Tag Archives: Reform

More reforms but same old problems hamper Iraqi fight against Islamic State

The visit of U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, to Baghdad this week in what he deemed as “a very critical time” for Iraq, coincided with 13 years since the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

Iraq remains in a critical battle against the Islamic State (IS) that continues to hold large swathes of territory almost two years since their rapid routing of the Iraqi army. What makes this already tricky fight all the more strenuous is the political and economic struggles that have crippled the government.

Kerry arrived as a show of support for under-fire Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi whilst reinforcing Washington’s readiness to assist at a crucial time.

Abadi has been under pressure from popular protests led by influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and successive drives at implementing reform and measures to root out corruption have largely failed. Abadi’s latest attempt to appease sentiment with a move towards a technocratic government and streamlining of cabinet posts still lack the broad endorsement needed.

13 years on, the old cracks that underscored post-Saddam rule are seemingly as wide as ever. Years later, the US is still pushing for national reconciliation, reconstruction of the country and ethno-sectarian concord.

In addition to Baghdad’s own conundrums, years of friction with the Kurdistan Region and continuous withholding of the Kurdistan share of the national budget has left an unrepairable divide. As Abadi announced his new cabinet, the Kurdish leadership has strongly insisted that only they can decide on their nominations.

Kerry insisted that he is not in Baghdad to mediate but no doubt that after meeting the Kurdish delegation that included Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, that the warning and demands from the Kurds was clear. They would not participate in the fight to liberate Mosul or support any measures to instill political stability in Baghdad without firm preconditions.

Kurdistan has its own bitter fight against IS and continuous to house millions of refugees, whilst tackling their own economic hardships that have been fueled by Baghdad’s withholding of budget payments.

The Kurds have also reiterated to Kerry their insistence on receiving a portion of any military or financial support provided by Washington to Baghdad.

Iraqi forces have made steady gains against IS but they have relied heavily on US-led coalition support and Shiite military forces.

As Kerry stressed that Baghdad must “unify and rebuild its country and to reclaim territory that was occupied by Daesh”, a challenge tougher than ousting IS would be the soothing of the sectarian animosity that helped IS to solidify their advance.

The need to entice the Sunnis into wider political framework stems from 2003 and IS simply took advantage of years of Sunni discontent, much in the same way as al-Qaeda and various other hardline groups in the past.

Unfortunately, for the much suffering population, doubts linger of a better tomorrow even when IS is out of the picture.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: 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.

The plight of the Syrian Kurds – the forgotten kindred

Repression, misfortune and suffering has been a common feature of recent Kurdish history across the Middle Eastern plains but often the plight of the Syrian Kurds has been the most overlooked and forgotten – quite literally in the case of thousands of stateless Kurds.

While Kurds in both Iraq and Turkey may have had more focus under the international spotlight, the struggle and suffering of the Syrian Kurds goes on unabated as we enter a new year.

The new found prominence and strategic standing of the Kurds in Iraq is a major milestone in Kurdish nationalism, with the gains less notable but nevertheless significant in Turkey, where Kurds are slowly enjoying greater cultural freedoms and more state focus.

Amidst a new passage for Kurds in the Middle East, the Syrian Kurds have lagged behind without the same rights and privileges enjoyed by their ethnic brethren across the mountainous borders.

In spite of increasing pressure from human rights groups and some Western powers in recent years, progress in Syria has been lacking substance and a sense of a genuine desire for reform. Only this week, a report by Humans Rights Watch (HRW) continued to highlight the lack of freedoms and rights in Syria.

In a region hardly noteworthy for freedom and political liberalism, the assessment by the HRW belief that “Syria’s authorities were among the worse violators of human rights last year” spoke volumes.

In the last several years it is fair to say that Kurds in Syria have found new leverage and confidence in protesting against the government and seeking greater reform. Many of these motions including rallies, protests and activist movements have been met with suppression by the Syrian government, often via violent means and at the expense of civilian lives.

In March of last year security forces opened fire to disperse Kurdish Newroz celebrations in the northern city of Raqqa, resulting in many wounded and dozens of arrests. According to HRW, at least another 14 Kurdish political and cultural public gatherings have been harshly repressed by the state since 2005.

Only this week, yet more political activists were mercilessly killed. Two members of the People’s Confederation of Western Kurdistan (KCK) were killed after been ambushed by Syrian security forces, leading to protests and rising anger in Kurdish circles.

Other cases of disappearances, torture and death of activities have not been met with enquiries, explanations or action by the government

The Syrian Kurds more than ever need international assistance and pressure from the main ruling bodies to entrench their campaign for recognition, cultural rights and greater freedoms.

As such a great moral, national and political responsibility falls on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for diplomatic assistance of the fellow Kurds in Syria and pushing for reconciliation between the Syrian government and the disenfranchised Kurdish minority.

The Kurdish movement should be based on the ideals of international law, dialogue and peaceful resolution, the minimum that any ethnic minority deserves in this day and age.

The oppression and systematic coercion of the Syrian Kurds is not new. They have become the ubiquitous victims of Arab nationalist policies since the granting of Syrian independence from France.

Much like Arabisation policies of the fellow Baathist regime in Baghdad, Syrian created an Arab cordon (Hizam Arabi) along the Turkish border, resulting in 150,000 Kurds been forcibly deported and losing their lands and livelihood.

Of the numerous injustices committed against the Kurds, none requires greater attention than the plight of the 300,000 stateless Kurds that many have accustomed to been “buried alive” – living but unable to live a life. As a result of a special census carried out by Syrian authorities in the densely Kurdish populated north-east in 1962, thousands of Kurds were arbitrarily stripped of their citizenship, leaving them without basic rights, subject to systematic discrimination and in poverty.

Subsequently, most denationalized Kurds were categorized as ajanibs (or “foreigners”) with identity documentation to confirm their lack of nationality and furthermore denied access to education, healthcare, judicial and political systems and unable to obtain property, business or even marry. Some further 75-100,000 Kurds, compounded to an even worse status, were labelled as Maktoumeen (“hidden” or “unregistered”), with no identity documents, effectively no existence and having almost no civil rights

In the year 2011, for a country to be able to deprive thousands of its people of nationality and citizenship and openly contravene international law is remarkable. Many of the Western powers and particularly the UN, whose existence is based on upholding such fundamental rights, have not done enough.

The 1962 census is itself a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides the right to a nationality, while Syria is a party to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Prevention of Statelessness.

The Baath Party, headed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has ruled Syria since 1963 after seizing power in a coup and enacting an emergency law which 50 years later is still in force. In this time, political opposition has been widely suppressed with the Arab nationalist ideological framework becoming a mystical cornerstone of the Syrian Republic.

Under the Arab nationalism banner, the Kurds have always been deemed to pose the greatest danger to the regime. After coming to power in 2000 and facing an increasing international spotlight, al-Assad softened the tone towards the Kurds and a number of promises were subsequently made, however, in practice no real steps have been taken.

In fact, as the government drags its heels in implementing concrete steps towards expanding cultural freedoms and resolving the issue of stateless Kurds, the Kurds threaten to become a long-term danger for the establishment.

The Kurds are growing in confidence and for a country that was a long part of the Washington ‘axis of evil’, it can no longer ignore such a fundamental problem on its doorstep.

Syria does not need to look far to see how civil unrest can spread like wildfire. From what started as an almost trivial social disturbance, Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was dramatically ousted after a 23 year grip on power, when a small protest lead to country wide chaos. In similar vain, growing protests in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak’s government threaten to snowball. Once the masses have the confidence to take to the streets and challenge the government, no amount of artillery or firepower can withstand people power.

The EU, US and UN must back up their condemnation of a lack of human rights with firm measures. Trade and political relationships should not be promoted when a government openly commits atrocities against its own people and even refuses to grant rights and basic citizenship.

At this critical juncture, it is important for the historically fractured Syrian Kurdish opposition parties to become united and seek regional and international help on their quest for peaceful resolution of their goals.

The KRG evidently require good relationships with the Syrian government but the interests of the Kurdistan Region should not be safeguarded and prioritised, while fellow Kurds are been repressed.

Ironically, while the Syrian government has provided decades of assistant to thousands of Palestinian and more recently hundreds of Iraqi refugees, they have continued to overlook stateless Kurds within their own borders.

The Syrian government needs to look no further than Turkey. A government can not indefinitely ignore the rights and voices of such a significant minority. If not capped and addressed, the problems will only exasperate and grow and bite the government increasingly harder as the years ensue.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Various Misc.