Tag Archives: Barzani

Lack of unity crippling the Kurdish hand amidst an unprecedented juncture

Protests across Kurdistan, some turning violent, over delayed salaries and the continued stalemate between the five main political parties over the presidency have compounded an already difficult situation gripping Kurdistan.

If the ongoing war with the Islamic State (IS), lack of budget payments from Baghdad, plummeting oil prices further constricting revenues and not forgetting the 1.3 million refugees already in Kurdistan were bad enough, the constant bickering between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Change Movement (Gorran), Kurdistan Islamic Union and the Kurdistan Islamic League and lack of a consensus on how to resolve the presidency issue after Massoud Barzani’s original extension expired on 20th August 2015 has made matters worse.

Two protestors were killed and a large number were wounded in Qaladize following strikes and demonstrations that merely added fuel to the fire.

Political unity and stability is needed to guide Kurdistan through the unprecedented crisis, yet unity has been tough to come by.

Finger pointing, animosity and continued wrangling has meant that consensus over the presidency issue has been almost impossible. Amidst the backdrop of increasing protests across the region came the ninth meeting between the political parties to resolve the presidency issue but was suspended as the parties yet again failed to reach a breakthrough.

As the political stalemate continues, there is no doubt that elements are stirring tensions on the streets. But there is only way to resolve this crisis and this is ultimately through parliament, dialogue and ultimately if required through the polls.

The onus and responsibility is on political parties to urge calm and ensure tensions on the streets do no quickly snowball into much bigger catastrophe. But above all, such parties must deal with the matter with the urgency that it deserves.

Thousands of Peshmerga are putting their lives on the line in a brutal war with IS and at a time of increasing strategic standing of the Kurdistan Region in the ever volatile Middle East, internal instability and lack of unity is backfiring.

At a sensitive juncture for Kurdistan, the only true friend of the Kurd is the Kurd himself. Do not expect Baghdad to come running to resolve the economic crisis or defend the region, whilst even Western interests will be always be through their narrow lens.

A polarized Kurdistan, crippled by a lack of money, lack of political unity and increasing violence on the streets will only weaken the Kurdish hand.

Even the consensus government, which at least in theory was a key milestone, was a misnomer. Every side criticizes the government and rival parties, yet ironically they all constitute as part of the same government.

There is a deeper desire to unearth gaps and flaws in each political party and settle scores than work together, which makes a mockery of any notion of a unity government.

The unique opportunity afforded by the rapid unravelling of the Middle Eastern landscape does not come often. Kurds have waited decades to escape repression and become a force in the Middle East after years of second class status.

Now the time has come to look at the bigger picture – unity is not just needed within the Kurdistan Region but across all of its parts.

How can Kurdistan ever seek great unity amongst its components or even outright independence if it cannot pull itself out of a crisis even at a time when many evils and problems are knocking on its door?

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc


Kurdistan’s hour of reckoning

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Kurdistan Region has risen in prominence and prosperity on a continuous basis. The region was transformed in a short period of time but no project is ever smooth-sailing in the volatile Middle East and Kurdistan faces new obstacles and perils that threaten to derail its development.

Since January 2014, numerous new challenges have come to the fore. An economic crisis has been in motion since former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stopped budget payments to Kurdistan. Even under new premier Haider al-Abadi these budget payments have been rarely on time let alone to the full allocation, in spite of an oil export agreement that was struck in December 2014 but rapidly disintegrated.

Even as Kurdistan has started oil exports independently, plummeting oil prices have only added to the economic woe – not least due to the 1.8 million refugees residing in Kurdistan and in turn threatening the demographic make-up of the region and the brutal war with the Islamic State (IS) since June 2014 that stretches across a 1000km border.

Add Turkey resuming bombardment of the PKK in Kurdistan territory and the situation in Turkey ominously pointing to a return to the dark days of the 1990’s, and you would think that Kurdistan has more of it share of headaches and struggles.

However, the icing on the cake of the pressures facing Kurdistan is a bitter political feud over the fate of Massoud Barzani whose presidential term expired on 20th August with the main political parties no closer to a resolution over the fate of the presidency.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has sought a second extension of Barzani’s presidency after the current one expired citing the precarious predicament facing the region.

On the other hand, the Change Movement (Gorran) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and other political parties are not only opposed to any extension but are simultaneously promoting a change to the presidential system, meaning that the president would be selected by and accountable to the parliament in the future as opposed to selection by a popular vote, thereby seeking to dilute presidential powers.

Discussions have painstakingly dragged on and no consensus remains in sight for now. Gorran have insisted that the parliament speaker fills the void as interim President until elections can be held but the KDP are adamant that no such vacuum exists and that until consensus can be reached between all parties, Barzani remains as president with full powers.

The disappointing situation casts an unavoidable shadow over Kurdistan and side-steps from the core issue of fighting IS and resolving the economic hardships. It begs the question why the political parties could not reach consensus in the two years since Barzani’s term was first extended and why difficult negotiations at the eleventh hour are required.

No one can deny that Barzani cannot remain President indefinitely. However, other than various crises facing the region that demands stability and unity, it is not clear who the real candidates are for the role as president and when any voting can be held.

The US and European allies have favored continuity over any uncertainty that may undermine the crucial role played by the Kurds in the fight against IS.

In any case, not matter what is eventually agreed, the region must address the issues today and not postpone them yet again – it need a clear political roadmap and avoid last minute crisis.

If the presidential system is to be changed, then it must be via the appropriate parliamentary and democratic channels.

Democracy is indeed a process of evolution and Kurdistan has the opportunity to show its political maturity and enshrine its status as a major strategic force of the new Middle Eastern landscape. It’s time to demonstrate readiness to become fully independent and serve as a beacon of hope to the rest of the Middle East.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As Barzani heads for talks with Obama, has the battle against the Islamic State served to unify Iraq or merely underscored its division?

The Islamic State (IS) has rapidly occupied the Middle Eastern equation over the last year and the Kurds find themselves at the centre of the battle.

While the Kurds assumed control of disputed territories as the Iraqi army wilted away amidst the IS avalanche, they have endured great atrocities under the hands of IS and with the Peshmerga suffering hundreds of casualties.

The battle against IS is far from just a military conundrum. At the heart of the matter is a political crisis underlined by a fractured landscape and deepening sectarian lines. The Sunni dilemma has not been addressed and IS merely took full advantage.

This begs the question of the repercussions of remaining as part of the Iraqi state for the Kurds. The statehood ambition of the Kurds is hardly a secret or a new phenomenon. If you ask any Kurd when statehood aspirations arose and the answer is most likely long before the artificial map of the Middle East was even drawn.

Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani is scheduled to commence an official visit to the US where will meet both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Barzani’s visit comes soon after the visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

The fight against IS is likely to dominate the agenda, but according to statements by Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) presidency, the issue of independence will also be discussed.

The notion of Kurdish statehood at a sensitive time in the struggle against IS is hardly music to Obama’s ears. On the contrary, the Washington administration has tried hard in recent months to reinforce the principle of a “unified federal, pluralistic and democratic Iraq”. Key to this has been coordinating coalition’s efforts and weapons supplies via the central government.

Barzani is likely to repeat the calls for more arms but the US tip-toeing around Baghdad has been a big hindrance.

A great example was the recent international anti-IS conference in London, where despite their crucial role in the fight against IS, the Kurds were not even represented in the conference as the presence of al-Abadi was deemed sufficient to represent all Iraqis.

A key condition of the US intervention in Iraq last year was the ouster of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the onset of a more liberal and inclusive government. In fact national reconciliation and unity has been a common theme of the US list since 2003.

A US spokeswoman confirmed that Barzani’s visit will include talks on Wednesday with Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken to discuss “the combined campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”

A key litmus test will be the liberation of Mosul. But this is not without its own perils. Ultimately, it must be Sunni sentiment and the local population that play the key role in driving out IS in conjunction with the Iraqi army.

And this is where Iraqi fault lines are best summed up. It is the Shia militias that are arguably the strongest force at the disposal of Baghdad and their presence in Mosul is hardly going to bode well for the locals.

The Kurds, who have shouldered tremendous sacrifices in largely liberating Kurdish areas, will have little appetite to lead the charge in Arab dominated areas such as Mosul but will ultimately still play a key support role.

Once IS is driven out, who is then responsible for the security and policy of the area? Without Sunni control over security, any Shia or Kurdish control of Mosul will simply stoke further unrest.

This ultimately leads to the question of arming Sunnis and creating an official Sunni force. Whilst it may be effective in the short-term, it will merely deepen the fractures in the Iraqi state.

Regardless of whether Obama entertains the notion of formal Kurdish independence or US insistence that the battle against IS has somewhat served to unify Iraqi ranks, IS has merely served to underscore the division of Iraq.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Political crisis must not compromise ultimate mission of serving Kurds and greater Kurdistan

Gripped by quarrels, division and uncertainty, the past few months has hardly been a golden period for Kurdish politics.

However, the prospect of parliamentary and presidential elections against the backdrop of a bitter dispute between ruling parties and the opposition over the draft Kurdish constitution which if passed would have allowed Massaud Barzani to serve another 2 terms as President, threatened to severely deepen the political and social divide.

Kurdistan is currently surrounded by regional and sectarian turmoil in Syria, Iraq and Turkey and the last thing it needs is greater disunity or a crisis of its own that would consume much of its energy internally at a critical juncture in its history.

The upcoming elections would certainly serve as a critical gauge for KDP, PUK and Gorran. Any pre-election public outcry, anger or propaganda could easily sway voters. For the KDP and especially with the greater Kurdistan project in full swing, at the current time any president other than Barzani would be unacceptable.

For the PUK, who has seen its votes dwindle since 2009 when Gorran took ascendancy and with the illness to Jalal Talabani increasing visibility of intra-party divide, the next elections are a vital gauge. At a sensitive time, it needs the help of its old-ally in the KDP and thus a strategic deal with the KDP in the current political climate was win-win.

For Gorran, the next elections could either make or break the movement. Whilst it secured a respectable number of votes in 2009, it is not certain whether it can sustain or increase the current voter base. Much of it hinges on the public perception of the ruling parties particularly the PUK and whether those who switched allegiance from PUK to Gorran in 2009 believe that Gorran has delivered sufficiently.

Gorran’s best bet is a public uproar or a political crisis that works against the ruling parties. Certainly there has already been plenty of emotion, animosity and divide to stir tensions in Kurdistan and polarise society.

It was no surprise amidst acute tensions between the opposition and the ruling parties in the past several months that the decision by the Kurdistan parliament to extend the current parliamentary session for two months and specifically to extend the term of Massoud Barzani’s presidency by two years would generate a new storm.

Even the parliamentary session was engulfed with bitter tension and fist-cuffs between rival politicians.

The decision by parliament that was ratified by Barzani creates yet more ingredients for political hostility. Any subsequent protests or public discontent will only raise the stakes.

With no imminent deal in-sight over the constitution, the ruling parties viewed this as best way to maneuverer out of an even greater crisis.

By extending Barzani’s term by two years, KDP get their wish of retaining Barzani at a critical time and PUK are provided some breathing space to politically re-arm ahead of a critical battle with Gorran at the upcoming polls. Of course, in return for their support in extending Barzani’s term as president, the PUK will expect help in kind in retaining the Iraqi presidency.

It also soothes those in the PUK circles who were in favour of amending the constitution.

With the PUK and KDP running on separate lists and with much political jockeying and hurdles around the corner, the next elections remains the game changer for the Kurdish political landscape.

Whilst the parliamentary move will hardly appease all parties, it was deemed the best out of a series of difficult options. It affords some breathing space to strike a consensus on the constitution which if put to a referendum on the eve of elections as originally planned would have almost certainly handicapped Kurdistan politically.

With talk of Gorran, KDP, PUK and other parties, it is very easy to miss the bigger picture. All political parties and politicians are voted solely to serve the Kurds who voted for them and greater Kurdistan. It is important that party agendas do not sway away from the greater needs of Kurdistan.

Kurdistan has grown in strategic and economic power but is still shrouded by disputes with Baghdad, vital energy projects unfinished and a regional flame that is intensifying by the day.

In this light and in the absence of true rivals with broad national support, Barzani remains the key figure and leader for the Kurds.

However, at the same time, democracy entails that no person is indispensable and more importantly beyond the two years any extension must strictly be in the form of legislature voted in by the people.

Either way, as much as politicians can compromise, consult or wrangle, it is the people on the ground that should ultimately decide who governs and how they would like to be governed.


First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: 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.

Kurdistan first, all else second

While it was never officially announced until recently, it was always widely acknowledged that KDP Vice President Nechirvan Barzani would take over from incumbent Barham Salih and head the next cabinet as Prime Minister. Not only does Barzani’s highly anticipated return mark the end of a 2-year political chapter but it also comes at the beginning of a highly crucial year for Kurdistan.

In many ways, Salih had a tough two years in office. Almost as soon as he was appointed, he was severely disadvantaged with the dilution of PUK power and the emergence of Gorran as a major rival in traditional PUK strongholds This meant that while the power-sharing agreement between the KDP and PUK in theory remained evenly split, it was anything but that in reality and it effectively ensured there was little chance of the PUK securing the full four-year term at the helm.

After the last elections, KDP took centre stage in the Kurdish political arena and was clearly the most influential component of government. With the imminent return of Barzani, hope and expectations have already been greatly shifted. This is based on Barzani’s positive track record in his last term in office but also at a crucial juncture for Kurdistan, the expectation of the Kurdish people are at an all-time high. His appointment also serves to bolster the strength of government. After all he will be head of cabinet and representing the strongest political party in Kurdistan.

Barzani’s challenges are two pronged. On the one hand, appeasing Kurdish expectations at home and secondly, ensuring Kurdistan makes the strongest possible benefit in the greater region and with Baghdad.

Challenges within Kurdistan

2011 was a turbulent year for the Kurdistan Region but one that despite a number of drawbacks could propel Kurdistan to greater heights. As witnessed with the demonstrations last year and general public sentiments, the Kurdish people are growing frustrated and impatient whilst some historic Kurdish handicaps become resolved.

Corruption is still a persistent thorn in the side of Kurdish politics, as is government hegemony over the economy and employment with lack of a thriving private sector, bureaucracy and public services that are in need of investment and improvement.

The Gorran Movement was in many ways a by-product of Kurdish emotion and the advent of real opposition in Kurdish government only added to the credibility and standing of Kurdish democracy. Although there are signs that Gorran is too evolving to become a more affective component of the political arena, at times it has shown political immaturity at achieving its goals.

Kurdish people generally acknowledge that Kurdistan has made remarkable progress in a short period of time, but this is no excuse for politicians to rest on their laurels and take their vote for granted.

The only reason any politician or political party is in power is because they have been given a mandate by the people. As long as the idea of serving the national interests comes first, Kurdistan can only continue to grow and evolve.

However, it’s widely accepted by all sides that Kurdistan is in need of reform on a number of levels and without this Kurdistan will only be dragged into the future as opposed to racing at full speed.

On the topic of serving the people, comes accountability and transparency. The politicians must live and breathe around the very people they have been appointed to serve. They must hear the people on the ground and actively heed public sentiment. How can politicians serve Kurdistan if there are simply out of touch with the people and the situation on the ground and enjoying a life that must ordinary Kurds can only dream of?

Diversify the political powerbase is one significant prelude to ensuring that future voting outcomes cannot be taking for granted. This means that unless political parties raise the bar and deliver even higher, the people may place their votes elsewhere (as long as they deem that there worthwhile and credible alternatives to place their vote). In this regard, it would be beneficial for Kurdistan to ensure that the PUK and KDP no long server on a single list. Having more parties with political clout will allow for greater compromise amongst parties and facilitate a broader more inclusive government.

The shape of the next cabinet

Barzani may not have officially assumed his post but has already got to work and marked his intention to other political players by assuring that “our door is always open.” One of his key goals was to build general consensus and understanding with all political parties. Barzani declared, “We will be happy to have a broad-based government for the next cabinet… it is the duty of all of us to try and work to serve this country and its people”

So far the fruit of Barzani’s endeavours have been productive but there is no certainty that the new cabinet will necessarily be all inclusive. Most opposition parties have stated their willingness to work with Barzani and that could only be good news for Kurdistan but under specific conditions, which will signify the new cabinet’s appetite for change and appeasing opposition groups.

Gorran’s final take on joining the new cabinet will likely depend on their sense of reassurance around the reform packages that they have previously agreed with the government.

However, an all-inclusive cabinet is not the be all and end all for Kurdish politics. You don’t have to be on the same cabinet to be on the same page.

Gorran can serve as an affective opposition and play its key role of ensuring the evolution and reform of Kurdistan without formally been a part of the cabinet.

What matters is a national consensus amongst all parties and an eagerness to set aside their differences for the sake of Kurdistan. All political parties have the responsibility to answer to the people that have voted them in power and deep personal or ideological rifts must be set aside.

Without a common basis amongst the ruling parties and opposition, it is almost certain that months and years will tick away without any real progress. It is one thing to agree on reform and make positive intentions and it’s another to deliver the reform package in a timely, measurable and transparent manner.

The regional view

Reform and political evolvement will ultimately benefit the people, improve standards of living and fulfil the growing expectations of the people. However, it will also put Kurdistan on a much stronger footing in the greater region and internationally.

Kurdistan is at a highly sensitive point and one that one will determine how Kurdistan will be shaped in years to come.

It is still part of a largely fragmented Iraq that is underpinned by deep animosity. It is still part of the same Iraq that still has many unresolved disputes with Kurdistan and on the brink of a new civil war.

The Kurds have played the patient waiting game on issues such as disputed territories and national hydrocarbon law, while Baghdad has shown little enthusiasm to implement constitutional articles that ultimately serve to enhance the status of Kurdistan.

In the greater region, Kurdistan is becoming ever engulfed in power tussles between neighbours in a fast changing strategic picture. Kurds in Syria, Turkey and to a lesser extent Iran are at the forefront of changing dynamics in the Middle East.

Kurds in these parts of Kurdistan are also at sensitive crossroads and ubiquitously look to the Kurdistan Region as a big brother.

This means firstly, that Kurdish political parties must work as closely and as united as ever no matter their differences in solidifying and protecting Kurdish interests and secondly, that Kurdish leaders must make delicate and difficult decisions to ensure they safeguard Kurdish interests outside of the Kurdistan Region.

As with the example of Baghdad, the Kurds should not feel compelled to constantly resolve bitter feuds in Baghdad and become dragged into the middle of frequent sectarian and political clashes, whilst much of their demands have been sidelined.

The Kurdish quest should be about strengthening Kurdistan and not Baghdad. The basis for Kurdish support in Iraq and beyond should not be unconditional, but come at an advantage to Kurdistan.

Ankara and Baghdad need Kurdistan more than ever, and after historically getting the raw end of the deal from both these sides, it’s about time the Kurds drove a hard bargain.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Barzani’s landmark visit to Ankara symbolises new historical passage between Kurds and Turkey

Three years is a long-time in any part of the world, but can be equal to a lifetime in the Middle East. Although, economic ties have been relatively strong between Turkey and the Kurdistan Region for many years, political ties became strained and contentious as Iraqi Kurds assumed a new “official” role in the new Iraq and with it considerable power and strategic standing.

The visit this week of Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani to Ankara, the first since the US invasion in 2003, bears significant ramifications for both Turkey and Kurds all over the region and not just in Iraq.

For a long while it seemed that Turkey would remain obstinate on old mentalities and was ever-reluctant to recognise the new reality across the border, even as other major powers flocked to open consulates, assume bi-lateral trade ties and build political cooperation.

While Kurdistan has been affectively autonomous since 1991 and not 2003, Turkey could live with that reality as to a great extent the region was under a firm eye, strategically confined and required support of Turkey.

However, its one thing acknowledging a reality behind closed doors and another openly accepting and recognising that reality. This is Turkey after all – a country that for many decades denied even the existence of the Kurds, let alone the establishment of a Kurdistan Region and who has fought deadly battles against the PKK Kurdish rebels since 1984.

Witnessing first-hand what initially appeared to be the materialisation of their greatest fear in 2003 would not have been easy to stomach. Especially as images of Peshmerga forces storming triumphantly into Mosul and Kirkuk in April 2003 under the Kurdistan flag, were flashed around the world.

Turkey has long feared greater Kurdish autonomy or even outright independence. This anxiety would have hardly been eased as Iraqi Kurds assumed key positions in Baghdad, negotiated historical terms in the constitution and became invaluable allies to a U.S. that had been stuck in a quagmire and short of genuine partners.

As Turkey has plunged deeper into its battle with the PKK in recent years, hawks in the Turkish military squarely pointed the finger at Barzani for sympathising and even aiding the Kurdish rebels.

Turkish military commanders openly threatened to invade the region many times and in 2009 decided to do just that. This was probably the lowest point in the post-2003 ties between the Kurds and Turkey. Some Turkish politicians and especially the ultra nationalist military elite were astonished at what they saw as Barzani overstepping his power and daring to “stand up” to them, after heated exchanges over the PKK and status of oil-rich Kirkuk.  After all, how could any Kurdish “tribal” leader have the audacity to remain outspoken and firm against the mighty force of Turkey? A proud nation built on strong sense of nationalism and enormous ethnic pride.

For Turkey, it has simply been a case that whether you publicly accept a reality or not, that reality is still true. An internationally recognised Kurdistan Region exists and is enshrined in official legislature. The existence of a Kurdistan is no longer a taboo, even if it continues to be a common one in Turkey, but a reference to an internationally recognised political entity. The Kurdistan flag is no longer a symbol of “separatism” but a symbol of a federal region. The Kurdish language is not only spoken but is now one of the official languages of the Iraqi state. The Peshermrga forces do not belong to political groups but are an official force of the Iraqi state. This list can continue and continue.

The overwhelming basis is that Turkey can ignore the new developments and this new reality to its own detriment. Closer to home, decades of conflict in the east has seen no gain but bloodshed for both Kurds and Turks.

Bound by age old principles and Kemalist foundations, Turkey seemed unwilling to waver from its historical stance. However, Kurds are a fundamental part of the Turkish state and key partners in the development and prosperity of Turkey. A Turkish drive for political reform and a new roadmap to resolve its age old dilemma is the best chance in many decades of a new true social basis that will allow Turkey to flourish economically and politically.

More importantly, Turkey has come to realise that Iraqi Kurds will not forgo strong ties with Ankara even at the expense of ties with Baghdad. The bustling trade between Turkey and Kurdistan reached a remarkable $9 billion in 2009. This will only increase further. Iraqi Kurds rely heavily upon Turkey for a number of strategic reasons and ironically the Turks are by far the best partners the Kurds can muster. Turkey is their door to Europe, to economic prosperity and the regions vision of becoming a de facto part of Europe.

Equally, the support of the Iraqi Kurds will no doubt help to finally resolve the PKK dilemma in Turkey. Turkish Kurds look eagerly for new job opportunities and development of their cities. With the much anticipated door to the EU opening sooner or later, the Kurds of Turkey can only gain by been a integral part of the Turkish picture and will benefit tremendously from the strong ties with their Turkish brethren, as long as Ankara can finally free itself from age old taboos and embrace Kurdish ethnicity and culture as part of its official framework.

A peaceful, stable and flourishing region is not only good for Iraqi Kurds but an essential buffer and access point to the Gulf for Turkey. Kurds, who share similar political and religious ideology, are just what Turkey needs against the ever changing picture in the Middle East and growing Shiite power both in Baghdad and Tehran. Ankara’s hand in Erbil will ultimately ensure equilibrium against Tehran’s hand in Baghdad.

Its time to realise that Kurds and Turks are natural allies and the best of strategic partners. Why create enemies of each other, when clearly both in the present and the future, they must both work hand in hand for mutual prosperity and protection?

Kurdistan Region can be an affective arm for Turkey, and form a de facto confederation. Iraqi Kurdistan has immense potential, hunger and oil. The much touted Nabucco pipeline will be the glue between both sides of the borders.

Such a partnership, which only recently seemed far from an ideal match after growing friction, is slowly unfolding into a partnership that will not only take Turkey and Kurdistan forward, but will be a momentous and landmark gain for the greater Middle East region, starved of positive developments and stability.

For Kurds and Turks, it has become very evident that it’s a case of our differences are small, but our similarities are huge.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.