil is on Kurdish soil and is not the property of Baghdad or any foreign power.

According to Mussawi, “Maliki is prepared to go to the highest levels for the sake of preserving the national wealth and the necessary transparency in investing the wealth of the Iraqis, especially oil”. Such warnings are a bit rich coming from a man that at the current time, the vast majority of the Iraqi parliament is frantically trying to remove.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Leaving the fate of Kirkuk to fuzzy democracy while Maliki taunts the Kurds

Iraq has been gripped by a grave political crisis for several months and there appears little intent on the part of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik’s government to sooth tensions by working towards national reconciliation and resorting to constitutional principles.

Maliki spearheaded an Iraqi Council of Ministers meeting this week in the Kirkuk province, which enflamed already tense relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Such an assertive and brazen move by Maliki shows that he is willing to stand up and defy the Kurds in spite of fierce warning by Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani in recent months.

In the face of such development, Kurdistan can remain silent at its own peril. While Barzani has been vociferous both at home and abroad regarding the centralist tendencies of Maliki and the rapid drive towards Iraq’s collapse, the PUK and other opposition figures have been much more passive in contrast.

The issue of Maliki’s authorisation tendencies, lack of implementation of constitutional articles and his show of strength by strolling around disputed territories, is pertinent to the whole of Kurdistan and every Kurdish faction must unite and take a stand.

Stoking of hostilities in Kirkuk

The timing and significance of the ministerial meeting, the first of its kind in Kirkuk, is no coincidence. The move by Baghdad was designed to be provocative in nature and highlight clearly to the Kurdish leadership that the identity of Kirkuk is Iraqi and Baghdad’s dominance is far-reaching.

Obviously, people will be quick to point out that Kirkuk is already part of Iraq but it’s the identity of the city that Maliki is emphasising. In simple terms, he will not allow Kirkuk to become a Kurdistani city.

Maliki statements which failed to mention the constitution, is in contrast to Article 140 and principles that formed the very blueprint of the country. It is not for anyone to decide the fate of Kirkuk but the inhabitants themselves, this includes Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens and not specifically one group.

A constitution is the genetic framework of any country, it is the basis by which governments rule and laws are devised. However, in Iraq many articles continue to gather dust on the political shelf and constitutional laws are bypassed all too often.

The implementation of article 140 is not only significant for Kirkuk but for the whole of Iraq. If article 140 is bypassed then affectively the whole constitution is bypassed. Without implementation of all articles that make up the constitution or adherence to constitutional principles, then Iraq is dead.

Battle for Kirkuk

Kirkuk has been a key symbol of Kurdish history and identity for thousands of years – long before any discovery of oil, the fall of the Ottoman Empire or the rise of Arab nationalism.

It has been a historic redline for Kurdistan and to forgo claim to Kirkuk now would be akin to betraying Kurdish legacy, its martyrs and the immense sacrifices Kurds have made.

Of all the Kurdish cities, Kirkuk clearly suffered the most under Baathist rule. Harsh repression and Arabisation policies saw the forced deportation of thousands of Kurds. Kurds were forced to abandon their heritage and succumb to Arab domination in the province.

Ironically, it is now the Arabs that complain of been treated badly. Returning Kurds who seek to reclaim their historic and legal rights are now the ones outreaching. If Baghdad wants to truly entice the Kurds, turn a new page and is sincere about the principles of union with the Kurds, Kirkuk is the first and only place to start.

Unfortunately, it is appearing ever likely that Article 140 will not be implemented unless sentiments in Baghdad drastically change, which looks like a more unrealistic hope by the day.  The implementation of article 140 is overdue by almost 5 years, which tells its own story.

Furthermore, provincial elections in Kirkuk and importantly a national a census have long been delayed by Baghdad. A census is akin to a de-facto referendum on disputed territories, if the demography of Kirkuk shows the Kurds as a majority then it once again only confirms the Kurdish identity of the province.

Baghdad clearly acknowledges that implementation of article 140 would result in its return to Kurdistan. But one cannot pick and choose democracy as its see fit. Baghdad cannot refuse to implement a referendum only because it fears its inevitable outcome.

Kurdistan next steps

The patient waiting game played by the Kurdish leadership clearly has not worked. If Kurds had gone with instincts at the time and unilaterally annexed Kirkuk in 2003, then the issue of the status of Kirkuk would be a foregone conclusion.

Kurds adopted politics and democracy to resolve dispute territories when clearly Baghdad and Arab nationalists were not ready and did not have the stomach for such motions.

Kurdistan needs to be unequivocal in any negotiations in Baghdad – the time for mere threats and rhetoric is long gone. If article 140 is not implemented then the Kurds should back out of Baghdad altogether and hold a unilateral referendum on the city and annex the region.

The Kurdish opposition parties and particularly the PUK have lacked the punch in raising concerns at Maliki. As KRG-Baghdad relations plunge to new lows, the confrontation will only intensify. This requires all Kurdish parties to unite in Kirkuk, in the Kurdistan Region and in Baghdad.

According to the constitution, Kirkuk’s identity is disputed, therefore the KRG has an equal say on the province as Baghdad on political, social and economic issues. The Kurds should hold a KRG Council of Ministers meeting in Baghdad in the same way.

Maliki is clearly showing the Kurds the extent of his power in Iraq and intimidating the Kurds by demonstrating his reach within Iraq. The Kurds need to take action as much as rhetoric to show that Kirkuk remains a Kurdistani city and remains directly in their sphere of influence.

According to a statement, Maliki had quoted “The problem of Kirkuk cannot be resolved by force and interference, but by the will of its people and by keeping its Iraqi identity”. This in itself is contradictory. You cannot adhere to the will of the people and insistent on an identity at the same time – it’s the will of the people and voices of the masses that determine the identity.

Kirkuk having a Kurdish majority does not mean to deny the Arabs and Turkmen populations. Their rights should be closely guarded in any eventuality but as the referendum will highlight, and as history and geography clearly proves, Kirkuk is a Kurdish city. Many Iraqi cities such as Mosul contain large Kurdish minorities so it can clearly work both ways.

Maliki’s ulterior motive

Not only did Maliki intend to make a show of strength to the Kurds, but his move in Kirkuk where Sunni Arab nationalism is strife was designed to reach out and appease Sunni blocs. The Arab nationalist card against the Kurds has long been used to bridge the sectarian divide in Iraq.

The leaders of Arab parties, who strongly reject article 140, were clearly jubilant at Maliki’s visit and hailed its significance. Kirkuk has been largely neglected by Baghdad with the people suffering from a lack of security, employment, investment and poor public services. The Sunnis have suffered a great deal under recent Shiite domination, but clearly sentiments can be fickle as Sunnis were suddenly quick to praise Maliki.

If Sunni’s want best for Kirkuk then they should made strong demands from Maliki to improve security and the crumbling standard of living.

At the same time, if Maliki really wanted to improve conditions in Kirkuk then he should have insisted on initiatives to improve services. If Maliki wants to entice Kurds in Kirkuk, then he could have reassured them on article 140 and highlighted their tragic past as a reason to build new bridges in Kirkuk.

In addition to the Kurds, influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and other key Shiite groups critical of Maliki’s policies have backed Maliki into a corner. However, Maliki is manipulating the sectarian divide and using all his manipulative tendencies and experience in clinging to power in Baghdad to fight his corner.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Enjoy your natural right to statehood or prolong agony with an unrepentant Baghdad?

The current crisis in Iraq is anything but new. The past nine years have been shrouded in sectarianism, civil war, political bickering, shaky unity governments, animosity, distrust and agreements that were not worth the paper they were written on.

The Unite States helped mask some of the realities by acting as the crutches to support an Iraq that was broken and could not stand on its own two feet.

On the other hand, the Kurds chose to re-join the new Iraq after years of isolation on the premise of a partnership based on a voluntary union.

The Kurdish leadership on many occasions were the key intermediaries in a bitter cycle of violence between the newly-empowered Shiites and disenfranchised Sunnis. Key negotiations, initiatives and interventions from the Kurds often resulted in pivotal breakthroughs, notwithstanding the important role that Kurdish security forces paid in restoring stability in the south.

The Kurds, owed to their kingmaker role were the beneficiaries of a number of concessions and countless promises from Baghdad.

Here is the problem, what good is a comprehensive constitution, democratic frameworks, concessions and promises if the end product is failed implementation, by-passed legislature, half-hearted unity and empty gestures?

The Kurds find themselves in a position of deep mistrust with a Baghdad that continues policies that are detriment to the development of Kurdistan, of reconciliation and brotherhood.

The centralist tenancies of al-Maliki are not new, this was a frequent criticism of his first term in charge.

Despite reservations and widespread mistrust of his party, somewhat regrettably al-Maliki was given a lifeline and a brittle coalition with al-Iraqiya and the Kurds broke a world record for the formation of a government.

Ironically, as al-Maliki has come under more pressure from Sunnis and Kurds, he has conversely grown in power. He has successfully monopolised power, combined several powerful posts under the disguise of temporary cover and all but broken the coalition beyond repair.

Barzani’s ultimatum

The Kurds after playing the patient game and seeing a lack of change in Baghdad are now at a critical juncture were they dare not stay idle.

Do the Kurds continue to exhaust energy in the new Iraq, when clearly the basis for new Iraq is non-existent? After nine years of effort and perseverance, the Kurds cannot continue to ignore the writing on the wall. Iraq is not united, it’s not democratic, constitutional article are no binding and parties such as Maliki clearly do not believe in a true partnership with the Kurds.

Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani has made a number of bold remarks around the plight of Iraq, the critical political crisis and has warned that the Kurds will not tolerate a return to centralisation or dictatorship.

He repeated his stance in an interview with AP, where he warned that if a positive breakthrough was not achieved by local elections in September then he will turn to the Kurdish people for a decision and thus a referendum on independence.

Barzani has been critical of al-Maliki and Baghdad in the past, but simultaneous events has pushed the Kurdish leadership well beyond the limits of passive observation or tolerance.

Barzani’s visit to Turkey in recent weeks followed a keynote visit to Washington where met with U.S. President Barack Obama and Joe Biden. No doubt at the top of the agenda was Barzani’s growing worry over the consolidation of power in Baghdad and his message to his counterparts in Turkey and US was that the Kurds had reached breaking-point and were serious about threats to secede if the foundations that were a proviso for re-joining the new Iraq were continually disregarded.

Some critics viewed Barzani’s remarks as a mere ploy to extract concession from al-Maliki rather than any real threat to secede. Such views are narrow-minded and lack conjecture.

The Kurds have already received countless concessions and have already had many promises around power-sharing, resolution of disputed territories and hydrocarbon laws. More concessions alone are in fact just the tonic that the Kurds should avoid.

Empty promises are worthless as are positive agreements that are no adopted. What the Kurds must demand of al-Maliki and Baghdad in the key weeks and months ahead is real action, practical steps and tangible outcomes.

The visit of influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to Erbil and growing disillusionment of some Shiite factions on top of an already marginalised and bitter Sunni population shows that the current crisis is more deep-rooted than ever before.

Re-writing the wrongs of history

Kurdistan has a fundamental and unmolested right to two clear options. Either a truly democratic, federal and balanced Iraq or outright independence.

As the largest ethnic group in the world without a state, subject to a cruel and selfish partition of their lands and decades of repression, if any nation had a right to determine its destiny it would be the Kurds.

While other countries, some with populations numbering in the thousands and others gripped with immense poverty and a lack of infrastructure dot the global horizon, the Kurds are warned to tread carefully or that their time has not come.

After the end of the First World War, the concept of self-determination was the overriding principle of US president Woodrow Wilson that he imposed on the League of Nations and the Middle East.

For imperial interests at the time, Kurdistan was the only major nation not to be granted statehood.

Self-determination is one of the key international charters and by which repression, imperialism and subjugation is eradicated and free will is attained.

Some claim that Kurdistan does not have the infrastructure or conditions for statehood but just how much infrastructure does Palestine or Kosovo have compared to the Kurds?

Kurdistan is washed with immense amounts of oil, with a booming economy, a vibrant population and all the trappings of any state. It is a key strategic hub of the Middle East and with the influence and standing to play a key part in the evolution of the Middle East.

However, double standards of foreign are something that the Kurds can no longer accept. Kosovo was granted independence as special case where foreign powers had ruled that Serbia had forfeited the right of sovereignty due to their treatment of the Kosovars.

If anyone has forfeited the right to have any say on Kurdistan is Arabs and Iraq. After decades of brutal Arabisation, destruction and systematic repression, the Kurds deserve to be applauded for single-handedly standing up to one of the most powerful dictators of recent times.

Have the Kurds spilled countless blood, tears and tragedy to now return to centralist rule in Iraq or to have terms dictated upon them by other groups?

No Turk, Persian or Arab can intimidate the Kurds any longer. In reality, even Turkey has accepted that Kurdish statehood is not only a natural and inevitable reality but that Turkey itself may benefit from such a development.

The Middle East is in turmoil as governments jostle for power and influence. Turkey’s rapid decline of relations with Syria, Iran and ever increasingly Iraq, puts the Kurds in a strong position to be at forefront of shaping the Middle East socially, politically and economically.

At the first seismic shifting of the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were sidelined and had to painfully endure decades of suffering for their chance to rewrite the wrongs of history. They can ill-afford to be passengers as the evolutionary trains darts past this time around.

Way ahead in Iraq

Barzani has warned Maliki before, but it was the first time that a real timetable was set for action.

If Maliki is sincere about power-sharing and partnership with the Kurds, then he doesn’t need weeks to show his intentions.

However, even if Maliki does change his tune, it will be temporary at best. Arab nationalists such as Maliki will never want what best for Kurdistan, only what is best for himself and their party.

There is no threat of Iraq’s disintegration when it has already happened. A crisis between Kurdistan and Baghdad is just tip of the iceberg. Deadly bombings serve as a daily reminder that bloody sectarianism is not a thing of the past, with Sunni digging their heels and ready to battle for their slice of the cake, it begs the question of just what part of the new Iraq would any Kurd want?

Regional powers have continually served their interests at the expense of Kurdistan, it is time for Kurdistan to be selfish and solely focus on motions that exclusively serve their national interests.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Continue to nurse a sick Iraq at the expense of Kurdish nationalism?

Not so long ago, the Kurds would have been overjoyed to see the Kurdistan flag hoisted on a building in Iraq, let alone see it proudly flap in the wind as it overhangs the prestigious Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the visit of the head of a state.

The point is simple. The Kurds have come a long way, establishing themselves as a strong strategic power in the Middle East, influential components of the new revolution sweeping the Middle East and major actors in the new Iraq.

The Kurds have to be taken seriously as a major force with their demands and sentiments cajoled by global powers. Therefore, it is no surprise of the importance that the U.S. places on the alliance and partnership with the Kurds that resulted in the recent visit to the White House by Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani.

Barzani met U.S. President Barrack Obama, U.S. Vice President John Biden as well as a number of senior political figures in Washington.

Obama urged Barzani to re-engage with Baghdad amid growing tensions, a serious political crisis in Iraq and a collapse in the current power-sharing agreement.

The U.S. has long leaned on the Kurds in implementing their vision of the new Iraq and for their influential part in keeping Iraq together. The new Iraq was inaugurated including the constitution, pluralistic and democratic principles under the auspices of the U.S. government.

The U.S. formally withdrew at the end of 2011, and yet the new Iraq they left behind is as troublesome as the old Iraq they inherited.

While every Iraqi misfortune cannot be directly attributed to the U.S., after all the underlying Iraqi issues are historic and owed to its artificial inception, the U.S. must take firm accountability in guiding the new Iraq and appeasing all sides or bearing the consequences of failed policies and as such the collapse of the Iraqi state.

Kurdish weariness of Baghdad

Interfactional relations have hardly been great right across Iraq over the past several years, owed to deep mistrust, sectarian splits and stark political differences. However, relations between Kurdistan and Baghdad have been tentative to say the least, and the divide has been deepening year after year.

While Kurdistan has developed at pace with an economic boom and a new lease of life, Baghdad has been dragging it down. It appears that Baghdad policies are enacted to contain the Kurds and slow down their rapid rise and ensure that they don’t escape from the clutches of Baghdad. Without the bolt and chain that is Baghdad, Kurdistan would have developed at an even faster pace.

After the recent meeting between Barzani and Obama, the U.S. once again reaffirmed its support for a democratic and federalist Iraq. “The United States is committed to our close and historic relationship with Kurdistan and the Kurdish people, in the context of our strategic partnership with a federal, democratic and unified Iraq,” read a statement.

But how long can the Kurds continue to believe in this vision of the new Iraq, which is clearly miles away from reality?

Political power has been consolidated in the hands of Nouri al-Maliki, there is a great sectarian and political imbalance in the security forces, the power-sharing agreement has all but failed, constitution articles continue to be overlooked, and many key laws needed to bridge the national divide such a Hydrocarbon Law continue to gather dust on the political shelf; the list goes on.

The U.S. continues to pressure the Kurds to spearhead Iraqi reconciliation and re-engage with Baghdad, while over the past several years the Kurds have clearly been the main mediating party in resolving numerous disputes in Baghdad as well as helping pull Iraq back from the brink of all-out civil war.

Barzani’s statement at his annual Newroz address and the reaffirmation of those views at a speech he gave in Washington (at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy) must be taken with utmost seriousness. At the same time the Kurdish leadership must make clear to their U.S., Iraqi and international allies that their threats are not in vain.

Barzani reiterated that Iraq is facing a serious crisis and that all the current signs point to a one-man rule, referring to Maliki’s running as prime minister whilst simultaneously holding positions of the commander in chief of the armed forces, the minister of defense, the minister of the interior and the chief of intelligence.

Kurdish plan B

As the divide between Baghdad and Erbil grows, it simultaneously hastens the inevitable declaration of independence by Kurdistan.

Barzani pledged to continue to work toward a solution within the terms of the Iraqi constitution, but once again warned that should efforts to find concord fail that he will go back to the Kurdish people for their decision, in reference to a referendum on independence.

How can the U.S. or any international power deny the legitimate right of the Kurdish nation to self-determination and statehood, especially when the Kurds have done more than their fair share of protecting and promoting a unified Iraq?

The Kurdistan Regional Government and the remit of the Kurdish leaders are to serve the Kurdish people and not Baghdad. Therefore, when Baghdad renegs on the key points of the Erbil agreement, continues policies at the detriment of Kurdish growth, does not implement constitutional articles or continues to lean toward a recentralisation of power and dictatorial tendencies, how can Erbil remain idle?

The heated rhetoric between Baghdad and Erbil over outstanding oil export payments and the subsequent halting of Kurdish oil exports, over Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi who the Kurds housed before he fled to Qatar, over KRG oil contracts with Exxon Mobil and other companies, and over disputed territories is all proof that Iraq is already fractured in all but name and that reconciliation efforts with Baghdad will prove to be a futile exercise.

US jockeying

The U.S. may have officially withdrawn forces from Iraq, but their interests and stakes in the new Iraq are as great as ever. U.S. diplomats are as productive as ever in Iraq with top U.S. officials continuing to frantically jockey between factions. After billions of dollars of expenditure, thousands of lost lives and several years of efforts to promote unity and democracy in Iraq, the U.S. can hardly afford just to walk away.

The U.S. have been aiming to promote national reconciliation in Iraq for over nine years, but the Iraqi actors have continued to blight such efforts and failed to meet most of the U.S. benchmarks. It is unsurprising in the current political climate that the Iraqi government indefinitely postponed a national reconciliation meeting that was scheduled for this week.

The Kurds are no longer pawns of foreign powers on the Iraqi or Middle Eastern chessboard. The U.S. may want a certain outcome from Iraq or have a certain vision, but what if this never comes? Do the Kurds sit idle and indefinitely nurse a sick Iraq?

This is the same U.S. that fed the Kurds to the wolves to serve their own strategic purposes in the past. The Kurds can over-rely on Washington at their own peril. While the Kurds today have more friends than the mountains that were once the symbolic saying, it is still surrounded by enemies and parties that will do all they can to check Kurdish national advancement.

Moving forward without fear

When the Kurds had little more than fierce pride and passion and basic weapons against chemical weapons and some of the most powerful armies in the world, they still didn’t succumb to fear or subjugation in spite of all the odds.

Why then should the Kurds of today, with immense oil wealth, security forces, strategic standing, a booming economy and great regional influence, be fearful of upsetting or annoying the U.S. or other such powers when their own interests are at risk?

The Kurds chose to be part of a unified Iraq under a federalist banner that was enshrined by the constitution. They could have taken Kirkuk and other disputed territories by force and gone their own way, but with U.S., Turkish and international pressure and their endeavor for democratic solutions, they opted for a different route.

At the same time, the U.S., Turkey and some other global powers continue to warn Kurds not to proclaim independence. Baghdad and such powers cannot have it both ways, deprive the Kurds of legally enshrined articles and principles in the new Iraq and at the same time expect the Kurds to succumb to what best suits other powers.

In reality, the Kurds can declare independence. And in spite of threats and warnings from the likes of Turkey, there is nothing they can do to delay or prevent this eventuality.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Kurdistan first, all else second

While it was never officially announced until recently, it was always widely acknowledged that KDP Vice President Nechirvan Barzani would take over from incumbent Barham Salih and head the next cabinet as Prime Minister. Not only does Barzani’s highly anticipated return mark the end of a 2-year political chapter but it also comes at the beginning of a highly crucial year for Kurdistan.

In many ways, Salih had a tough two years in office. Almost as soon as he was appointed, he was severely disadvantaged with the dilution of PUK power and the emergence of Gorran as a major rival in traditional PUK strongholds This meant that while the power-sharing agreement between the KDP and PUK in theory remained evenly split, it was anything but that in reality and it effectively ensured there was little chance of the PUK securing the full four-year term at the helm.

After the last elections, KDP took centre stage in the Kurdish political arena and was clearly the most influential component of government. With the imminent return of Barzani, hope and expectations have already been greatly shifted. This is based on Barzani’s positive track record in his last term in office but also at a crucial juncture for Kurdistan, the expectation of the Kurdish people are at an all-time high. His appointment also serves to bolster the strength of government. After all he will be head of cabinet and representing the strongest political party in Kurdistan.

Barzani’s challenges are two pronged. On the one hand, appeasing Kurdish expectations at home and secondly, ensuring Kurdistan makes the strongest possible benefit in the greater region and with Baghdad.

Challenges within Kurdistan

2011 was a turbulent year for the Kurdistan Region but one that despite a number of drawbacks could propel Kurdistan to greater heights. As witnessed with the demonstrations last year and general public sentiments, the Kurdish people are growing frustrated and impatient whilst some historic Kurdish handicaps become resolved.

Corruption is still a persistent thorn in the side of Kurdish politics, as is government hegemony over the economy and employment with lack of a thriving private sector, bureaucracy and public services that are in need of investment and improvement.

The Gorran Movement was in many ways a by-product of Kurdish emotion and the advent of real opposition in Kurdish government only added to the credibility and standing of Kurdish democracy. Although there are signs that Gorran is too evolving to become a more affective component of the political arena, at times it has shown political immaturity at achieving its goals.

Kurdish people generally acknowledge that Kurdistan has made remarkable progress in a short period of time, but this is no excuse for politicians to rest on their laurels and take their vote for granted.

The only reason any politician or political party is in power is because they have been given a mandate by the people. As long as the idea of serving the national interests comes first, Kurdistan can only continue to grow and evolve.

However, it’s widely accepted by all sides that Kurdistan is in need of reform on a number of levels and without this Kurdistan will only be dragged into the future as opposed to racing at full speed.

On the topic of serving the people, comes accountability and transparency. The politicians must live and breathe around the very people they have been appointed to serve. They must hear the people on the ground and actively heed public sentiment. How can politicians serve Kurdistan if there are simply out of touch with the people and the situation on the ground and enjoying a life that must ordinary Kurds can only dream of?

Diversify the political powerbase is one significant prelude to ensuring that future voting outcomes cannot be taking for granted. This means that unless political parties raise the bar and deliver even higher, the people may place their votes elsewhere (as long as they deem that there worthwhile and credible alternatives to place their vote). In this regard, it would be beneficial for Kurdistan to ensure that the PUK and KDP no long server on a single list. Having more parties with political clout will allow for greater compromise amongst parties and facilitate a broader more inclusive government.

The shape of the next cabinet

Barzani may not have officially assumed his post but has already got to work and marked his intention to other political players by assuring that “our door is always open.” One of his key goals was to build general consensus and understanding with all political parties. Barzani declared, “We will be happy to have a broad-based government for the next cabinet… it is the duty of all of us to try and work to serve this country and its people”

So far the fruit of Barzani’s endeavours have been productive but there is no certainty that the new cabinet will necessarily be all inclusive. Most opposition parties have stated their willingness to work with Barzani and that could only be good news for Kurdistan but under specific conditions, which will signify the new cabinet’s appetite for change and appeasing opposition groups.

Gorran’s final take on joining the new cabinet will likely depend on their sense of reassurance around the reform packages that they have previously agreed with the government.

However, an all-inclusive cabinet is not the be all and end all for Kurdish politics. You don’t have to be on the same cabinet to be on the same page.

Gorran can serve as an affective opposition and play its key role of ensuring the evolution and reform of Kurdistan without formally been a part of the cabinet.

What matters is a national consensus amongst all parties and an eagerness to set aside their differences for the sake of Kurdistan. All political parties have the responsibility to answer to the people that have voted them in power and deep personal or ideological rifts must be set aside.

Without a common basis amongst the ruling parties and opposition, it is almost certain that months and years will tick away without any real progress. It is one thing to agree on reform and make positive intentions and it’s another to deliver the reform package in a timely, measurable and transparent manner.

The regional view

Reform and political evolvement will ultimately benefit the people, improve standards of living and fulfil the growing expectations of the people. However, it will also put Kurdistan on a much stronger footing in the greater region and internationally.

Kurdistan is at a highly sensitive point and one that one will determine how Kurdistan will be shaped in years to come.

It is still part of a largely fragmented Iraq that is underpinned by deep animosity. It is still part of the same Iraq that still has many unresolved disputes with Kurdistan and on the brink of a new civil war.

The Kurds have played the patient waiting game on issues such as disputed territories and national hydrocarbon law, while Baghdad has shown little enthusiasm to implement constitutional articles that ultimately serve to enhance the status of Kurdistan.

In the greater region, Kurdistan is becoming ever engulfed in power tussles between neighbours in a fast changing strategic picture. Kurds in Syria, Turkey and to a lesser extent Iran are at the forefront of changing dynamics in the Middle East.

Kurds in these parts of Kurdistan are also at sensitive crossroads and ubiquitously look to the Kurdistan Region as a big brother.

This means firstly, that Kurdish political parties must work as closely and as united as ever no matter their differences in solidifying and protecting Kurdish interests and secondly, that Kurdish leaders must make delicate and difficult decisions to ensure they safeguard Kurdish interests outside of the Kurdistan Region.

As with the example of Baghdad, the Kurds should not feel compelled to constantly resolve bitter feuds in Baghdad and become dragged into the middle of frequent sectarian and political clashes, whilst much of their demands have been sidelined.

The Kurdish quest should be about strengthening Kurdistan and not Baghdad. The basis for Kurdish support in Iraq and beyond should not be unconditional, but come at an advantage to Kurdistan.

Ankara and Baghdad need Kurdistan more than ever, and after historically getting the raw end of the deal from both these sides, it’s about time the Kurds drove a hard bargain.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Kurds caught in the middle as tensions in Iraq are stoked by regional jockeying

With the political crisis in Iraq already at a critical juncture, domestic and regional events this week served to intensify tensions.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki formally suspended a number of ministers from the predominantly Sunni-based al-Iraqiya list after weeks of boycotts. As internal parties continued frantic jockeying to soothe friction and find a way forward, fierce rhetoric from rival factions only further highlighted the prevalent fractured landscape and a strong sense of animosity.

Over the past weeks, with realization of the great perils that the current sectarian stand-off threatens to unearth, regional neighbours particularly Turkey have been getting overly anxious.

The reality of Iraq”s diverse socio-ethnic mosaic and its fractured foundations is hardly new, the threats and problems that exist today have not developed overnight and have existed for decades were they only become more magnified after 2003.

However, the ever evolving Middle Eastern struggle for influence and supremacy has left the likes of Turkey on the edge. Turkey realizes that with the highly-volatile and sensitive Middle Eastern climate, it can either wait on the side and become consumed by the end products that ensue or actively try and influence the current tides for its ultimate benefit.

Iraq has often been a playground for regional powers and the current predicament is only a by-product of this. The current standoff that began with the arrest warrant of Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and the resulting acrimonious fallout has as much of a regional footing as a local one.

The Arab Spring which is still ongoing in Syria has set a new benchmark in the Middle East and along with it a lot of political, sectarian and strategic wavering.

Add the US withdrawal in Iraq, Turkey”s frosty relations with Israel and its continuing struggle with the PKK, a new round of sanctions to punish Iran”s growing nuclear clout, Iran”s increasing faceoff with the Sunni Arab Gulf states and one can see that the Middle East is a deep interconnected web of ties and proxy battles.

Turkey has acknowledged and highlighted the dangers of Iraqi fragmentation before any other side due to sensitivities with the preservation of their own borders, but they have become more vociferous in recent weeks amidst what they deem as a Shiite grasp of power aided by an increasingly isolated Iranian regime. Tehran”s relations with Ankara have certainly cooled and Iran has used its immense leverage on Iraq and Syria to show that it still has plenty of strings to pull.

Iraq”s continuous solidarity with Syria is a byproduct of Iranian influence and is a stark contrast to the Turkish stance on Bashar al-Assad”s waning regime.

Tensions between Baghdad and Ankara were deepened when the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Iraq”s ambassador to Turkey, Abdulemir Kamil Abi-Tabikh, to its headquarters in Ankara to express their anger at al-Maliki growing hard-line statements and criticism towards Turkey. This was just a day after Baghdad had done the same to show their displeasure at what they saw as Turkish interference.

The attacks on the Turkish embassy in Baghdad are only likely to stoke sentiments further.

The Kurds are not a party to the sectarian battle in Iraq but nevertheless become ubiquitously sucked into the standoff. The Kurds were often looked at by Turkey as an instigator of a future breakup but Turkey has to soon come to terms that an Iraqi split will not be on a part of the Kurds and plan for the eventuality that sooner or later that they will need to embrace an independent Kurdistan.

Turkey is already relying heavily on the Kurds to maintain equilibrium and leverage in Iraq. The shift towards sectarianism by Baghdad is evident in the eyes of Ankara who perceive the dilution of Sunni power in parliament and controversy around al-Hashemi as testimony to this view.

While Turkey has warned that current political antics risk the break-up of Iraq, ironically al-Maliki has in turn warned that “Turkey is playing a role that might bring disaster and civil war to the region and will suffer because it has different sects and ethnicities.”

No doubt the growing prominence of the Kurds in Iraq and ongoing disgruntled noises of millions of Kurds in south eastern Turkey is keeping Turkey restless at night. Not to mention that Turkey may end up a passive player in the shape of proceedings in spite of all its efforts as changes unravel around it.

As we have seen with the Arab Spring, it doesn”t take much to create a political avalanche that can bring more change in mere weeks than decades prior.

Turkish warnings over the current state of regional meddling in Iraq may speak true but are certainly contradictory. The same regional influence that they fear that Iraqi blocs will fall under has been raging for over 8 years and Turkey has been a key component of this.

Although, many had hoped that al-Hashemi would be giving a fair trial with a legal rather than a political underpinning and that the tensions could be cooled by an all-inclusive national conference, the suspension of al-Iraqiya MP”s placed further cloud on the prospects of near-term compromise and concord.

Al-Iraqiya leader, Ayad Allawi warned this week that Iraq needs a new prime minister or new elections to prevent the country from falling apart. Both these demands may not come anytime soon. Al-Maliki still enjoys fair amount of support in Baghdad and crucially still has Kurdish backing.

The key task for the Kurdistan leadership is play their cards wisely but also do what is the interests of Kurdistan and not simply aid political jockeying in Baghdad. The Kurds could well pull the rug under the feet of al-Maliki and after this week”s turn of events, Ankara will be siding and pressurizing the Kurds closely to contain al-Maliki.

As the KDP resumes the premiership with the imminent return of Nechirvan Barzani to spearhead the next Kurdistan government, the Kurdistan Region finds itself at a crucial but highly delicate juncture. What dice the Kurds roll and what cards they play could echo for many more years. As Kurds realized to their detriment for decades after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, missing historical opportunities can set-back a nation many more years.

If their yearly ploys to glue Iraq together bear only counterproductive fruit for the Kurdish people, then the serious question must be asked of the Kurdish leadership. If Iraq continuously deploys policies that are counter to the principles of voluntary union and national harmony, then the Kurds must formally declare their independence.

The situation in Iraq after 8 years of fierce pushing, hand holding and direct support from Washington didn”t bring much joy, and it is unlikely that the current situation in Iraq can be magically transformed.

Deep rooted problems need deep rooted solutions. The simple reality is that as a majority and with significant backing of Tehran, the Shiites are not about to relinquish power in Baghdad anytime soon. The Sunni will continue to feel marginalized unless they can win some form of autonomy or real decision making posts in Baghdad which as witnessed under the State of Law coalition, will not be easily ceded.

As part of the current coalition underpinned by the Erbil agreement, al-Iraqiya was to be afforded executive decision making posts which never materialized. Al-Iraqiya discontent was already at tipping point long before the al-Hashemi debacle.

It is the political environment that often makes a leader and thus even if al-Maliki was replaced, it is not certain that significant outcomes can be achieved. Furthermore, new elections will only result in another de-facto national census, with no clear winner due to the factional split and thus the same arduous process of coalition building.

The regional turmoil itself is only just brewing. If Iran carries out its threat to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz then it places regional governments into a tougher corner. Iraq itself could find itself in a precarious position against its allies, as the closing of the Gulf passage would cripple the Iraqi economy. Meanwhile, Turkey is unlikely to heed al-Maliki”s warnings not to interfere when they have so much at stake.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

The regional fear of the disintegration of Iraq is out-dated, it has already happened.

The fear of the disintegration of Iraq is hardly breaking news. A persistent theme of the past 9 or so years of the new Iraq has been how to preserve unity and bring about true national reconciliation amongst a climate of deep mistrust.

Iraq in its transition to democracy may have achieved historical junctures but it has often stumbled to its milestones as opposed to a painless arrival at its new dawn.

More often than not, the major achievements in Iraq were underscored by heavy US pressure and much political jockeying and drama in Baghdad. As successive crisis”s have brewed, a semblance of calm were somewhat reinstated in the short-term by last minute dealings but too often at the expense of any long-term benefits. A policy of brushing key issues under the political rug always ran the risk of haunting the Iraqi political arena at some stage and just days after the US symbolic withdrawal from Iraq, another explosive crisis reared its ugly head in Iraq.

If the issues are been assessed at the surface then one can argue that current turmoil was instigated by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki”s issuance of an arrest warrant against Iraq”s Sunni Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashemi and the subsequent ploy to sideline Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak from power. However, the water has been boiling on the sieve for several months and for one reason or another, it wouldn”t have taken much to tip sentiments over the edge.

Just take the current brittle coalition that was remarkably concluded after 11 months and set an unwanted world record. That in itself sums up all that is needed to explain the current upheaval and instability.

Even though Iyad Allawi”s predominantly Sunni-based al-Iraqiya group were the ultimate victors at the polls, they were threatened with been marginalised by al-Maliki”s Shiite Coalition. Months of wrangling ensured agreement on power-sharing but more through gritted teeth than true brotherly reconciliation.

Once al-Iraqiya didn”t get the empowered it demanded and real decision making authority, it was always a question of time before the political landscape would be rocked once more. Almost 2 years since the national elections, a number of key positions remain unfulfilled and still in the hands of al-Maliki in what was supposedly a temporary basis.

Turkish anxiety has dramatically increased by unfolding events, leading Ankara to go back and forth between Baghdad and Washington in recent weeks and warning about the dangers of an Iraqi disintegration. Although Turkey may have chosen to ignore reality for a while, the writing has been on the Iraqi wall for decades and particularly these past 9 years.

There is no danger of Iraqi fragmentation. It is already fragmented and now it”s only question of just how far the disintegration will go and regional countries must accept that reality sooner or later. Democracy has been fraught with difficulty in Iraq with voting along heavy sectarian and ethnic lines. Voting has been almost akin to a de facto national census than a true national voice gathering exercise.

While Turkey and neighbouring countries seemingly worked to promote national harmony and reconciliation in Iraq, ironically they have been responsible for the entrenchment of camps in Iraq.

Successive Shiite governments have swayed heavily towards Tehran, whilst Sunni groups, essentially marginalised from power from their heyday under Saddam Hussein, have worked to force a hand at the political table through the threat of insurgency or through jockeying in the political chambers. Turkmen have used the big brother threat, calling on the support of Turkey to ensure their cards on the table are not ignored, while for the Kurds it has been a case of not letting the rest of Iraq drag the prosperous Kurdistan Region down with them and at the same time building strategic ties to boost their autonomous status and growing economic clout.

How regional sectarian influence continues to grip Iraq can be seen with al-Maliki”s persistent support of the much maligned and under fire Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

This week al-Iraqiya kept up their boycott of Iraq”s parliament and cabinet accusing al-Maliki of monopolising power and not abiding by the terms that led to the eventual breakthrough of the current coalition.

Accusations of the centralising of power by al-Maliki is hardly new, it was a frequent criticism throughout the last election term.

With the importance of upholding calm and dialogue seemingly at large, a national conference has been proposed that should be held sometime this month. A national conference may save the day in the short-term as did the Erbil agreement but true concord may prove elusive once more.

No amount of political manoeuvring at the end of the day can paper over deep mistrust and animosity.  Even if national elections were held early, the end game would be the same. There is no guarantee that Iraq would not end up at the same juncture after new elections are held whilst the key ingredients that continuously poison the political atmosphere remain.

As for now, it is unlikely that al-Maliki will relinquish his firm grip on power. While al-Maliki has been under intense domestic and regional spotlight, he may escape this current escapade largely unscathed. Al-Iraqiya have used the threat of boycott but with so many Sunni”s in their ranks badly scarred from the boycott campaigns of the previous campaigns, it is unclear just how far the loyalty of their MPs stretch.

The current political tension may have hurt al-Iraqiya further with 11 politicians already revoking their ties to the alliance.  Al-Iraqiya MPs are mindful that further boycotts or spotlight may see more positions of power been relinquished to the powerful Shiite alliance.

The biggest danger is a coalition without al-Iraqiya altogether where al-Maliki musters support from Kurds and al-Iraqiya dissidents, a scenario that would certainly place sectarian tensions into overdrive. The recent spate of initiatives towards autonomy by predominantly Sunni provinces is an indicator of growing Sunni fear that preservation of local power aside, the may be confound to a running battle to avoid been sidelined in Baghdad.

The Kurds, who have attempted to remain neutral, once again find themselves with all the aces. Only with Kurdish support could al-Iraqiya spearhead a new government and only with Kurdish support could al-Maliki be ousted from government.

Logic would dictate that after many failed promises by al-Maliki towards the Kurds, including the lack of implementation of the vast majority of conditions that he signed up to as a prelude to Kurdish support, the Kurds would side with al-Iraqiya. However, the new crisis and the key Kurdish role of calming tensions, gives the opportunity for the Kurds to preserve al-Maliki”s seat and the current coalition, but no doubt with much sterner warnings and conditions for the Shiite Alliance and al-Maliki.

The fact remains that all too often al-Maliki has boldly reneged on agreements with Kurds and has simply gotten away with it, even as the Kurds have saved al-Maliki”s political skin on more than occasion. The issue of disputed territories remains as open and pertinent as ever, Baghdad remains at loggerheads with the Kurds on oil sharing and Baghdad has been hardly provided a positive endorsement of growing Kurdish strategic clout and prosperity. It is time for the Kurds to use their aces wisely.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.