As Obama Takes US Elections by Storm, the Legacy of Bush is Not Lost on the Kurds

Barrack Obama swept to victory in the US presidential elections, marking a momentous day in American history. The appointment of the first-black US president represented more than just this iconic and ground-breaking significance. Indeed the world, gripped with the worst economic crisis since the 1930’s, facing a growing threat of fundamentalism and reeling from cynicism caused by recent US foreign policy, has been crying out for a fresh impetus and new hope.¬†

Perhaps no individual will have greater expectations right now than that on Obama’s broad shoulders. Obama may well represent the energy that the globe is lacking, but he is no miracle worker. Obama can only work with the tools at this disposable and manoeuvre within constraints that the political stage allows.

Obama would do well to get people’s feet back on the ground and quell a level of expectation that if unchecked may ironically cripple his tenure before it has even started.

Obama’s appointment certainly stole the worlds gaze. However, as the worlds attention had turned to historic elections, the heated US presidential contest between Barack Obama and John McCain was observed with as much interest in Kurdistan as any part of the world.

After recent Republican legacy in Kurdistan and the more clear-cut promises of McCain over the US course in Iraq, arguably Obama was not the first choice of the Kurdish people.

The Name Bush in Kurdish folklore

If George Bush senior can be viewed by the Kurds with eternal gratitude for the establishment of the no-fly zone and onset of Kurdish liberalisation from tyranny in 1991, it is perhaps the actions of his son George. W. Bush that is forever etched in Kurdish folklore.

Conceivably, in later generations the Kurds may even view the decision by Bush junior to oust Saddam Hussein from power in the same breadth of Newroz folklore when Kawa the blacksmith defeated Zehak the evil ruler of these mystical lands, to free a nation in captivity thousands of years ago. The significance of the new dawn in Kurdish existence can not be overestimated.

Although, the Kurds have been betrayed far too many times, particularly by successive US governments, to take future American support for granted, the change of fortune in the seventeen years and particularly the last five since the liberalisation of Iraq, have been truly remarkable for an ancient, battle-weary and emotionally scarred people.

Not all the policies of the US government have bode well with the people of Kurdistan and US presidents throughout their new found autonomy have stopped short of full-fledged backing and support for the Kurdish nation, however the symbolic nature in which the Kurds were afforded their first opportunity to guide their future and look ahead to a new prosperous and unmolested path, can and will never be forgotten by the ever-grateful Kurds.

The Kurds, cold-heartedly sliced into pieces like disposable by-products in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, waited many decades to be rid of mass-oppression at the hands of their occupiers.

US intervention in 1991 may ironically have been forced and not wilfully decided by the US administration at the time and the world-super power could have acted years before the massacre of thousands of Kurdish civilians, rather than persevere in their own selfish strategic interests, nevertheless an invaluable opportunity was given to the Kurds to begin new chapters in their existence.

Kurdish anxiety

Kurdish trepidation and weariness at seeing their hard-fought gains vanish, is all too common, especially when their gains have not quite been encapsulated in protection and guarantee. Such mistrust, particularly towards their former Arab rulers in Iraq, can not simply vanish in a small period of time.

Pain and mourning, are not concepts that just disappear, lest from mentally-scarred citizens who have loved many a lost one and witnessed the razing of their villages.

So when an end of era arrives in America, a country on the path of ground breaking political change, Kurdish anticipation of the electoral results was understandable.

As thousands of Kurds watched with intent, it was the candidate that represented the next best thing to George Bush that dominated their gaze. In this context, John McCain was in a way the default man of choice in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Where Obama has raised Kurdish tension, by declaring his open-intent to withdraw troops from Iraq as soon as possible, McCain had remained defiant to stay the course and not allow their hard-won security gains in Iraq disappear.

Now Kurds watch developments in the White House with close-interest, and anticipate with anxiety the policy Obama adopts towards the Kurds. As US foreign policy in Iraq becomes destined for a shake-up under Obama, whether the Kurds will be given commitment and protection, as American attention turns elsewhere, is uncertain.

US Bases in Kurdistan

The willingness and encouragement for the establishment of permanent US bases in Kurdistan Region, may have stoked national sentiments further south in recent times, however the concept is nothing new.

Kurds have campaigned and supported the idea of some form of residual US presence in Kurdistan, regardless of any greater US-Iraqi security pact.

It’s hardly a secret that the majority of Kurds in Iraq are pro-western. However, such blatant endorsement of Kurdish autonomy by the new Obama administration may be nothing short of wishful thinking.

Just as the Kurds rely heavily on the US in the present and the future, in the quest to end their 5-year nightmare and to safeguard the seeds of their greater Middle Eastern project, the US rely heavily on broader Iraqi endorsement and Arab support.

Kurdistan president Massaud Barzani, currently in Washington for talks, emphasised the warm welcome the idea of the stationing of US troops in Kurdistan would receive, if the security pact was not signed by year end.

His remarks drew strong rebuke somewhat unsurprisingly from anti-US hardliners, namely from Moqtada al-Sadrs bloc, but also ironically from leading Kurdish figure and Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani. Talabani statement that all Iraqi constitutional laws apply to the Kurdistan region was inevitable. He may be an influential Kurdish leader, but as the symbolic figure-head of Iraq, he was hardly going to embrace the idea in public with open arms.

Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) stalled

With the chances of passing the security pact under the remaining stewardship of Bush now slim, the chances of an agreement before year end, when US forces will find themselves in a legal vacuum, are now also diminishing.

What was deemed a final document awaiting vote by Iraq’s parliament, the draft has now been returned, somewhat disappointedly in the eyes of the Bush administration, with a fresh set of proposals and request for further rework.

US officials had previously labelled the chances of further revisions as unlikely. Despite more recent encouragement from Bush that a deal will be struck before year end, the US analysis of Iraqi recommendations, coupled with scepticism of high-ranking US officials may well mean that the pact will become one of the first testing challenges facing Obama as new US president.

The attitude of a majority of Iraqi politicians to be seen standing up for national pride and not to cede under US influence, has meant an agreement, that was already a product of dilution, may require further downgrading to the annoyance of the US.

However, as much as Baghdad can ill-afford to lose the support of the US in such a short period of time, conversely Washington without common agreement to remain in Iraq, will suffer huge humiliation come 1st January 2009 with the absence of symbolic legal cover

Greater Iraqi View

Other than the Kurdistan region, where the next US president and more importantly his moves and motives for the country, have taken much more significance, the general view in the rest of Iraq is less intensive.

Obama’s appointment will bode well with large sections of the Iraqi population who favoured a quick departure of American forces, and remained unmoved from a perception of Bush as their own Western tyrant. The significance of Obama’s skin-colour and his distinct origins is not forgotten on most Iraqis (or the great Middle Eastern landscape for that matter).

However, most Arabs sceptics generally believe that the choice of presidency will hold little sway, in light of more encompassing strategic institutions that will determine greater US policies.

This view may hold some weighting, after all to a large extent the arms of the new US president will still in some way, shape or from be constricted by the legacy of the Bush administration. No US president however gallant can escape from this fact.

Furthermore, US foreign policy has always been long-term especially with certain regards, for example the strong support for Israel becoming almost constitutional over the years. Decades of foreign ideals and strategic manoeuvring for a world order in the vision of the US, can not be altered greatly or at the pace many demand. Even the effervescent and bold Obama, may struggle to conjure wholesale and controversial changes.

Untangling of this web by Democrats now in power, will take time and may consume their first term. In light of this, Obama can ill-afford to bring down Bush’s principles in Iraq, with a lack of remorse. If he does and the Iraqi project derails badly, the nails in his presidential coffin may have been sealed before it even began. The security pact, even if modified further, will clearly see US presence in Iraq for at least 4 years.

However, regardless of the differing camps of view on Bush’s eight-year tenure at the helm and the capacity of Obama to enact real change, there is a broad and energised consensus in US and the international stage, that a fresh outlook was required and a new page can now be turned. A jubilant Obama hopes to provide just that.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Online Opinion, Peyamner, Various Misc.

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