With the much anticipated Iraqi election results yet to announced, it is certain that the next government formation will be as fraught as 2010 and that Iraq will struggle to stitch together its falling pieces.
For the Kurds, for all their criticism of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Baghdad, they played a crucial hand in creating the Maliki monster. Complaint of Maliki’s centralist tendencies and lack of real intent to resolve key issues between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region goes back to Maliki’s first tenure at the helm.
After much hesitation and months of negotiations, the Kurds played a crucial role in the eventual breakthrough that saw Maliki secure a second term. The basis of the Kurdish partnership on both occasions was several firm demands and countless promises from Maliki.
Yet not only were most of these promises not kept in the first term but Maliki with growing power and dominance decided that the majority of the promises that underpinned the second term went openly unfulfilled as well.
Now as State of Law Coalition looks certain to secure most seats in the elections, Maliki is already attempting to piece together votes for a third term in power.
Kurdish support amidst failed promises the first time is unfortunate, for a second time unacceptable and now for a third time it would be unforgivable.
11 years since the fall of Saddam is hardly a small window of opportunity for progress and implementation of key steps. However, much of the key demands of the Kurds have failed to be implemented. Disputed territories remain unresolved, national budget continues to undermine Kurds, a national census continues to be postponed, a national hydrocarbon law does not exist and Baghdad continues to try and maintain the umbilical cord to Kurdistan.
This week Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani was unambiguous on his view of Maliki and the downward spiral in Iraq, labeling governance under Maliki as “totalitarianism” and with “no partnership”. “He is the number one responsible for it. He was capable of not allowing the whole process to go in that direction,” Barzani added.
Barzani warned that “all options are on the table,” for the Kurds, threatening to boycott the whole process.
The Kurdish patience is wearing thin and Barzani is clearly does not want entertain further waiting games for several more years but instead emphasised the time for “final decisions”.
Barzani’s statements come as Maliki attempted to reach out to the Kurds, ironically as debates over oil exports threaten to escalate and as the Kurdish share of the budget has been frequently withheld to pressure the Kurds.
After months of delays and lack of progress with Baghdad, Kurdistan has decided to sell oil independently with Baghdad promising strong retaliation of their own. However, Barzani is not about to back down from this game changing and historical decision for Kurdistan.
For the Kurds, tangible and guaranteed actions are needed as opposed to the usual rhetoric and promises if they are to join the next government. If it takes several months to achieve these practical steps to convince the Kurds and delay government formation then so be it. It is better to waste months rather than more years.
The Kurds cannot be held accountable for the deepening disintegration of Iraq, Maliki’s centralist policies and failure to curb sectarianism and insurgency have already done plenty to ensure that.
Back home, the Kurds must quickly form a much delayed unity government. As Kurdish parties continue negotiations and consultations, Barzani stated “all Kurdish political parties now have a common stance on how to deal with Baghdad and the next steps in the Iraqi political process.”
A Kurdish position that is not endorsed by all regional parties will simply be exploited by Maliki and his backers in Tehran and greatly weaken the Kurdish hand.