Tag Archives: Kurdistan Foreign Relations

European tour amidst first oil exports highlight growing recognition and support of Kurdistan

Almost as soon as the Kurds announced their first direct export of oil via Ceyhan in Turkey, Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani embarked on a tour of Europe starting in France before a visit to Rome, where talks were hosted between Pope Francis and Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, with the Kurdistan flag in full view.

Last week Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani led a similar delegation on an official visit to the UK.

The interest and status of Kurdistan is growing and more EU partners clearly support the Kurdish position in Iraq but ultimately in its natural evolution towards formal statehood.

The first Kurdish crude was not purchased on the black market by some rogue state. It was purchased by Germany and Italy. It is no coincidence that oil majors from across Europe and the US participate actively in Kurdistan. Kurdistan would not embark on a bold move to export oil if it didn’t have prior support from European powers.

Kurdistan’s decades of attachment to Iraq was not through a marriage of choice but a forced pairing based on outdates imperial interests.

Most European powers realise that the Western leaning and secular Kurds, who open doors of economic and strategic interest, cannot be contained in an artificial state with little ideological or ethnic similarity with the rest of Iraq. Ironically, it is Washington that remains fixated with the principle of Iraqi territorial integrity and national reconciliation, even after their failure to bridge the Iraqi ethno-sectarian divide. The idea of a united and harmonious Iraq sharing power in a democratic and equal manner catches the imagination, but it is simply not going to happen.

Some analysts comment as though the first direct export of Kurdish crude was the reason for worsening of Kurdistan relations with Baghdad or indeed Turkey’s growing divide with Iraq. Turkish ties with Baghdad have deteriorated over a number of years with strong rhetoric exchanged between both sides on a number of occasions.

The poor state of relations between Erbil and Baghdad is a tale of over 10 years of foot dragging over previous promises and lack of implementation of constitutional articles. For example, a hydrocarbon law, first drafted in 2007, is still gathering dust on the Iraqi political shelf.

Years of disputes over oil exports, months of stalled negotiations and failed budget payments, not to mention disputed territories and many other constitutional issues, paint a much bigger story.

The decision to export oil by the Kurds was the straw that broke the camel’s back but it was a long time coming.

Control of oil and other key disputed issues between Erbil and Baghdad became a game of bluff. Baghdad wanted to impose its influence and control over all corners of Iraq whereas the Kurds insisted on autonomy and their constitutional rights.

Kurdish oil exports may not solve all of Kurdish budget issues. Of course, it takes more than one shipment and more than one pipeline to build a successful oil industry. But it served as a strong message that the Kurds would match threats with action if backed into a corner.

Furthermore, growing Turkish ties with Kurdistan is not merely underpinned on economic and energy grounds. Some question why Ankara would alienate Baghdad further to side with the Kurds. These viewpoints overlook the bigger picture.

Ankara’s ties with Baghdad have been weak over the past several years especially as Maliki continued to dominate power, sectarianism increased and Baghdad grew closer to Tehran. On the other hand, the Middle Eastern socio-political landscape is rapidly changing and Kurds have assumed a pivotal role.

Ankara is keen to resolve its own Kurdish dilemma and at the same time looks anxiously towards a Syria has broken into mini states. Sectarian is taken foot in the Middle East and the Kurdistan Region is a vital buffer and ally of Turkey in changing times.

In spite of legal action from Baghdad and objections from the U.S., Turkey confirmed that it would continue to export Kurdish oil. Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, in a defiant speech to parliament, expressed openness to dialogue but vowed to “…never give up control of our own oil”.

“We are open to dialogue, but if Baghdad chooses to close all the doors we will certainly not be standing there doing nothing,” the prime minister warned.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Interview with Nadhim Zahawi – Kurdish UK MP

In May 2010, Nadhim Zahawi became the first Kurd to be elected as Minister of Parliament (MP) in the UK. Zahawi secured the historic constituency of Stratford-on-Avon in the iconic and oldest parliament in the world. Zahawi talked to the Globe’s Bashdar Ismaeel on a number of important topics, including making history, his roles as MP and co-chairman of the All Party Group for Kurdistan and his hard-work and determination in getting the Kurdish genocide recognised in UK parliament.

As the symbolic first Kurdish MP elected to UK parliament, what is the significance to you and also the Kurdish nation as a whole in receiving such an honour?

It is a real privilege to be a Member of Parliament (MP), in what is the mother of all parliaments coming up to its 750th birthday, and of course to represent a constituency like Stratford-On-Avon, with its immense history and previous office holders that have included John Profumo, Angus Maude, to the enlarged constituency which was Antony Eden’s of course. It is an incredible place and to have elected Nadhim Zahawi as their representative is a great privilege and a great honour.

I think it is important that all ethnic groups, especially for Kurds, who decide to make their home anywhere in Europe, whether in the UK, Sweden, Germany or elsewhere, to engage in the political process, the civic process, to be become councillors, governors of schools and MPs, to get involved in their local charities and  local communities. Because at the end of the day, if you are able to contribute to the society that you live in, then you can also hopefully help those back home.

Never forgot your heritage and your ancestry and that combination are incredibly powerful, and many other ethnic groups have done incredibly well around the world and have been able to help their people in their countries of origin.

Of course, your first priority will naturally be serving the people of Stratford-on-Avon, who have chosen you as their MP, but as a Kurd, how are you working to raise the Kurdish cause and improve UK ties with Kurdistan?

I think you’re absolutely right. My first, second and third priority is to serve the people of Stratford-on-Avon. They put me here to be their champion, to be able to represent them at every level in Westminster. But you are also right in that I think it is important as I mentioned earlier that everyone remembers their history, heritage and background, and I believe it is a duty upon all Kurds, who have become US citizens, Swedish, German or British, to do their bit for the Kurdish cause. I think I have contributed in the past two and a half years, the first thing I did when I came here is to join the All Party Group for Kurdistan and I am now co-chairman of that group. We then decided to spend a lot of time, resource and effort into looking at the genocide that occurred in Iraq and on the Kurdish people.  We have a genocide committee, which I asked one of my colleagues here, an excellent campaigner MP, Robert Halfon, to chair and which is making real progress now.

We had a petition that has now received almost 30,000 signatures, we would like to see it get to 100,000 and I would ask every Kurd, whether in Kurdistan or the UK, to ask their friends and family to sign the petition. It is very important that the British parliament recognises the genocide of Kurdistan, coming up to 25th anniversary of Anfal and of course Halabja. So this is an important year and it is important that we play our part to ensure that the world knows and never forgets.


UK-Kurdistan ties were solidified in 1991, and have generally remained strong up to today, could the UK do more in Kurdistan? Is the UK government doing enough to support Kurdistan economically, politically and to promote business?

Whenever we talk about relations between Kurdistan and the UK, we have to recognise the contribution that John Major made in protecting the Kurdish people in 1991 with the no-fly zones. The current Prime Minister in the chamber and the Foreign Secretary in the chamber, William Hague, referred to that protection of the Kurds because the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, at a meeting of foreign ministers during the Libya crisis, when Britain stepped in to do the same thing, to protect the Libyan people, was present and reminded the room that he would not be in that room if it hadn’t been for John Major protecting the Kurdish people. So one must always remember that.

I think business wise we can always do more. I would like to see direct flights from the UK to Erbil, Sulaimaniya and hopefully Duhok and other cities in Iraq as they develop their aviation infrastructure. I would like to see more UK businesses been involved in the oil and gas industry, which is becoming an incredibly important industry in Kurdistan. In fact, Kurdistan is now referred to as the exploration capital of the world, thanks to the hard work of Dr. Ashti Hawrami, who has been an extraordinary Minister of Natural Resources, and a real visionary for the country. But as he would say, if he were here, we need to see more service companies coming in because it is not just the upstream that you need, the Exxon’s, Chevron’s and Total’s and the Talisman’s of this world. But you also need the service sector, because the service sector at the end of the day are the ones that do the hard work to ensure that the oil and gas is extracted and delivered internationally and to the domestic market.

In other areas, we are very strong in the UK in accountancy, in the legal system and in various other industries. 2012 saw the UK become a net exporter of cars. Certainly in my constituency of Stratford-on-Avon, I have got Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin, head-quartered on the borders of my constituency. So the automotive industry needs to be reflected in a bigger way, although I know that Jaguar and Land Rover are doing great business in Kurdistan and can only do more.

All these sectors need to be enhanced and the UKTI is working very hard with the KRG representative office in UK, who do a great job I have to say. The representative office in London is best of breed, in organising conferences and match making between business and needs in Kurdistan. There was a fantastic water and agri conference here with the minister coming over, with 18 projects that were very clearly outlined with clear targets, with British businesses to look at and hopefully bid for.

In terms of electricity, Kurdistan benefits from almost 24-hours of electricity provision, but the consumption has increased exponentially with more industry coming in and the rise in consumer consumption. We can do more with our British companies. In the gas industry, British Gas and others should get involved in our incredible gas finds in Kurdistan.

So in all these areas, I try and work very hard, both in my role as the co-chairman of the All Party Group but also I sit on the Business Innovation Skill Select Committee, that is a business department that I scrutinise and I always make sure that they are playing their role in delivering that relationship between the UK and Kurdistan.

The great persecution and terror of the Baathist regime is one of the reasons why you and many other Kurds fled to sanctuary of the UK, in the ethno-sectarian turbulence of Iraq and the monopolisation of power in Baghdad is the UK ready to protect Kurdistan and Kurdish people against any new tyranny?

In the post Saddam Hussein Iraq, the political groups in Iraq came together and drafted a constitution, which the Iraqi people ratified through a referendum. It is very important that the whole of Iraq and all its political components respect that constitution and that constitutional arrangement. That arrangement recognises very clearly the rights of the Kurdish people, the autonomous right of the Kurds, their parliament and the ability to design the way they want to be governed is all there. There are issues, of course, around Kirkuk, the hydrocarbons law and a number of other issues which do need addressing.

I think it is important that Iraq continues on the journey of democratisation. And democracy by the way, isn’t just about a cross in the ballot box on a piece of paper, democracy is about establishing and strengthening institutions that protect the rights of all citizens of a country, especially minorities. Civilised societies are judged by how they deal with their minorities and how they protect those minorities, as opposed the mere wishes of the majority. I think it is very important that all Iraqi politicians remember that and it is very important that those institutions are enhanced and supported. What I mean by that is rule of law and an independent judiciary that in no way is influenced by politicians and politics. Like in the UK, nobody in their right mind would dream that a judge in any way would make a decision based on who is in government and wanting to please that party in government.

This needs to be the same in Iraq for people to trust the judiciary; they have to feel that the judiciary is truly independent. An independent and robust media that is also responsible needs to be established, and protected from the state and other areas of government. The sooner that Iraq and its political groups continue that journey, the better it is for the whole of Iraq.


Kosovo, South Sudan are just recent examples of new states assuming their right to self-determination and been support by the likes of the UK and the international community while Kurdistan has been cruelly denied, as we say in English is “what’s good for the gander, good for the geese”?

I think the right to self-determination is a basic human right. You look at what we are doing here in our own union, where the Scottish people and the ruling power of Scotland, the Scottish Nationalist Party, have campaigned on a platform of independence as far as they are concerned and wanted a referendum. Of course, my government here, led by David Cameron, recognised that and have granted a referendum. Actually, I think that you will find the majority of the Scottish people will choose to remain within the union because they see the strength of the union and the union as something incredibly valuable. But they have that right and to deny that right to any human been would be wrong.

In saying that, I also think that as far as the UK is concerned, in its focus on developing Kurdistan, in making sure that people have good jobs to go to, children have great schools to go to, when people are ill they have fantastic health service that looks after them, the elderly and frail are well looked after, there is economic dynamism, the economy is growing. If you look at nations around the world, none was more battered and bruised than the German people or the Japanese people after the Second World War, and the way they picked themselves up was through economic development and growth. The way they become world beaters is through the understanding that if you are economically powerful, then you have a seat at the table, you matter in the world.

I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to advise the political leadership in Kurdistan, other than to say you are doing the right thing in focusing on economic development and making sure that is in place because that is the building block for you to then able to begin to consider issues like self-determination and what the Kurdish people ultimately dream of.

Approaching 3 years since been elected Stratford-on-Avon, how do you look back on your time and achievements to date?

Stratford-on-Avon is a wonderful constituency. It has 79 villages and hamlets, wonderful market towns, and of course the great town of Stratford-upon-Avon where that extraordinary poet and author, William Shakespeare was born and where his resting place lies.

I have had almost 3 years here, your quite right. I have focused on my select committee work, the Business Innovation Skill Select Committee, because my background as a businessman before entering this place was running a public company here in the UK. Understanding the innovation space helped me to be elected to that select committee. By the way, for the first time in the history of our parliament, the select committee was elected as opposed to appointed, which gave a stronger mandate because if they were appointed then seniority may have played a bigger role, therefore, many of the new intake would not have got onto the select committee. Select committees are very important in our parliamentary system. So that for me has been a major achievement.

I organised and led a rebellion against my own government, which one must not do too often if one wants to progress in government, but I felt that the House of Lords reform bill was not one that I could support. Abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with an elected Senate, I don’t think would have produced a better and healthier democracy. You only have to ask the Americans what they think of their Senate and Congress and the deadlock that they get in their system isn’t particularly healthy for decision making and democracy. I rebelled on that with the support of my association and my constituents; there were many letters and email supporting my position on that.

Other than that single rebellion, I work to promote and support my government. We are doing some very important work here in reforming the government. Remember in 2010, the UK was borrowing something like a £160 billion pounds a year, that’s the deficit. That’s the difference between what we were getting in terms of tax intake into the exchequer, because of course, the government doesn’t have its own money, and it’s yours and my money that we spend in government. Now, we have reduced that deficit down to £120 billion so or by a quarter. Nevertheless, if you do the arithmetic, we are still borrowing £426 million pounds a day.   So every time you got to bed and wake up, we notch up another £426 million in debt. That’s what we inherited, an economic mess from the previous government.

We are trying to sort that out, we are trying to shrink the size of government debt, focus spending on those who need it most, and look at the reforms in welfare, focusing on people who need it most but also making sure that work always pays. You will see the pilot coming in April with Universal Credit that we rolled out nationwide. The reforms in education have been extraordinary, if you look at what we have done with education under Michael Gove, to free up schools so that the headmaster and the governing bodies can make real decisions and the parents know exactly who is in charge, so if there is a failure in the system, they know who to go to and there is an individual that is responsible. It’s the head teacher and the governing board, not some faceless bureaucrat in local government or in Whitehall, allowing them to use those budgets where they need to use them and where they can, if they want to, pay extra bonuses for great teachers to come into the school who have done particularly well.

We started in 2010 with around 200 academies and now we have over 2200, and of course balancing the books, reforming education and welfare are the 3 major policies. I think that in 2015 we will be judged on those. If we have delivered on those 3 things, then our prospects of winning an election outright will be incredibly high.

As an MP, what are the key items on your agenda in the UK political sphere? Finally, what are your personal political aspirations?

Personally, I want to be known as the secretary of state for Stratford-On-Avon, this is my ambition. I said that to my association, when they selected me as their candidate to be their MP. I have a wonderful constituency; I think the best in the England. The heart of England as it’s referred to. I want to be able to serve my constituents and make sure that their voices are heard in Westminster. So that’s my goal.

In terms of my focus, we are half-way through the parliament, so the next half of parliament is all about delivery and all about implementation. So my work in the select committee is making sure for example, the Biz departments, which looks after university tuition fees as well as business so that the UKTI and other bits of business promotion is doing well. In terms of reforms in tuition fees, the evidence at the moment points towards a real success story in terms of the reforms we have put through to ensure that our universities continue to be well beaters.

If you look at our reputation around the world, we are second only to America in terms of our university education. Kurdistan has been one of our major clients, in fact Kurdistan has sent over 1250 students to the UK on scholarships.

Many senior politicians in Kurdistan including Ministry of Foreign Relations, Kak Falah, who was a scholar here, did their education in the UK. Kak Barham was educated here, and Kak Dilawar who was the Minister of Education before was at Nottingham University. Wherever you go in the world, not just in Kurdistan, but as far as Malaysia to Brazil, senior politicians, and senior business people will say I went to a university in your country in England. So it’s a very important export for that country. My focus is the department that I scrutinise; that I hold to account in delivering on those things.

I think if every politician, all the select committee, is focused on those things, so the Treasury Select Committee, the Health Select Committee, education and welfare departments all focused on delivery, we will be in a good position come 2015 to point to the delivery on the ground for people that put us here to serve them.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.

Opening Portals – the Kurdish Drive to Foster Cultural, Economic and Political Ties with the Rest of the World

As the Kurds strive to continue their development and advancement apace, ironically it is neighbours within Iraq that are proving the obstacle

After years of neglect and isolation in the aftermath of the setup of the Kurdish safe haven in 1991, and decades of literal repression and destruction before that, the Iraqi Kurds have been as keen as ever to open political portals and cultural and economic channels to the outside world with view to building vital bonds and strategic relationships with the international community that is so crucial for long-term survival. 

De-facto relationships and diplomatic understandings were common between 1991 and 2003, but with hostile neighbours on every side, not forgetting in Iraq itself, it is only since 2003 that the Kurdish region has been truly able to break from its enclosure.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is now enshrined in the Iraqi constitution and the region has experienced an economic boom and in a short period of time implemented a number of infrastructure projects and established notable social and educational institutions. The region has been the focus of much attention, particularly as the rest of Iraq has been devastated by bloodshed, insurgency and a rather rocky transitional road to democracy.

With the new-found prominence and stability in Northern Iraq, the Kurds have steadily opened up to the world. Mentioning ‘Kurdistan’ in the same breath as Iraq is common with the region no longer perceived as a de facto and isolated piece of Iraqi land.

Opening Portals to the Outside World

The Kurds have worked tirelessly to entice much-needed foreign investment and to win international recognition. After all, the Kurdish infrastructure was all but bare after decades of complete neglect by successive Iraqi governments. Everything from schools, power plants, hospitals, roads and shopping centres was needed to bring the region inline with the fast growing requirements of the population and its emerging economy.

While progress from a virtual standing start has been notable, much more progress remains and the building of core infrastructure is a long-term project. Key assistance of global powers is needed for Kurdish prosperity to assume the next gear.

The Kurdish leadership have done well to build bonds with key countries. The recent international outcry against a possible Turkish incursion into Northern Iraq was as much do with the easing of the PKK-standoff as any real US or Iraqi action.

For the Kurdish region to solidify as a credible entity, formal recognition is of paramount importance. This week Russia opened a consulate in Arbil, serving as a great political symbol and a proud token for the region.

The opening of the Russian consulate is the second accredited consulate, following the inauguration of the Iranian consulate.

Once a few other European and regional powers follow suit, the number of consulates springing up in the region will only increase at a more rapid rate. Similarly, the hardest task is winning support of the first few key airliners and reputable international companies, when the initial symbolic contracts are signed, this sets a positive precedence for others to follow suit.

News of the opening of a Russian consulate was followed by the opening of a regional UN office in Arbil. Earlier this year, Greece had announced a decision to open a consulate in Kurdistan. Currently, a number of countries including the UK, France, US and the Republic of Korea, maintain diplomatic representation in the region.

Meanwhile, with the aim of boosting ties and economical relations, the Kurdish government announced intentions to open 15 regional offices abroad, in mainly key European countries. 

The KRG has worked particularly hard to foster trust and mutual ties with neighbouring countries. Iran and particularly Turkey, perhaps still a long way from official and all-important acknowledgment of the KRG, has played a major role in the economic advancement of the region.

A Land Far from Baghdad

They key problem for Baghdad in the last four years, is that while they have been battling to get grips with security and formation of an elusive national unity government, development and reconstruction has been largely sidelined.

Whilst the KRG is not dogged by the same disasters further south, they have managed to take the lead in development and reconstruction, while aggravating Baghdad in the process. Arguably, the mess in the rest of Iraq has worked in the Kurds favour, facilitating their drive and determination to go alone. After all, why should all portions of Iraq suffer and linger indefinitely, whilst the majority of violence is in mainly Arabic neighbourhoods.

Furthermore, their strategic standing as key allies to the US has allowed them to leverage US support at key times and work on developing their region at a more productive rate.

Officially Kurdistan rejoined the Iraqi framework in 2003, but in all but name, the Kurds have continued as a de-facto independent entity.

Clearly, many a nationalist voice in Iraq have expressed their discomfort and anger at literal Kurdish separation and even today the Kurds are still viewed by some with suspicion.

The current stand-off between the KRG and Baghdad over the authorisation of oil contracts is testimony to this. Much to the dismay of the oil ministry in Baghdad, the Kurds have signed 15 exploration and development contracts with international companies since passing their own law in August.

Meanwhile, the chance of passing a national hydro-carbon law is fast-evaporating after months of bickering and protracted negotiations.

Iraqi Oil Minister, Hussain Shahristani, has branded such agreements by the KRG ‘illegal’ and deemed all contracts as void. In his recent speeches, Shahristani even went as far as saying that they would blacklist all companies who negotiate with the Kurdish administration and warned the KRG leadership that they would be prevented from exporting oil.

Can the Iraqi Tiger Change its Spots?

In further heated exchanges this week, the KRG delivered a damning verdict on the statements aired from Baghdad. Clearly, talk of an understanding by Baghdad with all neighbouring countries preventing the exporting of oil by the Kurds, ruffled the politics feathers of the north and reeked of regional conspiracy.

A broad agreement with neighbours historically hostile to the Kurds speaks volumes about Kurdish perception in Baghdad. Such Arab chauvinism as witnessed so brutally under Saddam Hussein is still alive in Iraq and it is delusional to believe that just because one Baathist leader is eliminated and democracy is proclaimed, that the roots of Baathist chauvinism no longer remain.

The idea of a broader Baghdad cooperation with neighbouring countries reinforces the belief and paranoia in the north, that no one in the region really wants the Kurds to succeed. It only encourages the age old myth amongst Kurds that they have no friends but the mountains.

Key facts about the essential fabric of Iraq can be swept under the political rug by declarations of federalism, plurality and national unity but in truth the key problems presiding over Iraq are deep rooted. Iraq is an artificial framework of Kurds and Arabs and Sunnis and Shiites. No matter how much democracy and multi-ethnic harmony and co-existence is preached, Iraq will always remain fragmented with hostile factions holding deep suspicions and historical mistrust for each other.

The Kurdish Drive Towards Self-Sufficiency

In the case of development, while the Kurds are reaching out to the world for investment and recognition and undertaken oil deals in the unilateral progression of their economy, this has only threatened to cut the last remaining ties between the north and south.

Baghdad, anxious about national sovereignty and a deadly break-up of the country, is keen to maintain some jurisdiction and stranglehold on the north. If all economic dependencies were severed, then Baghdad will all but lose any influence and control over the Kurdish administration.

Ironically, as the alienation between the Arbil and Baghdad administration only increases, the gulf between the north and south, socially, economically and politically only widens.

A young generation of Kurds are now accustomed to a society of relative freedom, far away from the Arab dictatorships of the past. The Iraqi flag is seldom seen and Arabic is slowly diminishing as second language in the region. Over time, the social ties between both sides may evaporate further if the rest of Iraq continues to perceive the north as some kind of rogue break-away state, rather than promote a sense of common unity and brotherhood. With their own parliament, army, flag and customs, Kurdistan will over the years become even more distant from the rest of Iraq.

With a drive towards self-sufficiency, their will reach a time in the near future, where there will be any lack of reliance on the south. This is perhaps the real contributor to government feet-dragging over the issue of implementing article 140 of the Iraqi constitution.

Lack of Desire to Implement Article 140

Once a referendum has finally been conducted, with the likely annexing of Kirkuk to the KRG and its huge oil-wealth along with it, the government fears a more deepening break-away by the Kurds. The Kurds are likely to press-ahead solitary with their development and strategic standing, firstly for a period of time under the Iraqi umbrella but at some point in the future  as a fully independent state.

When you become self-sufficient, have huge economic under-pinning and all the institutions to become fully independent in all but name. The change of the ‘name’ itself, to mark official independence would be much easier and inevitable.

The Kurds feel that they have been patient for far-too long about the proposed referendum on Kirkuk. A referendum was due to be arranged by the end of 2007 to decide the final status of Kirkuk. However, when a census set for the end of July was missed, a delay became all but predictable.

In reality, the writing has been on the wall for many a year now. Firstly, under the Transitive Administrative Law (TAL), calling for the normalisation of Kirkuk, the committee setup under Paul Bremer’s supervision (former head of Coalition Provisional Authority) was laboured and unhurried to say the least.

Later Kirkuk’s normalisation was enshrined under article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, which was elected by over 80% of the Iraqi population in October 2005. However, two years later and progress has been painstakingly slow. Fair enough, technical obstacles have halted progress but most obstacles were anticipated long before the last few weeks remained to implement the article and could have been mitigated in 24 months.

The key issue was the idea of caving in to the Kurds. As neighbouring countries would notably observe, if Baghdad stalls and delays for the foreseeable future, once it has recovered sufficiently and has stabilised, it may then have the power to postpone such a debate indefinitely.

Perhaps the speed of development in the Kurdish north has taken Baghdad by surprise. If the Kirkuk referendum is completed and the Kurds are allowed to press on with oil contracts unilaterally, this will give the carte blanche for Kurds go their separate path as the Iraqi engines further south misfires and stutters for many more years to come.

Time for Practical Steps

This week KRG Prime Minister Nerchirvan Barzani stated his dismay at the frequent delays over the settling of the Kirkuk issue, “The Kurdish people and the KRG has been patient thus far, waiting for a peaceful and legal solution. The time for talks has passed, it is now time for practical steps.”

Barzani expressed his reservation at a lack of seriousness employed by the federal government in Baghdad. While they have worked hard to compromise, promote accord amongst warring factions and reach agreement as coalition partners in the Iraqi National Assembly, its demands have been continuously ignored.

As calls by Turkey, Iran and some elements in the US and Iraqi government have intensified to postpone the referendum on Kirkuk, fearing that as a microcosm of Iraq, it will act as powder-keg for civil strife and bloodshed, ironically for the Kurds, it is the delay of this issue that will ultimately spark civil war and mayhem.

Even the US has been hesitant to employ enough pressure on the government to fulfil their obligations on the normalisation of Kirkuk. Only in August, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker expressed much scepticism that any referendum would take place by end of the year, citing the “lack of preparation, sectarian wrangling, and missed deadlines”.

Some Sunni groups had warned that the holding of the referendum would harm the integrity of Iraq and promote partition. However, Baghdad has come to take for granted the support of the Kurdistan Alliance and the KRG, and has frequently called their bluff.

The Kurds have long been accommodating about delays and have compromised over the new shape of Iraq, while been often by-passed in certain circles in Baghdad. It is time for the Iraqi government to deliver and for the Kurdish leadership to follow boldly on their threats if Baghdad continues implementing motions which directly favour progression of Kurds at a leisurely pace.

Echoes of Baath Nationalism

While Arab nationalists object to forcibly relocating Arab settlers, it is ironic that the forcible resettlement of Kurds in the first place is been forgotten. At least, the Arabs, many of whom were simply given houses and lands of ousted or killed Kurds, can receive $15,000 dollars and a plot of land in their lands of origin. The displaced Kurds had the choice of relocation or a bullet. 

The ultimate litmus test for the new democratic and federal Iraq is the appetite to adhere to democratically-elected articles. Key articles such oil exploration and sharing, federalism and article 140, were voted in favour by millions of Iraqis.

If wishes of a nation and result of the ballot box are ignored, then any glimmer of hope in Iraq, if there was any to start with, has all but vanished.

The recent by-passing of Kurds in Baghdad negotiations with Turkey over the PKK, further represented Baghdad claims of sovereignty over all of Iraq and was designed to undermine the Kurdistan leadership, in the face of regional pressure.

Somewhat ironically, as Baghdad tries to keep a noose and influence on the north and alienates the region, this in turn actually increases the divide between Arabs and Kurds even more

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.