Once bitten, twice shy

While Kurds bring warring Arabs together, Kurdistan must ensure that the principles of co-existence are not sidelined

For a disparate country fuelled by common mistrust and a diverse ethno-social mosaic, finding a formula to satisfy all sides is never going to be plain sailing. How the Iraqi ‘cake’ is essentially shared and the mechanisms for doing so remain at the heart of Iraqi disputes. While analysts often talk about the distribution of power between the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish counterparts, the basis for their respective “demands” is at times misunderstood.

There are essentially two deriving factors for the distribution of power in Iraq. The question around the division of power and key responsibilities between Shiites and Sunnis is essentially an Arab and sectarian based issue and a greater problem for Baghdad. There are of course various agendas for the balance of power and national ranking between Sunnis and Shiites, not least the great foreign interest in ensuring one side gets the upper hand over the other.

However, the Kurdish issue must not be judged on the same basis as the “Arab” problem. As far as Kurdistan is considered, it is a separate federal entity and as such the issue of ensuring equal representation and distribution of power should be based on ethnic grounds and on the basis of a voluntary union between the two main nationalities in Iraq.

Some Arab parties and foreign powers misapply the importance of dividing the top seats in Iraq. There was immense pressure from Washington and Ankara for the Kurds to relinquish their demand for the Presidency. This is democracy and normally electoral representation and thus the seats attained speak volumes. However, by the same token this is Iraq and democracy can never be applied on the basis of such simple mathematics. In theory, the Kurds came fourth in the election and thus top seats can be guzzled up by the so called victors of the polls. However, ultimately the argument is simple. As the second nation in Iraq, who affectively opted to become a part of a new federal Iraq on a voluntary basis, the importance of equal representation for the Kurds in Baghdad must not be mixed up with a quota based strictly on election results.

As such, when it comes to the distribution of power and key posts in Baghdad, the Kurds warrant a share of powerful positions based on equal partner status in Iraq and based on the plurality of the country. The Kurds warrant key roles that have influence in shaping the external character of Iraq and therefore the Kurds must hold onto the position of Foreign Minister. Then there are the key posts that decide the internal strategy and makeup of Iraq such as the ministries of oil, interior and security.

If the Kurds are denied positions that define and highlight the plurality of Iraq to the outside world or internal roles that define the direction of Iraq then this would provide evidence that age-old mentalities are hard to shake-off in Iraq and would certainly have the Kurds asking what direct benefit would they have  in any connection to Baghdad.

It would be ironic and somewhat contradictory if foreign powers and particularly Arab politicians assume that whilst constitutionally Kurds are the second nation in Iraq and in a voluntary union, that they would be happy with backroom political roles, especially to appease the likes of Allawi and al-Maliki.

This is the intrinsic nature of Iraq and no matter how you look at it, classic democracy can never be applied to Iraq. Regardless that they are outnumbered by Arabs in the greater Iraq, Kurds refuse to buckle to decisions imposed on their region or on their people by Arab politicians, lest some Arab chauvinists that prevail. Much in the same way that even though the Sunnis are far outnumbered by their Shiite rivals, they refuse to succumb to Shiite rule and moreover the majority of Western powers refuse to allow this reality to bear fruit. Ironically, the idea that Allawi and al-Iraqiya were triumphant at the elections is somewhat misleading. Firstly, Allawi is another Shiite using the Sunni bandwagon in his quest to reestablish power and secondly if all the Shiite parties combine, they have by far the most votes and could politically outmaneuver the Sunnis at ease.

Thus the new political mission in Iraq of distributing posts and forming a new cabinet will be based on the ideals of appeasement and a quota based system. The price extracted by political parties for supporting this new government will never be proportional to the number of seats attained at the polls, but based on meeting demands of political counterparts to keep them content and thus keeping the fragile political framework glued together.

As such, the perquisites of al-Iraqiya support hinge on them attaining powerful positions such heading the new National Council for Higher Strategic Policies. The contradictions are obvious, this council does not have constitutional support but based on the ‘goodwill’ of the leading Shiites and specifically al-Maliki when it comes to affording it executive decision making ability. As the head of the government, by far the largest coalition in the country and the overwhelmingly majority in Iraq, how far would al-Maliki go to share power with the Sunni’s purely based on the desire to appease their minority brethren who are yet a key component of the Iraqi framework?

The political uncertainty and instability can be best highlighted in the so called national army. The Sunnis distrust the national security forces that have a predominantly Shiite flavour, while the Kurds are not adequately represented and thus will always rely on their substantial and experienced regional Peshmerga forces, while other key Shiites such as the Sadrist fear that without their powerful militias that they would become sidelined militaristically by the likes of al-Maliki. Hence, Moqtada al-Sadr’s precondition for supporting his onetime nemesis in al-Maliki was that his Sadr forces obtain 25% of key positions within the security. Finally, there is the grand issue of fully integrating the Sunni Sahwa council forces into the official security apparatus.

Each of the aforementioned military factions is loyal to none but their political, sectarian or ethnic affiliations. Simply put, no side will accept a quota based on their populist representation in Iraq. Fuelled with great mistrust and a tainted history, no party will be willing to see another side with great military prowess assume the ascendancy.

As far as the Kurds are concerned, whilst they may have ironically helped Baghdad achieve a new government by acting as a strategic balancing body, of what benefit is seeing a strong and prosperous Baghdad and cross-sectarian Arab harmony if the key demands that form the underpinning of the voluntary union are continuously ignored?

Arabs have been dragging their heels over the implementation of the constitution particularly relating to Kirkuk and disputed territories and promises have been ignored countless times in the past. There is a great danger that Kurdish demands may be sidelined for greater Arab reconciliation somewhere down the line where Baghdad grows politically stronger. For example, all of nineteen Kurdish preconditions for support have been agreed by al-Maliki, which serve as a major victory on paper for Kurdistan. However, whether al-Maliki will be willing to underwrite some of these implementations in the backyard of al-Iraqiya is unclear. Most Sunnis within al-Iraqiya have been openly bullish in their opposition to potential KRG expansion. This will likely leave al-Maliki with a dilemma, stall the Kurds further or upset the Sunnis.

The Kurds must be unmistakably clear. The constitution is the basis for their co-existence and thus the Kurds are asking for nothing more than what is legally enshrined in legislature. If the Arabs pull together to thwart Kurds over the constitution demands or the principles of co-existence is sidelined once more, then the Kurds must stop working to establish unity and stable governance in Baghdad and resign from Iraqi politics altogether.

The signs this time around suggest the Kurdish leadership will not tolerate small talk or empty promises. However, it waits to be seen if the latest episode of Kurdish intervention between Sunnis and Shiites and their role as a key balancing force leaves them with their key goals and objectives distanced – once again.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

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