Tag Archives: KRG

Kurdistan’s migrant burden deserves international focus

The turmoil caused by the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State (IS) has created unimaginable human tragedy, not least millions of refugees and Internally Displaced Person’s (IDPs). While the internationals spotlight about the refugee crisis is mainly on Turkey, the migrant burden has created unsustainable pressure on the Kurdistan Region.

The estimated 1.8 million IDPs and refugees in Kurdistan is a considerable number, but with the ongoing battle to recapture Mosul and the violence in Syria and Iraq far from over, this number is continuously increasing.

Since the battle for Mosul began, an additional 95,000 IDPs have taken refuge in the Kurdistan Region. The Kurdistan Region’s Minister of Interior, Karim Sinjari, issued a warning of “an impending humanitarian catastrophe” as Kurdistan could not cope with a further flood of refugees, especially, as the battle front shifts to the west of Mosul.

Sinjari called for “additional resources to be provided immediately to deal with the increased burden.”

The strain this crisis has placed on the region is visible. Such refugees need adequate food, health care, clothes, and shelter. This is not for a week or two but on a long term basis due to the protracted and complicated nature of events that lead to their plight.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is also facing tremendous pressures caused by a weakened economy and the costly fight against IS. Adding the millions of IDPs into the mix is simply unsustainable, with the region’s infrastructure unable to cope with the increased demand.

Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Muller, in a recent press conference with Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, praised the Kurdistan Region for embracing 1.8 million IDPs, in spite of the harsh economic climate.

Muller stated, “But we have come to support you, as well as the EU, should support the Kurdistan Region,” as he vowed that the “Kurdistan Region is not alone.”

Meanwhile, Barzani stressed, “On a humanitarian level it is indeed very important that Germany helps the migrants, but it is as important to assist the Kurdistan Region to deal with the refugee crisis here and prevent people from becoming migrants in other countries.”

The European Commission has allocated €241 million since 2015 in humanitarian aid to Iraq, with expectation for Iraq to receive another €50 million from the EU in early 2017, of which €28 million has been allocated for the KRG.

But even this much welcome aid is unlikely to be sufficient.

While the focus is primarily on international aid, Baghdad could certainly do more. After all, a large proportion of the migrants is made up of Arabs escaping the violence south of Kurdistan’s border.

Moreover, the weak security provided by Iraqi armed forces and the continued sectarian policies emanating out of Baghdad contributed to this crisis.

Ironically, Baghdad failed to pay salaries of Peshmerga forces, at the heart of the battle against IS, and pay Kurdistan’s fair share of the budget, let alone help with the region’s migrant crisis.

As welcome as international aid will be to alleviate the crisis in Kurdistan, these remain tactical measures. The real focus should be on ensuring the rebuilding of shattered areas so that IDPs can safely return.

Unfortunately, if aid was an issue to sustain internally displaced persons, any rebuilding efforts will run into tens of billions of dollars.

Also, political measures must be taken to ensure the same policies or mindsets do not allow further unrest.

In a recent statement, the KRG stated it has no “intention whatsoever to close the camps where the displaced populations are hosted,” in spite of the great difficulties it has to face. Further, it would only support cases of “safe, voluntary, and dignified” return of any displaced persons.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Kurdistan is already divided by imperial powers, Kurds must not add to it

Throughout recent history, the Kurds have been carved twice, one by imperial and regional powers as Kurdistan was ruthlessly divided and the other from the Kurds themselves.

Kurdish disunity has been a common handicap to compound the misery under the rule of repressive governments across the Kurdish areas.

Owed to the new reality after the First World War, Kurdish forces in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran have often fought disparate battles focusing on their own minority rights. The fighting has seldom been on a national platform but rather on the much narrower minority basis.

Then there is the Kurdish infighting within each region that has cost hundreds of lives and served nothing but the same foes that the Kurds have desperately resisted.

The onset of the Kurdistan Region afforded not only a new flourishing and internationally recognized region, it also helped to serve as a base for the Kurdish renaissance across the region.

The 1990’s saw various intra-Kurdish battles, but the post-2003 era saw an increasing sense of cohesion and unity. For example, on several occasions the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) refused to bow to pressure from Ankara to oust the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for fear of spilling Kurdish blood or initiating a new dark chapter of intra-Kurdish strife.

The sense of a greater nationalist struggle has increased with the onset of the Islamic State (IS) with battles pitched across Kurdish areas in Syria and Iraq. The battle against a common enemy saw Kurdish forces serve the same goal. The YPG, PKK and KRG forces combined at several intervals to protect Kurdish communities.

The most symbolic demonstration was the successful defense of Kobane against the odds as it was under siege by IS forces for many months. Peshmerga forces from Kurdistan Region, travelled through Kurdish lands in Turkey to defend Rojava alongside the already heavily present PKK forces.

Fast forward to May 2015 and the significance of the recent unfortunate battles between the PKK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) becomes even clearer.

Both sides have different account of events with one side pointing the finger at the other. But blame is irrelevant – whoever was responsible for the deadly clashes the end outcome is the same. It harms Kurdish unity and reputation and unlike a couple of decades ago, even a single shot in the midst of secluded mountains can quickly ring across international mediums due to the new technological era.

Both PKK and KDPI forces are holed up in the strategic Turkey, Iran and Kurdistan Region border triangle.

In a statement, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani labelled the recent clashes as “suicidal” and warned that no Kurdish party can benefit from the shedding of blood of other Kurds. Barzani added, “Every Kurdish party must fulfil its national responsibility and avoid any action which could damage the reputation of Kurds.”

The KRG parliament statement also warned the PKK\KDPI forces, “This kind of incident is a flashback to the darkest pages of Kurdistan’s history and the Kurdish nation will not accept the recurrence of such events.”

A KRG delegation is expected to visit the area for talks between both parties concerned.

Kurdish forces find themselves as key ally to the broad anti-IS coalition. Whilst previously the fight was for minority rights, the Kurds must continue to work together to maintain their strategic importance at this critical juncture for Kurdish nationalism.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

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

Interview with KRG Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir – Head of the Department of Foreign Relations

The Kurdistan Region, at a crucial juncture in its history, is enjoying increasing strategic and economic prominence, growing global interest and recognition as key constituents of the new Middle East. At the same time, Kurdistan is facing a number of pressing issues such as a crisis of relations with Baghdad and a Syrian civil war on its border.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel of the Kurdish Globe spoke with KRG Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, on a number of key issues.

Kak Falah, thank you very much for your time with the Kurdish Globe. Let’s start with KRG relationships with Baghdad which are at a critical stage. What is your view on the current crisis and what is your demand from Baghdad?

Not only is the current crisis between Baghdad and Erbil at a critical stage, indeed the political process as a whole is in a deep and dangerous crisis. President Masoud Barzani has recalled all the Kurdish MP’s and ministers from Baghdad to come to Erbil for consultations and discuss the possible options that can be taken. This decision is not solely due to the budget being passed without an agreement with the Kurdish MP’s in Baghdad. This decision is only the latest in a string of moves made by the State of the Law bloc and Prime Minister Maliki against the people of the Kurdistan Region. It is no secret that he has opened fronts with not only us but with Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and some of the Iraqi Shi’ite political parties and the main issue which we are all united against is his insistence of making decisions unilaterally with no respect for the constitution, power sharing principles or agreements that he has signed. This will endanger the democratic process and the implementation of federalism in Iraq.

Our demands from Baghdad have been honest and consistent and while we have to be part of the process we are not aware and they are not transparent. Regarding the budget, every year we are humble and transparent in our demands and yet we are painted as if we have excessive demands. What type of unity is Mr. Maliki trying to promote when he does not wish to allocate funds to the Peshmerga, who are part of the Iraqi defense system, protect the borders as well as the internal security of the Kurdistan Region which by extension means protecting Iraq.

In addition, the oil and gas issues are still an issue and it is unfortunate that in 2013, Mr. Maliki still wants the Kurdistan Region to be at the economic mercy of Baghdad. According to Article 117 (3) of Iraq’s constitution, “Regions and governorates shall be allocated an equitable share of the national revenues sufficient to discharge its responsibilities and duties, but having regard to its resources, needs and the percentage of its population.” This is why we have gone ahead with our decision to work towards economic independence so that the people of Kurdistan are no longer at the mercy of one party rule which is sadly the case in Baghdad.

Mr. Maliki controls in addition to the army the security apparatus, the judiciary and even the independent institutions such as the Central Bank and IHEC have been attacked in his attempts to bring those closer to his control.

With Dijla Operations Command established by Maliki and signification mobilisation of forces on both sides, if the situation deteriorates any further, is there a real danger of all-out war between the Kurds and Arabs?

The danger of an all-out war between Erbil and Baghdad is quite remote and rest assured that if any violence were to break out, it would be due to Prime Minister Maliki’s policies and his forces making the first move. Our Peshmerga are stationed for defensive purposes because our history has shown that some of Iraq’s individuals will not hesitate to turn weapons against us in attempts to deflect from their own shortcomings. Mr. Maliki attempts to use Dijla forces and the Iraqi Army not only to threaten our security and stability, but to turn public opinion in Iraq against us and to attempt to deflect from his failure to combat corruption, provide basic services and bring stability to the rest of Iraq after seven years being in charge. Fortunately, the regional situation along with developments on the ground mean that an internal war in 2013 is highly unlikely and Mr. Maliki is slowly realizing that negotiations, not violence are the only way to solve any political disputes between us and Baghdad.

It is now been almost 10 years, a decade, since the fall of Saddam. The Kurds have been patient, but there seems to be no real movement on article 140, a national census, a national hydrocarbon law, oil export payments etc. When will Kirkuk be returned to the Kurds? How patient are the Kurds willing to be on Kirkuk and these other key articles?

Indeed it has been ten years and sadly we have been misled by many on the issue of Article 140. We believed strongly that dialogue, adherence to the constitution and its implementation would eventually take place, but instead we see voices today speaking of Kurdistan’s demands being excessive, when on the contrary we have been extremely patient and could easily have taken full control of these areas ourselves without the need for consensus. We do not want a short term solution rather we need to solve this once and for all, and we believe that the international community as well as the United Nations need to play a more active role in the support of Article 140 and in part they have to be blamed for this issue not being solved so far.  For example, the people of the Kurdistan Region have continuously asked for a census to take place across all of Iraq, yet the other political parties keep making excuses. At the same time we are seeing a shift in Sunni Arabs who are starting to also ask for a census in order to be able to ascertain the real numbers of Iraq’s population and from there be able to address their needs.

Our patience is running thin and the recent meetings chaired by President Barzani will result in decisions being made not only regarding the budget but about sidelining Kurds not only from the political process but also denying us our rights enshrined in Iraq’s constitution.

What is your view of the recent wave of Sunni protects in Iraq, is their a danger that the bloody sectarian civil war that peaked in 2007 will be repeated? Does this indicate to you that only way is to create a federal entity for Sunnis?

Iraq’s Arab Sunnis have also been marginalized heavily by Mr. Maliki and his State of the Law coalition and that is why we are constantly in discussions with them and other partners in the Shi’ite community, because the new Iraq belongs to all Iraqis and not to one political party or one sect. There is a real danger of another civil war erupting particularly given Mr. Maliki and his State of the Law members’ comments towards these protesters as well as ignoring many of their legitimate demands. Being a constitutional right, I believe that the Sunni Arabs would be better off with their own federal region and being in control of running their own cities and towns but the decision is up to them and from what I understand some of them do want their own federal region while others think it may be more detrimental for them given their reliance from oil and gas outside their provinces.

The KRG relations with Turkey have been on a rapid rise, with trade, political and energy ties at the forefront. Would you say that as the gap between Kurdistan and Baghdad is growing, that the gap between the Kurds and Turkey is ever closing?

The KRG has an open door policy. The Kurdistan Region would like to establish cultural, economic, political, and educational ties with the international community that mutually benefits both sides, and done within the constitutional framework. 

KRG’s policy towards Baghdad and international community is very clear. The KRG has no policy of enhancing its ties with Ankara or any other member of international community at the expense of Baghdad. There are specific reasons behind the fact that our relations with Ankara are growing while we regularly face setbacks in our ties with Baghdad.

Growing relations between Erbil and Ankara are the result of wise and visionary leadership from both sides. The leaders in Kurdistan and Turkey have wisely chosen for establishing mutually beneficial ties that could equally serve the interests of both sides. These relations will benefit all of Iraq.

On the other side, ties between Erbil and Baghdad are not going on the right direction. Unilateral actions by the Federal Government and lack of commitment to the Erbil agreement raise serious questions about the intention of the Federal Government. We are always for strong relations with the federal government, a government that abides by the constitution and believes in partnership and power sharing and in a federal, pluralistic, and democratic Iraq.

The Kurds were often viewed as potentially the “best friends” of U.S.A in the Middle East, however, it appears that Kurds if anything are somewhat frustrated and annoyed with the US. What is your view of current state of relations between America and Kurdistan? Could Washington do more to resolve disputes with Baghdad, and pressure Baghdad to implement constitutional articles? Does America have a balanced approach to dealing with Iraq?

We appreciate the sacrifices made by the Americans in overthrowing the former Iraqi regime and also to the reconstruction efforts following the removal of that regime.

We are for having good relations with the U.S. Our ties with the U.S are not only limited to political interaction between the two sides. American companies and private sector are contributing to the economic developments in the Region, particularly in the field of energy. However, we are not satisfied with the level of American economic presence and we would like to see more involvement form the American investors and businessmen. 

Iraq is supposed to be a sovereign country and it has to take its matters on its hands. The prime factor behind lack of progress on solving disputes among Iraqi political parties is lack of political will not lack of U.S interference. Without political will, there will be no genuine solutions to the political crisis facing Iraq.

In the midst of the deadly war to topple Bashar Assad, Syrian Kurds have a unique opportunity to determine and govern their own affairs. How is the KRG supporting their ethnic brethren in Syria? Is the situation in Kurdish areas of Syria viewed as an external affair or a Kurdistani affair by the Kurdistan Region leadership?

We are very concerned about what is happening in Syria and it is important for us for two main reasons. Firstly, we share border with Syria and what happens in Syria affects the Kurdistan Region as well. Secondly, there is a sizable Kurdish population in Syria.

We have always encouraged the Kurdish people in Iran, Turkey, and Syria to find peaceful and democratic solutions to their differences with their respective governments. Our position on the Syrian crisis is very clear. We encourage the Kurds in Syria to preserve their unity and realize their rights in the future state of Syria. We call for an end to bloodshed and violence in Syria and we are for democratic changes through peaceful means. 

What is the government’s stance in terms of reforms demanded by the opposition parties, including the draft constitution?

The government and Parliament are empowered by the vote of the people of Kurdistan Region. We do not claim perfection and we are mindful of our shortcomings. The KRG is committed to make meaningful reforms and to improve governance. We have a democratic system and we are making concerted efforts to enhance governance, decrease bureaucracy, and increase efficiency.

Our leadership believes that there has to be a national consensus on the constitution of the Kurdistan Region. The KRG Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani has consistently reiterated that the government has no red lines towards the reforms demanded by the people of the Kurdistan Region.

Finally, fast forward 10 years, what kind of a Kurdistan do you see?

It is hard to predict the future but I can proudly say that the Kurdistan Regional Government is making serious efforts and taking meaningful steps to provide a prosperous life for the people of the Region. Domestically, we are trying to provide the highest possible standard of life for our people through building the infrastructure, enhancing our economy and developing our institutions, ensuring the rule of law, promoting civil rights, and investing in our young generation through various programs such as Human Capacity Development Program. 

Today there exist international agreements that shape economic relations between countries of the world, and there exists a time frame to implement all these economic agreements whether it is related to industry, trade or services. We should not wait, rather we should act fast in order to attract foreign direct investment.  

Externally, our objective is to establish cultural, economic, educational, and political ties with international community. We welcome and value the diplomatic and economic presence of foreign countries in Kurdistan Region.  Establishing ties with international community gives us the opportunity to increase understanding not only about our past but also about our vision for future and how international community can contribute to political, cultural and economic developments of our region.  We are willing to learn from the experience of international community and ready to utilize their knowledge and expertise in further developing our region.

Our first and last goal is to ensure the rights of our citizens, men, women, youth and children. The individual is the foundation of progress and it is that individual who can guarantee the success of our institutions and consequently of the Kurdistan Region.

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.

End game for Assad; just the beginning for Kurds

Fast approaching a year of uprising and turmoil, the struggle against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is now by far the longest of all in the Arab Spring. The opposition movement in Syria clearly lacked the same national and military clout as in Egypt and particularly Libya, with an opposition that is still relatively localized and maturing as a force. But ultimately it is theindecisiveness and inconsistencies of regional and global powers that has been its Achilles’ heel.

On a regional front, the Syrian issue is complicated by a group of countries that continue to staunchly support Bashar al-Assad’s crumbling regime.

Syria is in many ways different to the countries that have succumbed to the tides of the Arab revolution. Syria finds itself at the heart of the Middle East and its numerous hotspots. It is a fulcrum for activities and tensions in Israel, Lebanon and Palestine, a proxy for Iran’s regional ambitions and power mongering, and with an inadvertent hand in the PKK conflict.

This is underpinned by the fact that Syria is a Sunni majority ruled by an Alawite minority. Such are the high stakes in Syria that almost no country in the region has remained silent one way or another as each aims to preserve their sectarian, economic or strategic interests. The predominantly Sunni-based Arab League has been at the forefront of rhetoric against Assad and the galvanization of the resistance in Syria.

Where now for the struggle?

After 11 months of a humanitarian crisis and protests in Syria, those who oppose Assad need to match words with more determined actions. A common UN Security Council resolution is looking as unlikely as ever,  and sooner or later, the powers that are in favor of strong action must decide their next move.

Rhetoric and sanctions only have a limited affect, and regionalpowers cannot remain content on indirect actions indefinitely. The growing humanitarian crisis as Assad continues to pound rebel cities is something that even Russia and China, who staunchly oppose military intervention, cannot ignore.

Assad’s regime has reached a point of no return, and in spite of empty gestures such as the upcoming referendum on a new constitution, the Syrian opposition and regional countries opposed to Assad have come too far in the conflict to let the uprising subside and allow Assad to continue in power.

At the current time, the anti-government forces lack the firepower or territorial advantages that Libyan rebels were able to enjoy. It is commonly overlooked that even though the Libyan opposition had far greater strength than the one in Syria today, only an Allied intervention prevented a mass slaughter in Benghazi as the government forces blew the gates down.

Even then, only weeks of fierce bombardment of Gaddafi forces finally broke the back of the government.

The probable way forward in Syria is now a full blown civil war. Foreign military intervention endorsed by a UN resolution may not happen, but nor will a passive observation of Syria. As the Arab League and supporters of the Syrian uprising continue to apply pressure at the UN, the Arab forces in the region may well find themselves in a position of having to directly thwart Assad in Syria. They may well arrive under the pretext of a peace-keeping force, but their end game is obvious. Some countries are already involved in supplying of arms to rebel forces, and in the short term this will increase.

A “human corridor” that is being seriously discussed as a compromise at the UN may have a two-fold benefit. It provides relieffor the besieged population and also affords breathing space for the rebels,allowing them to regroup and consolidate power.

An intensification of the military conflict threatens to deepen the regional divide, as Iraq, Iran and even Russia may up their support in preserving Assad’s regime.

The Kurdish card in Syria

If the Arabs in Syria thought they had it bad, one must spare a thought for the much repressed Kurdish population. Arabs may have lacked some rights and privileges, but in the case of thousands of Kurds there were literally no rights and condemnation to a state of non-existence.

The Kurdish plight under the hands of Damascus has been largely ignored over the years while Arab nationalism assumed its course. Now regional countries flock to protect a besieged population in Syria under humanitarian grounds.

Ironically, the Kurds have largely taken a backroom role in the conflict owed to a deep mistrust of the Arab opposition groups and Turkey’s long-term plans for Syria. Damascus has attempted to manipulate Arab fears of Kurdish separatism and at the same time Kurdish fears of Arab nationalism.

Turkey has been at the forefront of regional attempts to isolate and punish the Syrian regime while Assad has in return increased support of the PKK to preserve his regional leverage.

The Kurdish opposition groups themselves are divided between various loyalties, and without a united front they may well miss the revolutionary tide and with it an opportunity to play a strong part in the reshaping of Syria.

In this regard, the Kurdistan Regional Government needs to play a strong part in uniting and supporting the Kurdish groups in Syria while at the same time becoming a significant actor in the overall regional quest to oust Assad.

Baghdad may support Syria, but Kurdistan is no Iraq. The Kurdistan Region cannot stay idle to any regional upheaval, and with its growing power in the greater region it can successfully play a strong, strategic role in the new Middle East.

Gone are the days when the Kurds were bystanders as other powers decided their destiny. As one of the largest ethnic groups in the Middle East, the Kurds can be at the forefront of the new destiny of the Middle East.

As for Syrian Kurds numbering over 2 million people, they are hardly a small pawn on the post-Assad negotiating table. They must be unequivocal in their demand for federalism and equal rights or threaten to go their own way. Kurds must no longer accept second best, due to threat of regional powers working to dilute Kurdish nationalism.

It would be most ironic if Arab powers and Turkey liberated Syria, and then launched a crackdown on Kurdish nationalism in a new Syria only because Kurds wanted to enjoy their legal entitlement to autonomy.

The leaders of Kurdistan must work side by side to guide the Syrian Kurds. The majority of Syrian Kurds look to the Kurdistan Region as a big brother and their guardians.

The Kurdish opposition conference in Erbil last month was a largely welcome step. It displayed national solidarity and demonstrated that Kurds are no longer oblivious to cross-border struggles of their brothers. Such manoeuvres must intensify for the good of all Kurdistan. The Kurds may have been divided against their will by force, but no one can prevent unity in heart and spirit.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, 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.

KRG Foreign Relations Minister answers questions on key developments

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel of the Kurdish Globe spoke with KRG Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir – Head of the Department of Foreign Relations on a number of issues.

At a critical juncture in the Middle East, internally within Iraq and also in the context of global relations, the topic of KRG relations with its neighbours, its partners in Iraq and within the wider community takes ever greater significance.

The interview intended to gauge a number of critical factors affecting foreign relations and the Kurdistan Region”s onward strategic advancement on political, social and economic levels.

Bashdar Pusho IsmaeelFirst of all Kak Falah, thank you very much for your time with the Kurdish Globe. We have a few questions we would like to cover that encompass local and regional news, events and key political developments.

Perhaps, the first and best place to start for the Kurdish Region is its relations with neighbouring countries, specifically President Massoud Barzani”s recent visits to Tehran and Istanbul. What is your view of the current state of relations between the Kurdistan Region and both respective countries?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – You are welcome for the time, and thank you for the opportunity to shed some light on these issues. I believe that this is an important moment in our history and thus relations with neighbouring countries and the international community are essential for us. As you have mentioned, we have always wanted relations based on mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual understanding. And also to have the kind of relationships that are mutually beneficial for both sides.

As you know, President Barzani has just visited the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Turkey, and these visits underpin our belief that relations with our neighbours are very important for us. We have been able to make significant progress in our relations in recent years, and these relations will benefit this Region in terms of stability, security, economic development and overall prosperity.

As the president says, this kind of interaction and direct communication is a top priority for us so that our neighbours understand where we stand, what we stand for and what we want. By the same token, it is essential that we maintain an understanding of what our neighbours want, what kind of relationship they want and where they stand on key issues.

Bashdar Pusho IsmaeelAs the centre of Kurdish nationalism and a landmark in Kurdish history, do you believe that the KRG can act as the key to peace in both Tehran and Ankara with regards to their respective Kurdish populations?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – We have always stated very clearly that we support and sympathise with the rights of the Kurdish people wherever they may live and have always encouraged them to find peaceful and democratic solutions to problems with the governments in their respective countries so that they could obtain a prosperous and bright future.

Our people have suffered a great deal; we have witnessed tragedies, oppression, denial and deprivation. It is time to enjoy a better future. We want to make clear that we abide by international law, and we are fully in favour of good neighbourly relations based on non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries. We are committed to this principle as well as to the respect, integrity and unity of each country. We desire relations that are based on respect, understanding and dialogue that will enhance the peace, stability and security of both sides. We understand that it is normal to have differences but at the same time we have a lot of common goals; thus, we try to focus on such commonalities so that through dialogue we can ease the tension, solve problems, and address the issues.

As the President said while we were in Turkey two weeks ago, the Kurdistan Region is prepared to fully cooperate and support any peaceful efforts to resolve the issues between our neighbouring governments and their respective Kurdish citizens. However, we will not endorse any plans that involve violence and conflict.

Bashdar Pusho IsmaeelIn that regard, not necessarily just within Iraq but in the wider region and beyond, are people increasingly seeing Kurdistan as a strategic power in its own right?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – The Kurdistan Region has to be taken for the values it stands for, for its key strengths and also for its resources, including both human and natural resources.  It has to be taken for the principles it stands for including tolerance, liberalism and democracy, where we not only believe in talking about of such values but also in actively practicing them.

We share the values of western democracies, the respect of human rights, individual and public freedoms, freedom of the media, rule of law, and an active and vibrant participation of civil society. These are the values and principles we stand for, and I believe those who visit the region and have a first-hand experience of it are greatly impressed by the progress we have made, particularly considering  the troubled area in which we live. There are many problems, and we are surrounded by conflict, but we have been able to make significant progress in spite of these constraints.

Therefore, I believe we could be a key factor in helping to solve and address problems in the wider region as well.  Through supporting and promoting tolerance, including political tolerance, religious tolerance and ethnic and cultural tolerance, we can stand as an example that democracy can work in this region. In addition, our commitment to the role of women in public and private life, to the empowerment of women, to benefitting from their special contribution and from that of the youth, we can serve as an example to others. As a society, and also as a government, these are areas that are of paramount importance to us.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – Taking that concept a step forward, with the Arab Spring that has arrived this year, many have realised the sway and velocity of people power that is still on-going specifically in Syria, what is your view of the Arab Spring and how it can benefit the Kurdish populations all over?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – In fact, it is easy to forget that the Kurdish Spring started much earlier, over two decades ago. We welcome this wave of uprisings because we believe at the end of the day, it has to be the people in these countries that determine their own future and decide on the system of governance that they will live under. We welcome democratic alternatives to the current regimes in power and we believe that everybody will be better off by having a democratic Middle East and North Africa.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – If the uprisings turned violent and the regimes go down fighting as we witnessed in Libya and now in Syria where the Kurdish population is directly affected by a harsh government crackdown, what is the stance of the KRG?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – History has proved that no ultimate solution can be achieved through weapons and military means. The only way problems can be truly resolved is through dialogue and negotiations, and through peaceful, democratic means. I believe in certain cases, such as Syria, when it passes the point of no return, the regime in Syria will have to accept this reality. It is a clear sign of weakness when the only means of sustaining power is through the use of force, and whenever even this fails, then there truly must be a change. History has shown that it is only a matter of time before an oppressed people will rise up and demand that their natural rights are respected.

Therefore it is important for the governments around us, those still not under democratic systems to know that the time of totalitarian based regimes is over. At the end of the day it is the people who lie at the source of countries prosperity and its future direction. So In the case of Kurdistan that has produced two generations who have now lived in democracy and freedom, it would now be impossible for them to live under a dictatorship again.

I believe that as time passes, people will also realise more and more that Iraq was in a unique position having its spring in 2003, while the Arab Spring started much later. I believe the Middle East region is on the right track towards a new brighter future, but the concern now is ensuring that these revolutionary waves lead to the establishment of democratic alternatives in order to promote the interests of the people, to generate equality, justice, distribution of power and wealth, and at the end of the day, to allow people to live better lives.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel - The use of force obviously works both ways. One is the use of force by the government on the people and the other is the use of force by the people against the government as in the case with both PJAK and PKK that seeking greater rights. With the positive statement from both President Barzani and also Tehran regarding the end of the issue with the PJAK, do you feel that peace can really be achieved after decades of conflict and social turmoil?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – It is important to clarify that the KRG is not part of the problems in neighbouring countries as both the PKK issue in Turkey and the PJAK issue in Iran are internal issues. However, at the same time, we do realise that these groups are present at the border areas of Kurdistan region and we want to help, as much as we can, to find peaceful solutions to these issues. If our assistance is desired, then we are ready to do whatever we can, for the sake of a peaceful and democratic solution to these problems.

We believe that the time has come for governments and political organisations to understand that there is a lot that can be achieved through peace and dialogue. History has proved the limitations of military confrontation through the experiences of the IRA, PLO and others. If fighting continues then the end result is only more bloodshed. At one point you have to say, enough is enough, let”s try another way. These problems should have been solved earlier. Force has been used by both sides. Even here in the Kurdistan Region, force was used against the Iraqi regime and the Iraqi government used tools of destruction, chemical weapons, the Anfal campaign and all kinds of weapons, but they were not able to annihilate the Kurdish people, they were not able to solve the problems. With the uprising of 1991, we were able to free our region from the dictatorial regime that was in power.

In Turkey, where there are democratic elections, parliaments and elected Kurdish politicians, the best way is to fight for rights within parliament, using democratic tools and using peaceful means including the media and civil society. There is a lot that can be achieved through peaceful means, and killing will never bring about a solution.

Since the PJAK and the Islamic Republic of Iran have agreed to stop fighting, all parties now have a chance to focus their energy on initiatives that can achieve long-term peace, stability, economic growth, investment, job opportunities etc.

These problems are of a political nature, they”re not militaristic problems. Cultural activities, artistic development projects, economic activities, commercial activities, are all factors that can help bring about solutions, so it”s not just about weapons being used.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – Therefore, the underlying message is that for that elusive peace to be achieved, it will take both sides to reach out a hand. Turkey to listen and reach out a hand to the Kurds and for the Kurds to embrace Ankara.

Falah Mustafa Bakir – The Turkish government, with the onset of democratic initiatives and the courageous steps that have been taken by Prime Minister Erdogan in order to address these problems have all shown their desire to reach out. However, we have to be realistic and appreciate that this process will not happen overnight; it takes time, it takes patience, perseverance, hard work and mutual trust. Confidence must be built so that both sides can trust each other.

What”s important for us is that the relations between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey remain strong. Turkey, as an important neighbour, wants to have a key role in Iraq. We can be a gateway for Turkey”s economic interests, commercial activities, investment, and cultural exchange programs in Iraq, so there is a lot of room for cooperation and understanding. I believe that with the right policies and understanding at the leadership level, we will be able to make progress on both sides. The facts that the Turkish Consulate General is active in Erbil, that the largest proportion of international companies in the Region (about 900 or so) are Turkish and that Turkish banks, schools and universities have been established in the region all speak volumes. We want to build on our common ground and further encourage this business and cultural exchange.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – Perhaps those external relations can only be driven that much stronger, with strong relations internally with Baghdad. The Kurds are part of a coalition government in Baghdad that many describe as fragile or tentative and with the withdrawal of US forces at the end of the year to compound matters. What is your view on the current state of relations and will it be a factor for reconciliation or further feuds after the US withdrawal?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – We want Baghdad to look realistically at the current situation. If Baghdad thinks time is in their interest or if they have no political will to solve problems, we will never solve any problems or achieve any semblance of a stable, secure and prosperous Iraq. Iraq is a rich country, but this richness is no guarantee to a bright future if there is an absence of right polices.

What we need in Baghdad is a visionary leadership working for a better future, with commitment to that future and the political will to solve problems. Baghdad does not have a firm understanding of some key facts. The Kurds are the second largest nationality in Iraq. We are not guests and we will no longer submit to being repressed, oppressed and treated as second class citizens. The Iraq constitution even before the fall of the regime was clear that Iraq is comprised of two nationalities, Kurds and Arabs. Arabic and Kurdish are the two official languages of the country.

We have all the characteristics of a state including people, land, language, history, civilisation and culture of our own. The only reason we don”t have a state of our own is due to political complications and past injustices. Since we are determined to work for a better future for our people, we have committed ourselves to a federal, plural and democratic Iraq. An Iraq that lives in peace with its own communities and its neighbours. An Iraq where all are equal, an Iraq that works for peaceful and long lasting solutions. We have confidence in ourselves, trust in our leadership and trust in our people, and we know that the future is in our own hands. But we want a peaceful and long-lasting relationship with the rest of Iraq.

Therefore we have been patient, flexible and endured a lot, but it is time for Baghdad to play their part in keeping a peaceful and united Iraq. The moment Baghdad is ready and willing, these problems can be solved. These are not unsolvable issues.

The underlying political problems in Iraq have to be resolved as well as economic problems before the situation can change for the better. Because there are a lot of possible hazards on the table (the Sunni-Shiite disputes, ethnic struggles, economic and political challenges and external threats), Baghdad must find the will to solve problems in new ways rather than trying to use the commonly accepted methods of the past. If Baghdad abides by the constitution, has enough political will and understanding then Iraq can remain on the right track, but there has to be common acknowledgement that only dialogue and understanding can resolve any problems.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – It seems to me that withdrawal of US forces may not change a great deal of the political landscape. The common Iraqi problems were there and will be there regardless of US forces, so really the onus is on Baghdad.

Falah Mustafa Bakir – The security mechanisms and the balance of power will change. Although we have the UN, and we believe they need to be heavily engaged in supporting political issues in Iraq by aiding, advising and helping to seek solutions, we strongly welcome the EU to be more present. We encourage greater participation and assistance by more EU member states and we encourage other Arab countries to have a greater presence in Iraq, and of course, when I say Iraq, I mean they also need to be present in the Kurdistan Region. The EU should have an office here, Arab countries should open their consulates as we need to be part of whatever goes on in Iraq as a whole. There are potential threats and problems that include both domestic and external factors, so as Iraqis we need to put aside our differences, be open with each other, and work with each other so we can have a better future.

We are a people that have suffered a lot, but we are not captives of our own history. We are a forward looking nation that wants to secure a better future for our people, but this cannot happen overnight, nor can it happen without external assistance. We need the support of the international community, we need to have a democratic system in Iraq, and we need people to understand that.

People in the rest of Iraq are not doing us a favour by trying to solve problems apart from the federal constitution. There are commitments, there are political agreements and there are issues that are enshrined in our constitution. Identity is an important thing for us, and we will not allow anybody to take our identity from us. We refused to surrender to the will of Saddam Hussein, and we will certainly not surrender to any similar dictatorial regimes that may come after his.

Kurdish identity has to be respected. People in this region have to feel that they are equal citizens of Iraq and that they are free to enjoy their full rights within this country. We are a model and a success story with a vibrant economy where the growth rate is over 8% per year, GDP per capita is over $5000 a year. There is political maturity, a vibrant civil society and institutions, and day after day the region makes progress as it works with the outside world.  We are what we are because of the values we stand for. We believe in equality, justice and tolerance. We are proud that there are over 20 foreign representations in the region, which have benefited from their presence politically, economically and culturally. The KRG is constantly reaching out to international partners, and we are actively looking to bolster foreign representations in this region. Currently we have 12 KRG representations abroad and hoping to actively increase these also, as they are an essential means of encouraging people, businesses, universities and institutions to grow in Kurdistan.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Latest disappointment with oil draft gives Kurds spur to break an already fragile coalition

Oil has unenviably proved as the paradoxical treasure and curse of the Mesopotamian plains. With the third largest oil reserves in the world, Iraq has the potential to become one of the most solid and prosperous economies in the world and bring with it a great standard of living for it people.

However, the gift of nature has seen it empower and finance brutal dictatorial regimes and facilitate a centralisation of power that has been used to forcefully bind Iraq’s disparate social mosaic. Whoever controlled oil had the keys to the gates of Iraq. In this light, the Sunni’s used their control of oil revenues to underpin their power and influence.

Kurdistan was severely affected by policies of exclusion and systematic negligence that saw a very limited amount of its legitimate portion of Iraq’s oil revenues spent on infrastructure. Free from the clutches of dictatorship, the Kurds were able to progress from a standing start by building new roads, hospitals, universities and various facilities.

Given a unique chance to shape the new Iraq, Kurds and Shiites were keen to leave their imprint on the Iraqi oil sector. Ironically, while Sunni’s used oil to consolidate power, the majority of Iraq’s oil wealth is actually located in the Kurdish and Shiite regions, one of the contributing factors to a sense of Sunni despair in post-Saddam Iraq.

Sharing of the cake

Iraq has had a number of significant political handicaps to overcome as it has stumbled on the transitional path to democracy. The format of a new hydrocarbon oil law has proved the most strenuous of laws to agree.

The sharing of the Iraqi cake amongst a number of diverse and embittered groups has had ramifications in a number of spheres, but none more so than in the oil law that has come to epitomise the difficult challenge of keeping all sides happy.

Striking concord on the law oil law has implications on a number of other thorny issues plaguing Iraq such as federalism, balance of power and status of disputed territories

Over four years since the original draft was rejected amidst a highly charged and animated parliament, the task of formulating a draft that would appease all parties appears as elusive as ever.

Kurdish rebuke of new law

Any hope for ratification of the new oil draft that was passed by the Iraqi cabinet and submitted to parliament, were quickly dashed as the presidency of the Kurdistan region condemned efforts to usher the new draft in parliament.

Discussions around the oil law continue to place Kurdistan and Baghdad at loggerheads with the Kurds denouncing the current draft as contradicting the principles of the constitution.

Baghdad has refused to relinquish its historic grasp on the oil industry while the Kurds are keen to explore and develop their immense hydrocarbon potential. According to the Iraqi constitution there is a clear delineation between control of new oil fields and existing oil fields.

As a largely unexplored entity, almost all of Kurdistan’s newfound wealth can be considered as newly discovered.

As the gulf between both parties has grown over oil sharing, Kurdistan has continued a unilateral development of its oil sector with the awarding of dozens of oil contracts to foreign firms to the annoyance of Baghdad that has repeatedly deemed any deals without its consent as illegal.

The stalemate has gathered pace as a number of smaller oil exploration companies have struck black gold in spectacular fashion. As further oil wells are drilled, more flow tests prove successful and more seismic data is undertaken, the strength and potential of Kurdistan swells by the day.

Gulf Keystone Petroleum (GKP) is one British company that has benefited hugely from its eagerness to jump the queue. The potential recoverable resources has seemingly increased by billions of barrels as each new well has proved a success and GKP alone stands to have anything between 7-11 billion barrels of oil on its books. Other companies have included DNO, Genel Energy, Western Zagros and Heritage Oil with degrees of success.

While Kurdistan’s rise as a respectable oil power has been historic, its quest is greatly restricted by the noose that is Baghdad.

Issues over payments to third parties, revenue sharing, transportation of oil and Baghdad’s refusal to recognise any oil contracts signed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) threatens to derail Kurdish aspirations and at the same time deepen the animosity between Arabs and Kurds.

Kurdistan has been allowed to make limited exports but payment issues have quickly limited throughput.

Whilst Kurdistan is enjoying increasing attention from major global oil giants, threats by Baghdad to blacklist firms signing contracts with Kurdistan have deterred many parties. Only recently Iraq’s Oil Ministry excluded U.S. oil firm Hess Corp from competing in the 4th round of its auction of oil fields.

Basis for political concord

Such is the Kurdish sentiment on the enactment of a balanced oil law that it has formed a key prerequisite for Kurdish support of the current coalition.

However, much like the many promises over the implementation of article 140, the lack of reconciliation on oil law has served to only antagonise the Kurds.

While Baghdad has criticised the Kurds over the awarding of oil contracts, it has continued to encourage development of its oil industry with a number of contracts already signed and a fourth round of bidding currently on the table and scheduled to be finalised by January. This is in addition three major natural gas fields that were auctioned to foreign firms last year.

Baghdad has continued to encourage major oil films while at the same time the national oil draft has gathered dust. Iraq currently produces around 2.7 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) and has an ambitious target to multiply this to 12 million bpd in less than 6 years.

Grapple for power

Although pluralist governance and federalism was a key cornerstone of the constitution, Baghdad’s attempts of solidifying central control and diluting regional powers have been evident in recent years.

As the autonomy of the Kurdistan Region has continuously strengthened, one of the remaining ‘sticks’ to wane Kurdish advancement is Baghdad’s hegemony over oil.

Many countries have welcomed the potential role of Kurdistan as a core supplier to the long-awaited Nabucco gas pipeline but it was ironically Iraq that condemned and jeopardised such motions.

Potential deals by the Iraqi oil ministry to supply gas to Europe places a further cloud on Kurdish ambitions.

At the end of the day, billions barrels of oil are facts that speak volumes. As the economic and wealth of Kurdistan expands so does its influence and strategic power. One of major factors that saw the once unthinkable visit of a Turkish prime minister was the growing economic ties between Turkey and Kurdistan as much as a political thawing.

The likes of Turkey may have been weary of Kurdish oil been used to power its independence in the past but the reward as many foreign investors have discovered is too good to miss.

In the meantime, it could be a while yet before a draft oil law is passed by parliament. The new dispute over the hydrocarbon law may at the same time strike a fatal blow to an already sick political alliance in Baghdad.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Various Misc.

Working together for reform is the only real answer

The demonstrations and public outcries that have gripped the city of Suleimaniya have  now entered well over two months, now one of the longest across the whole of the Middle Eastin recent months. While the events have dominated the streets, parliament and various media, the current downward spiral in affairs threatens to serve as a destructive aspect in the Kurdish socio-political horizon, rather than the significant milestone in the Kurdish national renaissance that it deserves to be.

Escalating violence on the streets and the current reprisals by the security forces is a one way ticket to local and regional doom for all ofKurdistan.

For a region destructed by decades of repression and neglect, the developments and achievements in the Kurdistan Region over the past twenty years have been remarkable. However,   Kurdistan desperately needs a new passage of evolution, a new emphasis on stability, modernisation and the building of bridges across all parts of Kurdistan.

The need for reform in Kurdistanis not a secret. Kurdistan needs reform, economic liberalisation, a new direction and an injection of political vibrancy to prevent the current experiment becoming stale and counter-productive.

All sides, including the ruling parties, have openly admitted the new for reform, to fight corruption, bureaucracy and to shake-up the current system. What is now needed is a clear plan of action on exactly how this will be done and more importantly to what extent this will be done. Saying change or reform is required is one thing, a clear scope for this programme with timescales, objectives and measurables is another.

This reform can only be achieved via the formation of independent committees that oversee the implementation of the whole process.

While recently there was some promising signs that the current deadlock could be broken through round-table negotiations with all political parties present, escalating clashes between protestors and security forces and more conflict in parliament has seemingly widened the gap between both camps.

As protesters ignored a ruling last week by the authorities banning demonstrations, further clashes are more likely at this stage than any period of peace.

At the heart of any attempt to break this deadlock must be compromise. If the political parties have a real and genuine desire to break this impasse then compromise is of paramount importance. Gorran movement in particular has a golden opportunity to seize the initiative by negotiating with the ruling parties and to be seen as a constructive political force inKurdistan. After all, the goal of any opposition is ultimately to attain power. However, this can only be done by showing political might and building a popular support at the polls. This can not be achieved by refusing to back down on any of their 22-point demands, walking out of parliamentary sessions or by fuelling instability in Suleimaniya.

The demands of the protestors are legitimate –Kurdistan needs change, economic liberalisation, decentralisation of governance and security forces and a new political direction, but the demonstrations have clearly been politicised. Protestor demands are often a step more than the opposition demands to give an impression of more leniency from Gorran but essentially the two are inter-twinned.

One of the key stumbling blocs has been the opposition’s insistence on dissolution of the government before the setup of a transitional government and finally national elections.

Both the KDP and the PUK have issued a number of statements dismissing the need for an interim government, which they say has no constitutional grounding.

On this note, the burning question is whether the incumbent powers can instil the much needed change that protestors demand and the opposition try to deliver from a political perspective. Regardless of who remains in power, this crisis can only be resolved by every party becoming involved in the initiative and working together with a genuine desire for reconciliation and resolution.

Clearly, the call for new elections is a welcome step but if no reforms have been commonly agreed, planned or implemented or the region continues to become overshadowed with instability and uncertainty then new elections may in fact exasperate the situation.

Whether it is conducted by the existing government, who after all were elected by a majority less than two years ago or by an interim government, the constraints and key objectives remain the same. Regardless of a reshuffle, all parties must sit together to agree a reform package, timescales and measurable factors for its implementation.

Reforms and the shape of such packages must be well in advance of any elections. The voices of the people never lie and therefore the elections will soon show just which political party has the common support or the mandate to rule once more.

Politicians in Kurdistan, regardless of the party affiliation, are in place for one reason and one reason only. They are elected by the people to serve their needs, demands and their state. At this critical juncture, the political parties must be the ones looking to fight for the votes of the people and looking to get the upper hand through the polls. This is why the role of the opposition, if used affectively, can never be underestimated. It puts pressure and a checkpoint for the government, which in turn should result in the ruling parties upping the ante to remain in power and maintain their support base.

However, while the ruling parties clearly have their own deficiencies, it is far from clear how affective the opposition parties would be in power. Can they make a great difference to the political arena?

It’s easy to forget the many of the current political actors within the opposition have been a part of the problem. They have been a part of the onset of the current predicament in Kurdistan in one form or another. They can not now assume that they are saints and all others are the real sinners.

At the end of the day, this is not about KDP, PUK or Gorran, this should only be about Kurds and Kurdistan. This is the only reason why any political party should have any remit to operate.

Kurdistan has already been divided by imperial powers, but the Kurds seemingly persist to divide themselves into even further pieces.

What has become evident in recent weeks is that the further the instability and political gulf increases, the more the polarisation of Kurdistan ensues. As events have unfolded, there have been some signs of cracks even with the ruling parties and the ruling alliance.

Only this week Barham Salih, the current Prime Minister of Kurdistan, apparently offered to resign his position claiming that “the current leadership of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is not able to go along with the new situation”.

One of the reasons the dissolution of the current government has been staunchly rejected may well have been on the part of the PUK. With their seats dwindling significantly from the last elections, the loss of a key leadership position has become a red-line.

Furthermore, with the proviso that elections will be contested by individual parties and not alliances, the PUK may come out weaker once more. The KDP may currently share power on the surface, but they are calling the shots and it knows as the undisputed majority that they may essentially be ‘carrying’ the PUK.

While the PUK may have dwindled politically, it does not mean that its military might dwindled exponentially. Therefore, this will create an intriguing dilemma for the security forces, if Gorran continues to rise at the polls filling any vacuum left by the PUK. If Gorran controls the governance but the PUK the streets, it’s a sure bet of more violence and conflict in the future.

Any reform or change will not happen overnight, but the steps to implementing the necessary changes can. For example, before any reform measures are taken, the security forces that have open fired on protestors, protestors that used weapons, those responsible for highly regrettable crime of burning and looting of Nalia TV, those forces that have attacked journalists and the media, must come to justice.

Clearly, before the politicians get to work on creating a brighter future for Kurdistan, the debris from the current fall-out must be unconditionally, unambiguously and impartially cleared.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.