Tag Archives: al-Maliki

Kurdistan to Maliki – your last (last) chance?

As Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki landed in Erbil to chair a rare but symbolic meeting of the Iraqi cabinet in the Kurdish capital and discuss a number of issues with the Kurdish leadership, expectations appeared high.

However, Maliki has shown political shrewdness when backed against a corner in the past, making concessions, striking agreements, renewing promises and proposing committees when the heat has been on, only to prove that rhetoric prevailed over real action and practical steps.

A delegation to Baghdad led by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in May culminated in a decision to form seven committees all geared towards addressing specific issues between Kurdistan and Baghdad which also ended the boycott of Kurdish MPs in Baghdad.

The committees, to be directly by Maliki and Barzani, include ones to oversee reviews of the federal budget, draft oil and gas law, article 140 and overseeing of parliamentary work and Baghdad and Erbil relations.

Kurdistan Massaud Barzani emphasized that the latest round of negotiations are a final chance and that Kurdistan will be forced to seek a “new form of relations” with the central government in Baghdad if negotiations fail to resolve key disputes.

The issues between the KRG and Baghdad have become so deep-rooted, cyclic and predictable that it is hard to see why this time around will be any different.

The Kurdistan leadership has played a role in reaching the current predicament and the lack of progress on historic issues such as disputed terrotories. KRG has rubber-stamped two terms of power for Maliki in return for strategic partnerships.

Yet several years since the first Iraqi elections and over 10 years since the liberation of Iraq, the strategic agreements have not been fully implemented and if anything disputes have become more protracted, entrenched and distant from resolution. Kurdistan should have given a “last chance” to Maliki and Baghdad many years ago.

Maliki was accused of centralist tendencies, inciting sectarian tensions and foot-dragging on constitutional implementation in his first term of power, never mind the second term (or even in a third term if he gets his way).

The relations between Erbil and Baghdad have been shrouded by formation of committees, agreements and political road-maps. But how many more meetings and committees do the Kurd want to participate in?

Kirkuk and disputed territories is a prime example. It is understandable if there are technical delays to implementing complex constitutional articles. But should there be a delay of several months or 6 years? And since there were delays, any sincere government would adopt a plan to meet its legal obligations in the quickest possible time.

This is the same for hydrocarbon law which has gathered dust since 2007, status of Peshermrga forces, national budget etc. In the case of Kirkuk, even a national census, delayed on so many occasions, would have at least marked one achievement. Even that has been sidelined as Baghdad knows it would serve as a de-facto referendum on disputed territories.

Now is the time for practical steps and firm timelines for implementation of issues by the Kurdistan leadership. Until Baghdad resolves disputed territories, KRG and Peshmerga forces have the right to jointly govern and control these regions.

The bitter Sunni protests and the latest cycle of sectarian violence has redrawn sharp lines between Shiites and Sunni and coupled with sectarian polarisation in the wider region, may prove to be even greater than peaks reached in 2007.

Maliki can ill-afford to carry on antagonising ever corner of Iraq (including his own Shiite alliance) and for Iraqi Kurds the time is ripe to seek real concessions. If Baghdad refused to succumb to Kurdish demands when it is at its knees, it will never implement agreements at its peak.

The recent provincial elections only served to highlight the deepening polarisation of the county and weak political picture. Forming a new government and choosing a Prime Minister after elections in 2014 will prove as daunting as ever.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Sunni protests in Iraq reopen sectarian wounds and historic fault lines

The elusive quest of enticing the disenfranchised Sunni population after the fall of Saddam Hussein plagued the Iraqi transition to democracy. The brutal civil war that peaked between 2006-2007 centred on the failure to reconcile with Sunnis and bring them into the political fold after Shiite supremacy replaced decades of Sunni rule almost overnight. The sectarian bloodshed may have declined dramatically from its peak, but realities were merely masked and the political picture never really changed.

The lack of Sunni power in government and their bitter political decline coincided with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s drive to monopolise power, break an already fragile political framework and initiate drums of war against the Kurds.

The Arab Spring has transformed the Middle Eastern political climate, and emboldened by the rise of Sunnis in Syria, Iraqi Sunnis see this as a chance to ignite their own spring and wrest control from Iranian backed Shiite domination of power.

Sentiments around lack of Sunni power in Baghdad have been worsened by Maliki’s failure to deliver basic services, improve living conditions and address high unemployment. Iraq has immense natural resources and a relatively high national budget, yet much of southern Iraq has languished behind.

Mass demonstrations continued in Sunni dominated parts of Iraqi, including in al-Anbar, a hub of the Sunni population and indeed the vicious civil war that beset Iraq. Other provinces that witnessed protests were Salahaddin, Nineveh and Anbar with the cities of Fallujah, Tikrit, Ramadi and Mosul taking center stage.  While the recent wave of protests may be new, Sunni disgruntlement is anything but that.

Sunni passions and anger were evident merely months after the withdrawal of US forces, with the arrest warranty of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, attempts to stifle Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq and more recently the raid and arrest of body guards of Rafie al-Issawi, Iraq’s Finance Minister.

Sunnis clearly perceive anti-terror laws as orchestrated to diminish their power and see the Shiite dominated security forces as sectarian biased.

As the intensity of Sunni demonstrations and its inevitable manipulation by extremists and Baathists increase, so does it role in shattering any chance of reconciliation in the government’s present form. Depending on the response of the Iraq security forces and any hard-handed attempts by Maliki to quell the protests, it may well put Iraq back to square one.

Maliki’s coalition has shown willingness to dissolve parliament and embark upon new elections to coincide with provincial elections in April. However, this is not the real solution nor will it sufficiently appease Sunnis or Kurds for that matter. Iraq has now held a number of milestone elections yet the same problems have continued to hound the Iraqi political landscape.

New elections will not dilute Shiite political domination as the major components of Iraq, nor will it address the age-old question of how to share power in a way that will appease Kurds, Sunni and Shiites. The record time taken to form the present government says it all.

Sunnis, who largely boycotted the first elections, were never happy with the outcome of the second as it meant playing second fiddle to Maliki once more. Far from enacting the Erbil Agreement and power sharing principles, Maliki assigned to himself a number of powerful “caretaker” positions and distrust with al-Iraqiya only depended.

One result is certain, unless Iraqi politics take a drastic turn for the better and Shiite and Sunni moderates as well as U.S. and foreign allies mediate effectively, the ensuing bloodshed will be even worse than before.

Such is the nature of Iraqi politics that even a caretaker government which should be led by the Presidential Council is riddled with difficulties, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is receiving medical treatment following a stroke and Vice President Hashemi is in exile and convicted of murder.

The recent surge of Sunni discomfort clearly shows that it was never just the Kurds who were at great unease over Maliki’s growing centralist tendencies and even Shiites have become increasingly weary of Maliki. The only surprise is that it took so long for all sides to wake up to the realities that have gripped Iraqi for many a year.

Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani should be lauded for standing up to Maliki while ironically some saw such grave national developments as “personal”. Maliki has come to the brink of war with the Kurds and has been willing to antagonise Sunnis at the same time. At the current rate, not only is war and more bloodshed inevitable but also the breakup of Iraq.

Just where Iraq goes from here is far from certain, power sharing on paper alone will not satisfy Sunni demands, and the Kurds, who have been patient while much of the implementation of the constitution has been neglected, can ill-afford to get sucked into another sectarian mayhem in Iraq or wait indefinitely for Baghdad to enact agreements such as oil sharing and resolution to disputed territories.

With new elections almost a certainty, the intense jockeying for power has already begun. Influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, heaped blame on Maliki and supported Sunnis in their demonstrations and also reached out to Christian minorities.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.

As Kurd-Arab relations hit rock bottom, tensions reach dangerous heights

With a language of confrontation, the writing for conflict is always on the wall.

With tension over the Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command already at boiling point, the writing for open confrontation was always on the wall. Violent skirmishes between Peshmerga forces and Dijla forces in Tuz Kkurmatu, resulting in two casualties and many wounded, could be the tip of the ice-berg in what may embroil into serious conflict between Kurds and Arabs if sentiments do not dramatically change.

Any escalation in conflict has the potential to drastically alter the face of Iraq and indeed the entire region. Kurdish and Arab forces have come close to blows in the past, but the establishment of the Dijla forces was an open intent to ruffle Kurdish feathers and use military might to achieve goals.

The Dijla forces which Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki setup in September after promising he would not go ahead with the move, illustrate alarming boldness and arrogance by Maliki as he seeks to solidify his growing grip on power.

The escalation in the disputed territories and the rapidly deteriorating relations between Erbil and Baghdad comes as no surprise. Maliki has been consistently interested in preserving his sphere of power, has successfully consolidated a number of powerful roles under his helm and has affectively manipulated political actors and played on sectarian emotions when backed against a corner. If in moments of weakness he can prevail, then Maliki’s capabilities and confidence at times of strength have little bounds.

Weeks after a cross-party Kurdish delegation returned from Baghdad in what many deemed as a “final attempt” at resolving the crisis between Kurdistan and Baghdad, relations have plummeted to new lows.

The Kurdish delegation promised a united stand should negotiations prove unsuccessful and it is time for Kurdish political forces to show solidary and a clear plan of action as Kurdish interests are threatened more than ever.

Only in April of this year, a vote of no-confidence on Maliki failed in spite of cross-party support in Baghdad, with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani playing a big part in thwarting the measures to remove al-Maliki. How a betrayed Talabani, who received promises from Maliki about new national dialogue and a halt to Dijla forces, must now regret that.

The reason for the Dijla Operations Command was supposedly to address “poor” security coordination in the areas that had witness violent attacks. But as always with Maliki, timing of the moves and initiatives is the clue to real intent.

There have been terrorist attacks in the northern disputed belt for years, with residents long complaining about a lack of government protection. For the large part, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces had been relied on to affectively protect disputed areas as Iraqi national forces were bogged down in a fierce sectarian civil war further south for a number of years.

None of the Dijla commanders had been appointed by the council of representatives and most of the leaders have allegiance to Maliki. In fact the majority of the military commanders across the Iraqi army are carefully hand-picked by Maliki, making them increasingly a sectarian and not a national force.

Coordination was already a common feature under years of American mediation with the setup of join patrols and commands between Peshmerga and the Iraqi army. Kirkuk province’s Kurdish governor Najimaldin Omar Karim refused to cooperate with the new command and tensions have been brewing slowly towards open confrontation. Lt. Jamal Tahir, the chief of police in Kirkuk, refused to take orders from the command and warned about any Dijla meddling in Kirkuk.

It is no confidence that new measures by Baghdad have come as relations between Baghdad and Erbil have dramatically declined, with internal disputes and a difference in regional strategy widening all the time as Kurds have moved closer to Turkey, reaffirmed their anti-Assad stance and have grown ever more independent with new energy deals.

The new manoeuvres in the disputed territories are political and have little to do with provision of security. Maliki’s increasing sabre-rattling is designed to dilute Kurdish power, undermine Kurdish security forces and strengthen Baghdad’s hand in the jostle for control of disputed territories.

Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani had stated in recent remarks, “the formation of the Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command in Kirkuk and Diyala is an unconstitutional step by the Iraqi government,” whilst warning that “the intentions, aims, formation and actions of this command centre are against the Kurdish people, the political process, co- existence and the process of normalising the situation in the disputed areas.”

The years of delays in the implementation of Article 140 and constitutional articles was already clear gauge of Baghdad’s appetite to conform to democratic principles that go against their interests. This latest move is nothing but further measures to hinder a clear resolution of disputed territories and to derail Kurdistan’s growing economic and political strength.

Barzani said in a recent statement “I want to reassure the people of Iraq, and especially the people of Kurdistan, that after consultation with the Iraqi President and other concerned parties, we will make our position clear and take appropriate steps against this unconstitutional action and any actions designed to impose unconstitutional arrangements in the disputed areas”. The PUK leadership had also warned that the Kurds would resort to other means if Maliki did not rectify and backtrack from his “mistakes”.

Warnings by the Kurdish leadership are not new and the desire to adopt patience must surely be running thin. It is also signifies the importance of Kurdish solidarity and a united stand to protect Kurdish interests. Lack of Kurdish unity in disputed territories and particularly Baghdad over the past several months has already harmed Kurdish goals.

The move led by Barzani to oust Maliki under his growing abuse of power was wrongly seen as “personal” in some circles with Maliki’s track record over the past number of years telling its own story.

When backed into a corner or on the negotiation table Maliki and the State of Law Coalition make all the right overtures and gestures. But almost a decade under the new Iraq, Kurds have to finally realise that promises are not worth the paper they are written on in Baghdad.

The Kurdish security forces had warned that they will respond harshly and this was met with Maliki’s own stern warnings for the Peshermrga forces not to provoke Iraqi forces. Maliki had ominously insisted in the past that “there are no restrictions on the movements of the Iraqi army, which according to the constitution is a federal army and has right to be present in Basra or Zakho. And no one has the right to prevent that.”

As Maliki came under renewed pressure over the Dijla Operations Command, he boldly added the Salahaddin province under its command.

The growing rhetoric from Maliki, the likes of Yassin Majeed and other Shiite leaders and new assertiveness that their powerbase stretches to all corners of Iraq is an open threat of war.

In a sign of growing hostility towards the principle of the Kurds as the sole guardians of Kurdistan, Abdul Salam al-Maliki, an MP from the State of Law bloc, urged the Iraqi Prime Minister to open a “North Operations Command” to “protect” Kurdistan Region, under the pretext that the Peshmerga are unable to secure the province.

It is ironic that the Peshmerga who receive no funding or support from Baghdad or a share of weapons purchases are been advised of their lack of strength. Peshmerga had the capability to repel the might of Saddam and are capable of securing Kurdistan both now and the future.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.

Cleaning polluted political waters in Iraq when streams are rising

The Kurds prepare to send yet another delegation to Baghdad but can the same formula produce a different answer?

The political forces in the Kurdistan Region are preparing to send a delegation ahead of Eid Ad’ha to Baghdad, hailed as a “final attempt” to solving the crisis.

The delegation, which was intended to represent a cross-spectrum of Kurdish political voices, is charged with reaffirming the Region’s adherence to the constitution and former deals concluded but also on the other hand to warn the government over its damaging monopolisation policies.

Kurdish political forces have agreed to take a united stand should attempts to find a solution prove futile.

While looking for factors to remain hopeful or positive, it is difficult to overlook the fact that such delegations, negotiations and attempts at reconciliation are hardly new.

Furthermore, they come at a time when a Kurdish olive branch has been severely burned by brazen and worrying statements from a leader of the State of Law Coalition, Yassin Majeed, who attacked Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani as a “a real danger to Iraq’s economy and national security” just as the Kurds were preparing their reach out.

While the statement from Majeed may not be reflective of the overall view of the State of Law Coalition, it severely derails any positive motions that are initiated and makes the bridge towards reconciliation and understanding all the more slippery.

Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, severely reprimanded Majeed for his statements, deeming them as a “call to war”. Talabani blasted Majeed’s “provocative” and “reckless” statements at a time when the Kurdish government was working to send a delegation to reignite dialogue with the National Iraqi Alliance (NIA) and other groups.

The Kurdistan Alliance (KA) also hit back at Majeed saying his stance was designed to cover the failures of the government, and as Barzani is against the onset of a totalatarian regime spurred towards sectarianism and the corruption that is rife in Baghdad.

The problem is Majeed’s stance is unlikely to be an isolated view and too often dialogue has proved fruitless and met with insincere ears. Nouri al-Maliki is the real danger in Iraq and his centralisation tendencies have too often been masked under narrow political or security pretexts.

All of the problems that grip Iraq today including issues between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad have been discussed before with agreed mechanisms for their resolution.

The problem in Iraq is not finding agreements amongst parties but the implementation of such agreements. The Iraqi constitution already lays the groundwork for the resolution of disputed territories, oil sharing, federal powers and the distribution of the federal budget. The Erbil Agreement and the 19 points that underpinned the agreement that formed a key precondition for the formation of the current coalition and broke the unprecedented political stalemate, already make the terms and basis for political partnership clear.

Why does an already settled and accepted Iraqi constitution or clear political basis for partnership need to be revised or restudied? How many more agreements need to be formed for a solution to the current differences or discrepancies to be adopted?

The issue is not striking agreement but the stomach and genuine intent to fulfilling the terms of such agreements. Until such a time, dozens more agreements will not be worth the paper they are written on.

This makes the Kurdish position all the more precarious. From the Transitive Administrative Law (TAL), the Iraqi constitution, to the Erbil agreement, they have watched as successive Baghdad governments and particularly Maliki have paid lip service to honouring such legally binding covenants.

The Kurdish leadership have emphasised that should the latest Kurdish delegation fail to yield solutions with the Baghdad government this time round, they will take a “united stand”. However, the manner of such a stance was not clear and ambiguities of reprisals in the face of broken Baghdad promises have hurt the Kurds on countless occasions before.

Any responses or actions by Kurds should they deem negotiations a failure should be met with definitive action. Conversely, if any agreements are struck, these should be measured by clear timetables and a join committee to monitor the implementation of the terms of agreement. What good is any political concord, such as the Erbil Agreement, if a little over a year to new national elections, the terms are not implemented?

Both internal developments as well as growing regional shifts and crises that are drastically changing the political and strategic outlook of the Middle East is pushing Iraq further apart with the stance of various factions becoming more engrained. Iraq does not have a coherent and commonly accepted domestic vision or strategy yet alone a national foreign policy and divisions are becoming more paramount.

While Iraq threatens Turkey as relations have nose-dived, the Kurds are growing ever closer to an economic and political alliance with Ankara. As the Kurds, favour an overthrow of Assad and have helped their ethnic brethren, Baghdad sought to the secure the Syrian border to avert any steps against the regime.

Baghdad remains ever weary of looking too far west by striking a new alliance with Russia and strengthening its ties with Shiite regimes in Damascus and Tehran. Sunnis remain wary of Shiite domination and naturally look towards their Sunni neighbours.

All in all, resolutions on Kirkuk, disputed territories and oil sharing become even more difficult to resolve.

Just this week, Exxon-Mobil was mooted to sell its interests in the West-Qurna field in Southern Iraq, seemingly removing itself from the political chaos between Baghdad and Erbil. Exxon was affectively asked to take sides and it is appearing to do so in favour of lucrative returns in Kurdistan.

More than ever, Kurdistan and Iraq are two distinct and distant entities and the policies of Baghdad and Maliki should assume a lion’s share of the blame.

Maliki continues to act as a Shiite leader rather than a leader of Iraq and recent arms purchases raises doubts on whose security Maliki is trying to boost.

Iraq national budget in 2013 is set to be a record, but where are the billions of dollars been spent as Iraqis continue suffer from a lack of services and infrastructure? While Iraqi oil and defence budgets dramatically grow, Kurdistan is asked to cater for all its expenses, including defence forces which should fall under the national budget, out of its own portion of the budget.

Baghdad has set aside billons to develop oil field further south, but criticises the Kurds for any moves to bolster its oil industry.

Kurdish leaders have emphasised their adherence to the constitution and have warned repeatedly that they will not accept violations or neglect of constitutional principles. This is the same message that the Kurdish delegation will convey once more and it is time to show whether these warnings are just empty rhetoric or the basis of real intent.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd.net, Various Misc.


New Iraqi arms deals stoke natural Kurdish anxiety

With a dark memories of an Arab Iraqi military might firmly on their mind, Kurds fear an extended Baghdad military arm, especially with Maliki at the helm, sectarian divisions that run rife and growing disputes between Erbil and Baghdad.

On the back of a recent multi-billion deal with the U.S. to supply 36 F16 fighter jets including training of Iraq pilots, Iraq signed further multi-billion arms deals with Russia and Czech this week with the intent to bolster its weak air defences but to ultimately reinvigorate its role as a major regional power.

Iraq hopes to have an eventual fleet of 96 F16s, with the first shipment of the planes due next year, which it aims to start flying by 2014-2015. Under the current agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, the Arizona AAir National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing is well on the way to training the quota of 27 Iraqi pilots.

Under normal circumstances a state aspiring to boost aspects of its armed forces it deems weak or its defensive capabilities is hardly unnatural, so what’s the big deal with Iraq when it comes to the recent procurement of arms and the bolstering of its air force?

The answer is simple. Iraq is not a normal state and history has cruelly shown the consequence of such a supposed right to build armed forces.

More crucially, arms purchases are masterminded by Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who is renowned for centralist tendencies and monopolisation of power, while consolidating a number of powerful posts under the guise of “acting” cover.

Under the constitution, the national defence forces are for the whole of Iraq, and when the Iraqi army was resurrected in 2003, the aim was to make it inclusive of both Arab and Kurdish officers. However, such is the effect of sectarianism and animosity that has gripped the disparate Iraqi social mosaic, that forces are unlikely to serve the benefit all of Iraq.

The danger of the ever growing Iraqi army been used in the political sphere cannot be discounted. Whether the army has an allegiance to a sectarian pooling or political faction as opposed to the greater nation of Iraq will always be an underlying uncertainty.

Kurds and particularly Sunnis have complained in the past about the disproportionate Shiite leverage and sectarian influence on the makeup of the Iraqi security forces.

Baghdad arms deals

The symbolic arms deals with Russia and later Czech Republic amounted to billions of dollars.

As part of the deal with Moscow Iraq is to obtain 30 Mi-28 attack helicopters and 42 Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile systems for a reported fee of $4.2 billion dollars. Although with such a significant commercial arms deal, Russia sought to reposition itself as a major arms supplier in the Middle East and rekindle old ties with Iraq that had turned somewhat stagnant since 2003, it was more of political relevance than anything else.

Moscow hailed the Russia-Iraq relations, as ties “based on traditional friendship,” with Maliki quick to emphasise the importance of their partnership with the Russians.

Baghdad has had to play a rather tricky game of keeping both Tehran and Washington happy. Tehran has a powerful political hand in Baghdad, whilst it was the U.S. that Baghdad greatly relied on for so many years and of whom Baghdad built what seemed solid and long-term strategic ties.

However, as Baghdad has slowly spread its wings in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal, and while it has tried to keep the US on its side, it has also sought put its foot down.

The deal makes Russia the second largest arms supplier to Iraq after the US. In this move, Baghdad sought to diversify its dependence on U.S. arms and thus the associated long-term training and rearmament of US weaponry that would be necessary but to also demonstrate that it would work on its own terms and not as a regional puppet of America.

Hot on the heels of the Russian arms deal came a $1 billion agreement with the Czech government to deliver 28 L-159 fighter jets.

The deals come in the midst of a deadly Syrian war, where Russia has been a staunch ally of the Syrian regime while Baghdad has tried to maintain a perception of neutrality. However, Baghdad has anything but a neutral position towards Syria and mindful of not upsetting its Iranian partners, it has remained part of the pro-Assad camp in one form or another.

Russia and Iraq clearly share the same view on Syria on ensuring non-Western intervention and potential break-up of Syria that would greatly change the sectarian and political balance in the Middle East.

At the same time, Iraq has had to succumb to the pressure of their American partners. This could be seen when the Americans insisted of an Iraqi inspection of Iranian passenger jets flying over Iraqi air space, which they suspected of carrying arms shipments to Damascus.

Kurdish fear

Whenever there is any motion to strengthen the hand of Baghdad, there is almost a natural unease that runs down the spine of Kurdistan.

Just what is the reason for Baghdad’s hunger for renewed military might? While Iraq wants to be a revived force to be reckoned with in the Middle East and to take an influential and powerful position in the region, the first Kurdish fear is that an extended Baghdad military arm means a direct threat to their population, their autonomy and their new found prominence. In others words it is not defence that Baghdad seeks with its new military quest but offence.

Iraq argues that it needs a revitalised and new air force to deal with terrorism and to protect what they deem vulnerable airspace. Baghdad has already warned that it won’t be able to protect its airspace until 2020 and that it cannot fully protect its borders and territorial waters. However, counter-insurgency is hardly about acquiring a deadly new air force. Iraq had the huge might of the Americans on its side for several years and yet failed to defeat insurgents.

The image of Iraqi forces repressing the Kurds, destroying Kurdish villages and bombing civilians with chemical weapons is hardly a distant memory.

Furthermore, a rapid rise to regional fame under Saddam Hussein with the amassment of a powerful military force led to an arrogance that launched a deadly war with Iran, an invasion of Kuwait and successive destructive civil wars with Kurdistan.

Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani has already voiced great concern on the likes of F16s falling into the hands of Maliki, warning in April 2012 that “I feel Kurdistan’s future is in severe danger because of (Maliki)…F-16 (jets) should not reach the hands of this man (Maliki).”

Barzani claimed that in meetings with his military advisers, Maliki showed chilling readiness to strike the Kurds with his new weaponry when the time was right.

Kurdish guarantees

The Kurds have sought guarantees from Western powers who have sold billions dollars’ worth of arms to Iraq, but remain unconvinced about the real intentions of Baghdad.

Worryingly for the Kurds, recent deals with Russia and Czech do not have the same clauses they forced on U.S. arms deals that newly acquired arms will not be used on the internal population.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has urged Baghdad to keep them informed and in the process around any such deals.

Furthermore, since the Iraqi defence forces are for the whole of Iraq, it is thus not only logical but a constitutional right that a portion of these defence forces goes to Kurdistan. It is not clear how and to what extent Baghdad supplies arms to Kurdish security forces or military training to Kurds, leading to a danger of imbalance and Kurdistan been in a position whereby it is forced to take defensive measures in light of the growing power of Baghdad.

The Kurdistan Peshermrga forces are part of the national Iraqi forces and thus the responsibility should clearly fall on Baghdad for the financing, military enforcement of the Kurdish regiments as well as providing Kurds with air defence training and capability. However, Baghdad has continuously objected to not only the size of the Peshermrga forces and its level of arming but to the actual funding itself.

Such is the alienation and mistrust that runs between Kurdish and Iraqi forces that often it is like two armies of two sovereign nations rather than a national army with two strands. There is a growing threat of an arms race, and continuing ploy by Baghdad to reinforce military capabilities will only stoke hostilities.

Furthermore, with a new air force to protect its vulnerable airspace, it will be interesting to see what Baghdad does to protect any violations of Kurdistan airspace or borders by Turkish or Iranian forces.

The agreement with Maliki and Russia must be referred to parliament as stipulated by parliament, and it waits to be seen how inclusive the political process will be.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd.net, Various Misc.

Continue to nurse a sick Iraq at the expense of Kurdish nationalism?

Not so long ago, the Kurds would have been overjoyed to see the Kurdistan flag hoisted on a building in Iraq, let alone see it proudly flap in the wind as it overhangs the prestigious Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the visit of the head of a state.

The point is simple. The Kurds have come a long way, establishing themselves as a strong strategic power in the Middle East, influential components of the new revolution sweeping the Middle East and major actors in the new Iraq.

The Kurds have to be taken seriously as a major force with their demands and sentiments cajoled by global powers. Therefore, it is no surprise of the importance that the U.S. places on the alliance and partnership with the Kurds that resulted in the recent visit to the White House by Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani.

Barzani met U.S. President Barrack Obama, U.S. Vice President John Biden as well as a number of senior political figures in Washington.

Obama urged Barzani to re-engage with Baghdad amid growing tensions, a serious political crisis in Iraq and a collapse in the current power-sharing agreement.

The U.S. has long leaned on the Kurds in implementing their vision of the new Iraq and for their influential part in keeping Iraq together. The new Iraq was inaugurated including the constitution, pluralistic and democratic principles under the auspices of the U.S. government.

The U.S. formally withdrew at the end of 2011, and yet the new Iraq they left behind is as troublesome as the old Iraq they inherited.

While every Iraqi misfortune cannot be directly attributed to the U.S., after all the underlying Iraqi issues are historic and owed to its artificial inception, the U.S. must take firm accountability in guiding the new Iraq and appeasing all sides or bearing the consequences of failed policies and as such the collapse of the Iraqi state.

Kurdish weariness of Baghdad

Interfactional relations have hardly been great right across Iraq over the past several years, owed to deep mistrust, sectarian splits and stark political differences. However, relations between Kurdistan and Baghdad have been tentative to say the least, and the divide has been deepening year after year.

While Kurdistan has developed at pace with an economic boom and a new lease of life, Baghdad has been dragging it down. It appears that Baghdad policies are enacted to contain the Kurds and slow down their rapid rise and ensure that they don’t escape from the clutches of Baghdad. Without the bolt and chain that is Baghdad, Kurdistan would have developed at an even faster pace.

After the recent meeting between Barzani and Obama, the U.S. once again reaffirmed its support for a democratic and federalist Iraq. “The United States is committed to our close and historic relationship with Kurdistan and the Kurdish people, in the context of our strategic partnership with a federal, democratic and unified Iraq,” read a statement.

But how long can the Kurds continue to believe in this vision of the new Iraq, which is clearly miles away from reality?

Political power has been consolidated in the hands of Nouri al-Maliki, there is a great sectarian and political imbalance in the security forces, the power-sharing agreement has all but failed, constitution articles continue to be overlooked, and many key laws needed to bridge the national divide such a Hydrocarbon Law continue to gather dust on the political shelf; the list goes on.

The U.S. continues to pressure the Kurds to spearhead Iraqi reconciliation and re-engage with Baghdad, while over the past several years the Kurds have clearly been the main mediating party in resolving numerous disputes in Baghdad as well as helping pull Iraq back from the brink of all-out civil war.

Barzani’s statement at his annual Newroz address and the reaffirmation of those views at a speech he gave in Washington (at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy) must be taken with utmost seriousness. At the same time the Kurdish leadership must make clear to their U.S., Iraqi and international allies that their threats are not in vain.

Barzani reiterated that Iraq is facing a serious crisis and that all the current signs point to a one-man rule, referring to Maliki’s running as prime minister whilst simultaneously holding positions of the commander in chief of the armed forces, the minister of defense, the minister of the interior and the chief of intelligence.

Kurdish plan B

As the divide between Baghdad and Erbil grows, it simultaneously hastens the inevitable declaration of independence by Kurdistan.

Barzani pledged to continue to work toward a solution within the terms of the Iraqi constitution, but once again warned that should efforts to find concord fail that he will go back to the Kurdish people for their decision, in reference to a referendum on independence.

How can the U.S. or any international power deny the legitimate right of the Kurdish nation to self-determination and statehood, especially when the Kurds have done more than their fair share of protecting and promoting a unified Iraq?

The Kurdistan Regional Government and the remit of the Kurdish leaders are to serve the Kurdish people and not Baghdad. Therefore, when Baghdad renegs on the key points of the Erbil agreement, continues policies at the detriment of Kurdish growth, does not implement constitutional articles or continues to lean toward a recentralisation of power and dictatorial tendencies, how can Erbil remain idle?

The heated rhetoric between Baghdad and Erbil over outstanding oil export payments and the subsequent halting of Kurdish oil exports, over Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi who the Kurds housed before he fled to Qatar, over KRG oil contracts with Exxon Mobil and other companies, and over disputed territories is all proof that Iraq is already fractured in all but name and that reconciliation efforts with Baghdad will prove to be a futile exercise.

US jockeying

The U.S. may have officially withdrawn forces from Iraq, but their interests and stakes in the new Iraq are as great as ever. U.S. diplomats are as productive as ever in Iraq with top U.S. officials continuing to frantically jockey between factions. After billions of dollars of expenditure, thousands of lost lives and several years of efforts to promote unity and democracy in Iraq, the U.S. can hardly afford just to walk away.

The U.S. have been aiming to promote national reconciliation in Iraq for over nine years, but the Iraqi actors have continued to blight such efforts and failed to meet most of the U.S. benchmarks. It is unsurprising in the current political climate that the Iraqi government indefinitely postponed a national reconciliation meeting that was scheduled for this week.

The Kurds are no longer pawns of foreign powers on the Iraqi or Middle Eastern chessboard. The U.S. may want a certain outcome from Iraq or have a certain vision, but what if this never comes? Do the Kurds sit idle and indefinitely nurse a sick Iraq?

This is the same U.S. that fed the Kurds to the wolves to serve their own strategic purposes in the past. The Kurds can over-rely on Washington at their own peril. While the Kurds today have more friends than the mountains that were once the symbolic saying, it is still surrounded by enemies and parties that will do all they can to check Kurdish national advancement.

Moving forward without fear

When the Kurds had little more than fierce pride and passion and basic weapons against chemical weapons and some of the most powerful armies in the world, they still didn’t succumb to fear or subjugation in spite of all the odds.

Why then should the Kurds of today, with immense oil wealth, security forces, strategic standing, a booming economy and great regional influence, be fearful of upsetting or annoying the U.S. or other such powers when their own interests are at risk?

The Kurds chose to be part of a unified Iraq under a federalist banner that was enshrined by the constitution. They could have taken Kirkuk and other disputed territories by force and gone their own way, but with U.S., Turkish and international pressure and their endeavor for democratic solutions, they opted for a different route.

At the same time, the U.S., Turkey and some other global powers continue to warn Kurds not to proclaim independence. Baghdad and such powers cannot have it both ways, deprive the Kurds of legally enshrined articles and principles in the new Iraq and at the same time expect the Kurds to succumb to what best suits other powers.

In reality, the Kurds can declare independence. And in spite of threats and warnings from the likes of Turkey, there is nothing they can do to delay or prevent this eventuality.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Kurds caught in the middle as tensions in Iraq are stoked by regional jockeying

With the political crisis in Iraq already at a critical juncture, domestic and regional events this week served to intensify tensions.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki formally suspended a number of ministers from the predominantly Sunni-based al-Iraqiya list after weeks of boycotts. As internal parties continued frantic jockeying to soothe friction and find a way forward, fierce rhetoric from rival factions only further highlighted the prevalent fractured landscape and a strong sense of animosity.

Over the past weeks, with realization of the great perils that the current sectarian stand-off threatens to unearth, regional neighbours particularly Turkey have been getting overly anxious.

The reality of Iraq”s diverse socio-ethnic mosaic and its fractured foundations is hardly new, the threats and problems that exist today have not developed overnight and have existed for decades were they only become more magnified after 2003.

However, the ever evolving Middle Eastern struggle for influence and supremacy has left the likes of Turkey on the edge. Turkey realizes that with the highly-volatile and sensitive Middle Eastern climate, it can either wait on the side and become consumed by the end products that ensue or actively try and influence the current tides for its ultimate benefit.

Iraq has often been a playground for regional powers and the current predicament is only a by-product of this. The current standoff that began with the arrest warrant of Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and the resulting acrimonious fallout has as much of a regional footing as a local one.

The Arab Spring which is still ongoing in Syria has set a new benchmark in the Middle East and along with it a lot of political, sectarian and strategic wavering.

Add the US withdrawal in Iraq, Turkey”s frosty relations with Israel and its continuing struggle with the PKK, a new round of sanctions to punish Iran”s growing nuclear clout, Iran”s increasing faceoff with the Sunni Arab Gulf states and one can see that the Middle East is a deep interconnected web of ties and proxy battles.

Turkey has acknowledged and highlighted the dangers of Iraqi fragmentation before any other side due to sensitivities with the preservation of their own borders, but they have become more vociferous in recent weeks amidst what they deem as a Shiite grasp of power aided by an increasingly isolated Iranian regime. Tehran”s relations with Ankara have certainly cooled and Iran has used its immense leverage on Iraq and Syria to show that it still has plenty of strings to pull.

Iraq”s continuous solidarity with Syria is a byproduct of Iranian influence and is a stark contrast to the Turkish stance on Bashar al-Assad”s waning regime.

Tensions between Baghdad and Ankara were deepened when the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Iraq”s ambassador to Turkey, Abdulemir Kamil Abi-Tabikh, to its headquarters in Ankara to express their anger at al-Maliki growing hard-line statements and criticism towards Turkey. This was just a day after Baghdad had done the same to show their displeasure at what they saw as Turkish interference.

The attacks on the Turkish embassy in Baghdad are only likely to stoke sentiments further.

The Kurds are not a party to the sectarian battle in Iraq but nevertheless become ubiquitously sucked into the standoff. The Kurds were often looked at by Turkey as an instigator of a future breakup but Turkey has to soon come to terms that an Iraqi split will not be on a part of the Kurds and plan for the eventuality that sooner or later that they will need to embrace an independent Kurdistan.

Turkey is already relying heavily on the Kurds to maintain equilibrium and leverage in Iraq. The shift towards sectarianism by Baghdad is evident in the eyes of Ankara who perceive the dilution of Sunni power in parliament and controversy around al-Hashemi as testimony to this view.

While Turkey has warned that current political antics risk the break-up of Iraq, ironically al-Maliki has in turn warned that “Turkey is playing a role that might bring disaster and civil war to the region and will suffer because it has different sects and ethnicities.”

No doubt the growing prominence of the Kurds in Iraq and ongoing disgruntled noises of millions of Kurds in south eastern Turkey is keeping Turkey restless at night. Not to mention that Turkey may end up a passive player in the shape of proceedings in spite of all its efforts as changes unravel around it.

As we have seen with the Arab Spring, it doesn”t take much to create a political avalanche that can bring more change in mere weeks than decades prior.

Turkish warnings over the current state of regional meddling in Iraq may speak true but are certainly contradictory. The same regional influence that they fear that Iraqi blocs will fall under has been raging for over 8 years and Turkey has been a key component of this.

Although, many had hoped that al-Hashemi would be giving a fair trial with a legal rather than a political underpinning and that the tensions could be cooled by an all-inclusive national conference, the suspension of al-Iraqiya MP”s placed further cloud on the prospects of near-term compromise and concord.

Al-Iraqiya leader, Ayad Allawi warned this week that Iraq needs a new prime minister or new elections to prevent the country from falling apart. Both these demands may not come anytime soon. Al-Maliki still enjoys fair amount of support in Baghdad and crucially still has Kurdish backing.

The key task for the Kurdistan leadership is play their cards wisely but also do what is the interests of Kurdistan and not simply aid political jockeying in Baghdad. The Kurds could well pull the rug under the feet of al-Maliki and after this week”s turn of events, Ankara will be siding and pressurizing the Kurds closely to contain al-Maliki.

As the KDP resumes the premiership with the imminent return of Nechirvan Barzani to spearhead the next Kurdistan government, the Kurdistan Region finds itself at a crucial but highly delicate juncture. What dice the Kurds roll and what cards they play could echo for many more years. As Kurds realized to their detriment for decades after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, missing historical opportunities can set-back a nation many more years.

If their yearly ploys to glue Iraq together bear only counterproductive fruit for the Kurdish people, then the serious question must be asked of the Kurdish leadership. If Iraq continuously deploys policies that are counter to the principles of voluntary union and national harmony, then the Kurds must formally declare their independence.

The situation in Iraq after 8 years of fierce pushing, hand holding and direct support from Washington didn”t bring much joy, and it is unlikely that the current situation in Iraq can be magically transformed.

Deep rooted problems need deep rooted solutions. The simple reality is that as a majority and with significant backing of Tehran, the Shiites are not about to relinquish power in Baghdad anytime soon. The Sunni will continue to feel marginalized unless they can win some form of autonomy or real decision making posts in Baghdad which as witnessed under the State of Law coalition, will not be easily ceded.

As part of the current coalition underpinned by the Erbil agreement, al-Iraqiya was to be afforded executive decision making posts which never materialized. Al-Iraqiya discontent was already at tipping point long before the al-Hashemi debacle.

It is the political environment that often makes a leader and thus even if al-Maliki was replaced, it is not certain that significant outcomes can be achieved. Furthermore, new elections will only result in another de-facto national census, with no clear winner due to the factional split and thus the same arduous process of coalition building.

The regional turmoil itself is only just brewing. If Iran carries out its threat to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz then it places regional governments into a tougher corner. Iraq itself could find itself in a precarious position against its allies, as the closing of the Gulf passage would cripple the Iraqi economy. Meanwhile, Turkey is unlikely to heed al-Maliki”s warnings not to interfere when they have so much at stake.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

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.

As weeks quickly pass, Iraqi politicians inch towards government formation

As months have quickly accumulated since the national elections were held in Iraq, in contrast politicians only inch towards the much elusive milestone of forming a new government.

Whilst it is possible to provide a detailed overview of the current situation in Iraq and the key socio-political characteristics that have hampered a sense of nationalism let alone national unity since its inception, the facts provide the best summary.

Any government formation effort that breaks all previous records in terms of the time expended highlights the complicated social, ethnic, political and sectarian composition of Iraq.

Although hope of a breakthrough in government formation was prematurely conceived when Moqtada al-Sadr lent an arm of support around incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on his quest to hold on to the premiership, a plethora of hurdles, permutations, mistrust and personal agendas remain that have actually blighted the process even further than before.

With the Kurds now enjoying the decisive “kingmaker” role they have been afforded, at least in theory all that is left for the Kurds to do is “make their king” and break this impasse. However, this is Iraq and seldom are things as straight forward as this.

Not only does Iyad Allawi’s al-Iraqiya group which holds 91 seats stubbornly refuse to accept “defeat” to what has now become a highly entrenched and bitter rivalry with al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition, but it still continues to actively and eagerly tout for support to attain the premiership, far from reluctantly taking part in a loose nationalist alliance with all other parties or assume the role of the opposition.

Further to the ongoing jockeying that leaves the race for the premiership at least in practice wide open, it is perhaps the lack of buy-in from the weary Americans and a host of neighbouring powers, each with their own distinct agenda that has prevented Iraq from going past the elusive post.

As negotiations have unfolded, it has become increasingly evident that al-Maliki’s alliance is more leaning to the acceptance of the 19 key Kurdish demands.  However, the US is far from happy to firstly see the pro-Iranian Sadrist’s inevitably receive a whole host of key posts in the new government as a reward for their support and secondly to see a repeat scenario of the last major elections in Iraq, the sidelining of the Sunnis leading to devastating consequences that took years to heal.

It is almost certain that Washington has waned heavily on the Kurds to ensure that they do not enter an exclusive government with Sadrist and al-Maliki as partners. Conversely, Tehran is putting increasing pressure on Ammar al-Hakim to loosen his steadfast resistant of al-Maliki with viewing to solidifying a Shiite stranglehold in Baghdad.

With the influential positions of Turkey and Iran in particular, Iraqi politicians have seemingly met with their neighbouring counterparts as much as their fellow Iraqi political competitors.

Almost inevitably the majority of Sunni dominated neighbours want to prevent a strong Iranian hand in Iraqi affairs and a sidelining of al-Iraqiya. While in theory the Kurds could still be sidelined if al-Iraqiya and State of Law were more inclined to work together, the Kurds could simply threaten to secede from Baghdad altogether. However, the danger is that if the Sunnis are sidelined what affective options would they have? They can hardly threaten to secede in the same way as the Kurds, meaning taking up of arms would be perceived as their only option.

The problem in Iraq has always been the same. How do a number of warring and embittered groups that have been essentially stitched together share a piece of the Iraqi cake?

If this cake could be shared exponentially based on a population breakdown then the solution is logical. However, the Sunni’s who in theory can muster around 20% of this cake would never accept a minority status under the Shiite shadow who in comparison can demand 60% of this cake. While the Shiites clearly warrant a bigger slice of this cake on paper, the Sunnis would never accept anything less than equal partnership.

By the same token, although the Kurds only form 20% of the population, they would passionately and vigorously resist any attempts that will ever see them as minors encapsulated by a Shiite majority or a pan-Arab alliance. For the Kurds, it is simply equal status within Iraq, an equal partnership to decide matters in Iraq and an equal say in the direction of the country or they would decide to opt with no partnership at all and pursue their own independent path.

So how affective can democracy become in a country where regardless of numbers all parties demand their share of power and representation? Or where no party will refuse to be sidelined, even if by the very nature of a healthy democracy that may be the case if another alliance outmuscles them in coalition efforts?

Even if al-Maliki holds onto power with the support of the Kurds, which has emerged as the most likely scenario, Allawi will refuse to play second fiddle in Baghdad especially when he considers himself as the real victor of the polls.

Furthermore, any al-Maliki deal with the Kurds would effectively be played on the al-Iraqiya doorstep. Would the Sunni nationalists in Kirkuk and Mosul, already at loggerheads with the Kurds over disputed territories, watch as they are firstly sidelined from power and secondly perceived to be cast off by Shiite-Kurdish deal making?

As arduous and painful the government formation has proven to be, any hailing of a new government once the dust finally settles will be premature as the real work begins.

Once coalitions have been formed, the next task which acts as the platform for the real tussle for power is the formation of the cabinet. This where the real key to power lies. Each group within a ruling coalition would need to be appeased sufficiently for their support by getting their returns on the positions of authority.

The real gauge on the political health of Iraq will be once the new government starts to work. As much as there was numerous permutations to forming power that have lengthened the process, there will be an equal number of permutations which may see the government become shaky, untenable and susceptible to stalling.

This is particularly true if a government is formed that is all inclusive and contains all major powers as the US and some Iraqi sides hope. The sharing of power will be tentative at best and decision making will be ineffective, quarrelsome and prone to divides. In other words, on paper an Iraq would exist that would look united with equal national representation, while in practice will hold back and hamper real economic and political progression.

Any inclusive government would not only result in a delicate balance of power within the cabinet, but would also see the power of the Prime Minister greatly diminish. The hands of the Prime Minister would be affectively tied by the consultation and necessary appeasement of all other “powerful” hands around his table.

As the political bandwagon stumbles on, the real people that suffer are not wealthy politicians in fortified enclaves but the very people that democracy is designed to sever and whom the politicians have been elected by – the people.

It is becoming increasingly common that politicians are more determined to serve their own goals than the goals of their people.

Not only does the Iraqi economy continue to decline and the standard of living suffer but the real threat of a new dawn of insurgency and terrorism grows by the day.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

The evident limits to the application of democracy in Iraq

There is no region in the world more difficult to apply “off the shelf” Western notions than in the Middle East. The Middle East, the undoubted cradle of civilisation, has had its lands soiled with much blood. Nowhere are rivalries as bitter or animosities as historically entrenched and deep rooted.

With the rich heritage and millennia old civilisations comes a disparate patchwork of ethnicities and religions who often have claimed the cramped lands as their own at some historical juncture.

A prime example of age-old tensions, where the historical battle for land, supremacy and influence, compounded by an ethnic mosaic that has been stitched together in an artificial manner, is Iraq.

Judging the context

If democracy was going to be difficult to apply anywhere in the Middle East, Iraq would be high on the list. Six years since its liberation from tyranny, the “new” democratic Iraq, a perceived success on paper, struggles to plant real seeds of comfort and assurance of a future where its many communities and sects can truly flourish in one place.

However, as the US administration has realised – after thousands of lost lives and billions of dollars of expenditure, not forgetting a shattering of its foreign policy image in the process – democracy and western ideals are not something you can simply “hand-over”. Democracy is not like a modern piece of machinery you can hand to Iraqi farmers and workers, so that they can leave their previous ways for a new efficient and technologically advanced solution.

One must judge the context in which you intend to deploy a notion or initiative and carry out detailed feasibility studies. As the Bush administration discovered, Iraq as a harmonious unitary state, even in the face of the eradication of evil, is just a pipe dream. Temporary euphoria or gains can not bridge long-term socio-ethnic grievances.

Moreover, if all sides do not have the appetite to implement democratic notions and truly embrace each group within the greater Iraqi banner as “brothers” then no amount of US or foreign intervention or new diplomatic initiatives will ever truly matter.

Shoe-throwing shame

A great example of some existing out-dated mentalities in the Middle East and particularly in Iraq is the infamous shoe-thrower and newfound “celebrity”, Muntazer al-Zaidi, whose antics as he launched his shoes and insults at US President George W. Bush last year, resulted in imprisonment: he was released early last week.

Although, the actions of al-Zaidi, who became an instant hero across the Middle East, may have summed up the sentiments of many Iraqis, such action by a professional Iraqi journalist in front of international cameras does the image of Iraq, and the perception of it been bogged down by old fashioned ideas, no good.

The US undoubtedly embarked on a number of costly blunders, especially in the first few years post-liberation. At times the US has done its image no favours, especially with Abu Ghraib prison scandals and the general perception of its military operations. However, the idea that Bush is the fulcrum of all evil in Iraq is naïve, short-sighted and thinly papers over the historical cracks that are commonplace in Iraq.

Is it because of the US that, in the six years since liberation, Sunni and Shiite sectarian hit squads have been at logger-heads? It is understandable that anti-US anger may see the US soldiers as direct targets for a large number of insurrections, but why should this mask the deadly civil war that took place for more than a year between them?

Iraq’s lack of political and economic progress is not the direct fault of the Americans and its leaders have been just as culpable in prolonging the Iraqi agony. Why can’t al-Zaidi have saved one of his shoes for his failing leaders? More importantly, one wonders why no one dared to take such actions against Saddam Hussein. It is due to the advent of such new freedoms in Iraq that one can even dare to take such action – perhaps America can take some solace from this fact.

Admittedly, many Iraqis disagreed with, and condemned the actions of, al-Zaidi. This further highlighted the sectarian influence behind such moves. Saddam may be long gone but his legacy lives on in Iraq. Ultimately, this is the fundamental bottleneck of the new Iraq: democracy will never be embraced while some groups still have one eye on the past.

Deep-rooted animosity in Iraq that runs for centuries is not the doing of the US. It is evident that Iraq is still plagued by a lack of common trust with different groups reluctant to succumb or compromise to other parties. Unity and sharing the rich Iraqi cake in a fair and equitable manner when there are such an array of opinions and factions is a difficult, if not impossible, undertaking. Giving the current Iraqi political track record, at best a loose form of democracy can be implemented in Iraq.

Upcoming national elections

The path of democracy in Iraq is predictable due to its sectarian and ethnic grounding. Essentially, the national elections will become a national census rather than a real democratic contest. Kurds are highly likely to vote for Kurdish alliances, Shiites for Shiite groups and Sunnis for Sunni groups. The aim of each is to muster enough votes and parliamentary voice not be sidelined and to have a firm stake in proceedings.

Ironically, even when the votes are finally counted, the different groups will still not be happy. Iraqis are unwilling to take the voice and votes of the people as final.

The best gauge to determine national matters is the people itself. Ultimately, it is the people and not a handful of politicians that should dictate key matters.

This notion could not be more relevant than for article 140. Millions voted in favour of the Iraqi constitution which, among many other stipulations, outlined article 140 as a roadmap for dealing with disputed territories.

But now not only has article 140 become stalled, but other democratic steps have been changed in the disputed regions for the same fear – it may give an insight into the likely outcome of any referendum. Provincial elections were postponed in Kirkuk and now the national census scheduled for autumn has also been postponed. The national census will almost certainly have functioned as a defacto referendum, aiding the claims of rival groups.

The pretext that elections or democratic notions will fuel tensions is too obvious an excuse. In reality, it is the non implementation of democracy that may spark conflict. Moreover, when would be a good time to resolve a highly-contentious, emotive and deep-rooted dispute over land and masses amount of oil?

The answer is that even in 50 years, it will not be a “good” time to hold elections. However, democracy is democracy. It is not something that you can pick and choose as you see fit and democratic elections must be held regardless of any side fearing the outcome of its legal results.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

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