Tag Archives: Democracy

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

The democratic will of the people cannot be ignored

As a tense political climate ensues in Kurdistan ahead of the critical national elections in March, the notion of change and evolution must be embraced, however, at a crucial historical juncture the Kurds must be careful to guide their region towards a new dawn and not a tainted past.

There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction” – Winston Churchill

Whilst democracy is a fledgling phenomenon in Iraq and not without its fair share of deficiencies and impediments, it is nevertheless a remarkable milestone and the national elections of 7th March 2010 provide a chance for millions of Iraqis to be heard.

It is down to the people to voice their vote but ultimately down to the politicians to deliver.

Iraq faces a tense battle on many fronts as people eagerly await the electoral result. However, the notion of “change” must surely be at the pinnacle of any political manifesto if the next 5 years is to be successful.

This change comes in a number of forms. Same foot dragging over constitutional issues, budget and resource sharing, lack of reconciliation, chauvinist mentalities of the past or a government who those not want to truly embrace democratic values, compromise and critically the voice of the very people they have been voted to serve then Iraq can be guaranteed one thing – the next 5 years will be as unproductive, tiresome and problematic as ever.

Without the need for a greater change on many political levels, the same thorny issues put on ice over the past five years such as resolving disputed boundaries will lie in stalemate in 5 years time. Or worse still, without a flexible and all encompassing democratic apparatus, violent resolution of these issues.

New political horizon in Kurdistan

Remarkable progress on political, economic and social levels has been made in less than two decades since the liberation of Kurdistan. However, Kurdistan now finds itself at a critical crossroad.

One that can truly propel it to a new standing both within Iraq and the Middle East, or one that will only induce echoes of past infighting, disunity and bureaucratic governance.

The progress of the Change Movement or Gorran from literally the backdoor to a major opposition as a result of the Kurdistan parliamentary elections last July, where it won a credible 25 seats or 23.57% of the vote, speaks volumes.

The basis for this new political horizon is in essence revealed in the name itself – “change”. This motion is reflected in the millions of Kurds, who demand changes to living standards, political reform and more transparency.

However, change itself is a loose word. Whether Gorran is a direct rival of the PUK only or is a viable and affective alternative voice for all of Kurdistan remains to be seen.

The onus is on Gorran to push through the very ideal of change people have identified with them. This means that the plan for change needs to be structured, coordinated and implemented. The ruling elite in the KDP and PUK may embrace a common desire for change, but this change must be shepparded in the right direction and for results that will benefit the greater Kurdistan region both internally and in Baghdad.

A new direction

A popular demand for change and the new political competitiveness should not mean disunity and crippling of Kurdish national interests. All Kurdish politicians have been elected by Kurds to serve Kurds.

There is nothing wrong with internal political jostling or heated campaigning, but such a destructive atmosphere in the form of media campaigns, grave insults and accusations, harsh exchange of words between leaders and violence guarantees only one thing – a big smile on the face of Kurdish adversaries.

Uncertainty of electoral outcome

There is fierce political jockeying in Kurdistan with more at stake than ever. The PUK dominance particularly in Sulaimanyia and Kirkuk has been challenged and the national elections will only reaffirm the views of the people.

With the new open-candidate list system serving to potentially further influence the PUK power sharing with KDP, there has been a lot of media coverage around the “demise” of the PUK.

Talk of such a decline is premature but one thing is certain – democracy practiced in a fair and just way does not lie. The results are derived from the opinions and choice of the people and it is the will and choice of such people that must be protected and placed first.

This is the very essence of a healthy democracy and facilitating change in the right direction. If the bar has been raised as a result of the new political climate in Kurdistan, then the onus is on the likes of the KDP and PUK to raise the stakes, adopt reform and change the minds of the people. Any political system where politicians can rest on their laurels, only guarantees slow progress, corruption and lack of services to the people.

By the same token, the Gorran movement becoming a major force in Kurdistan is only a starting point. There is no compulsion in a healthy democracy and just as easily as millions can vote for you, millions can vote against you if their expectations are not met or if political promises are not fulfilled.

The KDP and PUK hierarchies must ensure the protection of such political parties and ensure that battle is done in the ballot boxes and not on the streets.

Kurdish role in Baghdad

Although Gorran and the Kurdistan Alliance will effectively campaign on two separate lists in the national elections, this does not mean it should be to the detriment of Kurdistan.

The overall strategic goals of the Kurds must be strengthened and not undermined as a result of the new Kurdish political awakening.

This does mean that the Gorran can now use its leverage to pressure the KDP and PUK into change or to introduce elements of its philosophies, which is only natural if you muster such a significant portion of votes. However, this should not mean that personal and political vendettas should see this new climate turn into a Kurdish nightmare.

This is about the Kurdish people and Kurdistan not supporting one group over another or turning this into a social or dynasty battle in Kurdistan.

The Kurds will once again have a kingmaker role in the next government, and their support for any coalition in Baghdad must see Kurds attain firm guarantees for their strategic goals in return.

Tense climate in Kurdistan

The recent heated debates and walkout in the Kurdish parliament, violent friction in the Sulaimanyia province and the anger over the alleged labelling of the Peshmerga forces by a Gorran MP as a militia, threatens to create a political and social divide in Kurdistan.

Such divide in the 90’s resulted in civil war and effectively meant that two Kurdistan administrations existed.

Status of Peshmerga forces

For Kurds, the word Peshmerga is etched in Kurdish folklore. Without the sacrifices and bravery of the thousands of such individuals who fought against repression and occupation, Kurdistan would never be where it is today.

Any labelling of the Peshmerga as a kind of militia is not only disrespectful and out of tone of Kurdish political standards and revered heritage but will undoubtedly incite Kurdish sentiments ahead of elections. This is something we become accustomed to hear from Baghdad, whose view of the Peshmerga as a militia is only to undermine the force and serve to weaken an element they see as a direct threat.

However, by the same token, politicisation of the forces should be discouraged at all costs. They should be embraced as a national Kurdish army to serve and protect all of Kurdistan. This is one example of where political polarisation of Kurdistan must change.

Uncertainty over the results of ballots and political anxiety should be seen as a sign of a healthy democracy. Politicians should fret over their performance at the polls and not walk into parliament via a red carpet.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

New political climate must not compromise Kurdistan

Let’s embrace the new democratic beginning in Kurdistan, not allow our historical disadvantages resurface.

With escalating tensions between Change Movement and PUK a real danger – further disunity, a historical Kurdish failing, will only handicap the Kurdistan Region and benefit Kurdish rivals

The unprecedented elections in the Kurdistan Region in July of last year, with the newly established Change Movement (CM or Gorran) winning a credible 25 seats in the Kurdistan parliament and for the first time installing real opposition in Kurdistan, was hoped to usher a new chapter in the Kurdish democratic experience.

CM was widely regarded as a movement reflecting the will of sections of the Kurdish population for reform, more transparency in government and better services. Either way, previous arch-rivals the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) had to battle side-by-side to win a majority at the election.

Whilst the region has been clearly dominated by the KDP and PUK since 1992, CM serves as a real challenge to the established elite in the region and a democratic phenomenon with popular support must be protected and indeed embraced as it should help raise the bar in Kurdish politics and it least in theory lead to a stronger region with the seeds of a more healthy democracy.

Escalating tensions

CM, headed by Nawshirwan Mustafa, was essentially formed as a result of bitter disputes within the PUK where Mustafa was a long-time senior deputy. As such CM posed the biggest danger to the Sulaimaniya province, a traditional bastion of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

While any talk of a political demise of the PUK are premature, who clearly still command significant following, the rise of CM posed a direct threat to the future standing of the PUK and increased weariness ahead of national elections.

The acrimonious departure of Mustafa and the subsequent emotive political jostling in the Sulaimaniya region, has naturally led to a rise in tensions. CM has alleged that political motives have been behind a spate of attacks on its members in recent weeks, a claim which officials have strongly denied.

Tensions between the once avid allies have been heightened by verbal attacks firstly by Talabani who made a number of brazen historical accusations at Mustafa, with Mustafa issuing his own counter statement.

It is unclear at this stage whether CM is merely a direct competitor to the PUK or one that can become a more region-wide power that can also challenge traditional KDP strongholds.

Dangers for Kurdistan

The verbal attacks and negative media campaigns that have been common in recent weeks is a strong detriment to Kurdish politics and democratic evolvement.

Whilst healthy competition at the ballots was most welcome and credible opposition is just the tonic to reenergise regional development and reform, history has taught the Kurds the great dangers of disunity, fierce rivalry and political violence.

Negative media campaigns must end for the benefit of the greater Kurdistan region as the Kurds enter a crucial year in their political existence with upcoming Iraqi national elections and a number of bitter disputes with Baghdad including status of Kirkuk, oil revenues and national budget.

The new dawn in Kurdish politics in the aftermath of the regional elections should not herald a negative era but one in which politicians and the established elite must rise to the challenge by evolving and winning over disgruntled supporters.

CM was not just a political group but for many a symbol of a popular desire to revitalise politics in the region. The group won a significant portion of the parliamentary seats and whilst they may not direct sway new legislation, it acts as a pressure point for the ruling parties.

On the back of this, the recent statement by Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani is a welcome tonic that should led to protection for CM but above all else preserve stability in the region. Negative media campaigns within Kurdistan between entities can only lead to one thing – negative media campaigns abroad for the whole of Kurdistan.

Significance of Iraqi election on Kurdistan

The Iraqi election in March of 2010 serves as an important gauge for the stability and the recent hard-won security gains, especially in light of the anticipated withdrawal of US forces in August of this year. However, the elections have just an important bearing on the political platform of Kurdistan on the back of the recent regional elections.

With CM running on a separate list, it once more highlights competition against the KDP-PUK headed alliance but now at a national level. The key battle ground will once again prove to be between the PUK and CM in Sulaimaniya and to a lesser extent in Kirkuk, where any significant electoral loss by the PUK will undoubtedly increase pressure on party leaders.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with competition and political jockeying, increased hostility between political rivals in Kurdistan will no doubt see the Kurds suffer at a crucial historical juncture.

Interestingly, the national elections will be run on an open-candidate system. With the PUK weakened by the advance of CM, this means that if voters choose to back more KDP candidates, then this will serve as a fresh blow to the PUK.

With CM claiming to win 20 seats at the national elections, the party hopes to reinforce their support and thus by the same token their rivalry in key Kurdish hotspots.  

All this marks a tumultuous time for Talabani if the PUK is seen to fare badly at the polls in his bedrock province of Sulaimaniya.

External actors

A long running handicap of the Kurds has been a lack of unity in recent history. This has been undoubtedly stoked in the past by weary neighbours and their governments keen to check Kurdish power by manipulating Kurdish differences.

Once again, tense political climate in Kurdistan may well be played by sides looking to diminish Kurdish power.

The short-term glee of Kurdish adversaries would be nothing short of seeing a destabilisation of their region and the Kurds wasting their collective energy on individual vendettas.

Whilst the PUK may not be directly involved in any violence against the CM, it should do all it can to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice for the sake of the PUK and the Kurdistan Region, not to forfeit blame in recent controversy.

Rising expectations

The Kurdistan region has come along way in less than two decades with increased stability and economic leverage. However, this relative rise in prosperity is coupled with growing expectations of the people, predominately amongst the youth.

While the nationalist card of the established elite in Kurdistan is still a strong beacon, demands and disgruntlement of the youth has arguably spurred CM support.

This by no means is a signal of a greater political revolution in Kurdistan, not just yet anyway. But it does mean that there is now direct pressure for results and change. This must come with increased accountability in government, more transparency and an independent judicial system,

The Kurds must ensure that the new political climate does not compromise Kurdistan in anyway. The Kurds can be politically divided, but the national interests of the Kurds should always be at the top of their manifesto. After all, they are all essentially working towards the same goals – preserving and enhancing Kurdish interests, which the people have voted them to perform.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

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

Iraqi national elections: a crucial year ahead for Kurds and Baghdad

With national elections in January 2010 and the upcoming withdrawal of US troops, the next year will prove decisive for Iraq.

Although, progress and political reconciliation has been arduous and slow four years after the last elections, security and general stability has improved. There have been many alliances and splinters groups within the past few years, but judging by the provincial elections earlier this year, Iraq is slowly shifting away from the sectarian tendencies that have severely blighted trust and reconciliation amongst the Iraqi mosaic.

Although, the platform has been set to enhance democracy and at least theoretically propel the country towards a level of national reconciliation, if sides have the appetite for such a phenomenon, the real issues have simply been sidelined for far too long. Ultimately, it is these issues that will determine what future course the Iraqi machine will take.

For example, there are still fundamental differences over federalism and central powers, how the immensely rich Iraqi cake can be shared via an elusive national hydrocarbon law, enticing Baathist into the political fold, keeping influential Sunni factions happy in the long run and calls for changes to the constitution.

The above mentioned set of obstacles is no mean feat, however, coupled with the growing stand-off between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad over disputed territories, and 2010-2011 will surely leave many anxious personnel in the Obama administration.

A chance for new stakes

What the national elections do provide is a chance to refresh the political landscape, alliances and power makeup. As for the Kurds, the national elections will come on the back of their successful regional elections in July, which for the first time instilled real opposition in parliament via the Goran List.

These elections are a chance for Kurds to strike the right concord internally and with other Iraqi factions, with viewing to finally breaking the impasse that has seriously hindered bilateral ties with the Baghdad government.

It is becoming apparent that the Goran List and the PUK-KDP headed lists will be running under separate lists in the national elections, but will “pool” their votes. Such ardent competition that is brewing between Kurdish groups does not have to be a hindrance but can actual spur Kurdish goals. Internal opposition, different views and fresh thinking can be just the tonic on the regional and national level, as long as the overall strategic goals of the Kurds remain unaffected.

Such goals should be designed around maximising the benefit of the Kurdistan Region, ensuring the issue of disputed territories is resolved via the implementation of constitutional articles, and promoting an oil law that is fair and equitable and generally safeguarding the interests of the people in the region that they have been elected to serve.

Fresh thinking, fresh alliances

After years of stalemate on a number of fundamental issues, new political groups and alliances such as the Goran list, can act as the right boost on the national stage.

Now that there is a perception of a balanced air to Kurdish politics, the onset of new Kurdish political groups may spur other Iraqi parties to do business with them. Years of protracted negotiations and tensions between the KRG and Baghdad has left a bitter taste in the mouth, and a genuine new thinking is required by Baghdad coupled with new impetus in Kurdistan, to avoid another four years of lingering progress and sluggish attitude towards implementing constitutional articles.

There have been signs that in Kirkuk that the ubiquitous dispute between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen has been added to by a possible power-battle for the city by Kurds themselves.

It is perfectly natural to have differing Kurdish political actors on the Kirkuk stage and this is a part and parcel of a healthy democracy. However, once again the common goals of the parties must not change and that is to ensure the implementation of article 140.

The advent of Goran in Kirkuk may actual help entice moderate Arab and Turkmen groups to some extent. The provision of a more broad alliance in Kirkuk is absolutely vital to finally break the stalemate. Arabs and Turkmen may well be encouraged to work with a “reformist” Kurdish group.

The Goran list has already indicated that they will deploy a “softer”, more reconciliatory tone towards Baghdad. This would be a productive development, but such moves towards compromise should not usher a sell-out of Kurdish interests.

The compromise towards Baghdad is vital for the development of Kurdistan that will hopefully see a breakthrough on oil sharing and increased oil exports in the region. However, the red-lines must not be altered. Certainly, the democratic implementation of article 140 is one of those fundamental red-lines. The moment democratic principles voted by millions of Iraqis are sidelined this will signal the death of Iraqi unity.

Baghdad is an important strategic partner of Kurdistan and prosperous relationships is vital to the long-term health and success of the region. This engagement should be based on equality and mutual understanding, any Baghdad political rally against the Kurds in the aftermath of the elections to muster Arab nationalist sentiments must be strongly rebuked.


The Kurds are likely to form the single largest parliamentary bloc in the Iraqi National Assembly, so thus their support is almost a prerequisite to the formation of any subsequent government in Baghdad. No alliances should be formed by the Kurds or any move to waste this precious position, without firm guarantees from the prospective alliance partners that will serve the benefits of Kurdistan in practical terms and not just via promises and rhetoric that came with previous alliances.

There is no reason why in Baghdad a ruling coalition can not be formed from Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties, with a strong bout of realism and genuine desire for reconciliation, the interests of each group do not need to be mutually exclusive.

Elections in Kirkuk

This paradigm could not apply to Kirkuk more strongly. Rather than trying to indefinitely delay elections in the province or sideline Kurdish interests, Arabs and Turkmen must comprehend that at some point elections will have to be held in the province like any part of Iraq – delay tactics will not solve the dilemma.

The continuous delays of referendums, census and provincial elections in Kirkuk are undemocratic and illegal. Arab and Turkmen groups should start to work with Kurdish groups to safeguard their interests and build broader alliances, but all within the remit of the constitution. If the majority of the people of Kirkuk decide to annex with the KRG, then Arabs and Turkmens must live with this reality and maximise their positions within this framework and vice versa.

The Kurds must not allow any postponement of elections in Kirkuk come January. Any calls by groups to share power equally in Kirkuk are unlawful. In a democratic system, how can power be shared in any way other than based on proportionate votes of the electorate?

Compromise is important in Iraq as in any part of the democratic world. However, compromise and reconciliation can not be grounded on hypocrisy. How can one share seats equally in one province and disproportionately distribute power in another province (Mosul) with clear intent of sidelining a major political rival and manipulating democratic principles?

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, 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.

In one part of Iraq, democracy is not a new phenomenon

Much has been said about the advent of democracy in Iraq, however democracy in one part of Iraq, albeit not always in a perfect form, has been practiced since 1992.

With the run up to crucial parliamentary and presidential elections in the Kurdistan Region in July of this year, it provides a gauge to determine how far politics and democracy has evolved in the region. KRG Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa Bakir, hailed the upcoming elections as a chance for people to make key decisions and ensure the region is on the “right track”, while strongly advocating as many international observers as possible.

From fighting in the mountains to running in parliament, fundamental achievements have been made since 1991 but democracy is still hampered by key deficiencies and shortfalls such the judicial system, elements of corruption and bureaucracy. According to Bakir, the Kurds are witnessing a transitional phase in their history and “have started to build the path towards democracy but can not claim to have a perfect democratic experience yet”. However, Bakir stresses that his government has the political will and the determination to “go to the end of that road”.

Political opposition is increasing, and there are signs that even the two dominant Kurdish parties, Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are evolving under pressure from changing times and increasing expectations of the people. There is somewhat of a notion of a conceptual battle between old schools of thought and new liberal minds in Kurdistan.

According to Dindar Zebari, Special KRG representative to the UN, the Kurds have been leading actors of democracy in Iraq, and believes the upcoming elections “serve as another commitment of Iraqi Kurds to the sovereignty and unity of the country”, while urging more international support for issues in Iraq and Kurdistan.

The KRG have perhaps been their worst critics at times. According to Bakir, they have acknowledged the need to highlight their deficiencies, seek solutions and consult with others in bridging gaps. Progression in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq according to Bakir “needs patience, effort and international support”.

Whilst it is easy to pick out failing in the Kurdish democratic experience, one must judge a subject within its context. With the exception of Turkey, which houses many constraints of its own, neighboring countries can hardly be classified as model democracies. Democracy in Iraq itself is flawed, with many constitutional stipulations voted by millions, such as article 140 failing to attract serious attention in its implementation

Although by their admission democracy in Kurdistan is far from perfect, achievements in less than two decades and particularly in the last six years have been noteworthy. No democracy has ever flourished without its pains and conflicts, and Kurdistan is no different.

The Kurds have suffered immeasurably under authoritarian Arab rule since the creation of the artificial state of Iraq. Finally free from the totalitarian grip of Saddam Hussein after immense sacrifice, Kurds were able to decide their own future and also showcase the virtue of self-determination that they had been deprived for so long.

And what better way to showcase your credentials for statehood and self-rule than show the world and your nemesis in the region that you are capable of a democracy and a way of governance that not only would be unique in Kurdistan as it would be a first, but one that could also serve as a benchmark for the rest of region.

Kurds have tried hard to implement a system of tolerance to other religions and ethnicities that they themselves have not received. Ever keen to attract a positive view from the West, Kurds have been keen to fight disputes such as over the city of Kirkuk, in a democratic manner to legitimize and bolster their experience.

In the time since its inception, the parliament has passed a number of important laws, covering women rights, press, economy, civil liberties and general society. The improvements in freedoms and laws since 2003 have been noticeable, for example with increasing rights for woman and increased government tolerance to opposition.

However, although at times too general, reports from human rights organizations have continued to highlight shortcomings in terms of the application of the rule of law, opposition and general freedoms. According to Zebari, these reports are taking “seriously” and the government has setup committees and reinforced their desire to bring “human rights to international standards”.

There is still an element of apprehension that the parliament is really supporting and serving the people.  There is a general consensus that parliamentarians have to be more attentive to public concerns and demands. Accountability must increase for this to be realized. For Zebari , “elections will add to the legitimacy of the setup of this region as elections always bring back credibility, transparency and trust, from the authorities to the people and vice versa.”

Moving forward, the Kurdistan parliament should work to become a reflection of the will of the people, and there must be a closer correlation between both sides. Politics must adapt to the people and environment and not the other way around.

First Published On: al-Arabiya News Network

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

Obama’s historic speech the platform for Middle Eastern peace?

The birth of a “new beginning” with the Muslim world, hoped as a new beginning for the elusive peace process

It was no secret that improving ties with the Muslim world was to become a core component of US President Barack Obama’s new administration. On 4th June president Obama delivered his highly anticipated speech at Cairo University, where a “new beginning” for ties with the Muslim world based on “mutual interest and mutual respect” took on strong emphasis. A strong symbol of this new start is the peace process between the Israel and the Palestinians and the establishment of a Palestinian state. However, as we have seen many times before, emotive words and real action and tough decision making do not always translate to the same thing.

Furthermore, by looking at the greater whole of the Middle East, will parts such as Kurdistan miss out?

One of the greatest historical problems in the Middle East has been the establishment of elusive peace between Israel and the Palestinians that has become almost symbolic of the US relationship with the Muslim world. Obama’s seemingly new tough approach with Israel signalled a new phase in the peace process. Successfully achieving peace between the Jews and Arabs and ultimately the establishment of a Palestinian state may well prove to be the platform on which Obama is judged at the end of his term.

The speech was refreshing, warm and conciliatory. Any speech that even grabs the mood and attention of customary US nemesis, speaks volumes about the influence and importance of the speech. However, deep and powerful rhetoric is by no means a measure on how such broad goals will be achieved in reality.

New ties with the Muslim world

A frequent theme of Obama’s speech was his emphasis on the positivity and role of Islam on the global stage. He pointed out the significance of Islam on contemporary history and human development and indeed the part that Islam has played in America’s history, while referring to civilisations “debt” to Islam.

Relations with the Islamic world under George W. Bush and indeed before that became strained and introduced dangerous levels of animosity and mistrust. The perception of the US in the last several years has been tarnished by its foreign policy, with many Middle Eastern views portraying the US as “anti-Islamist”.

Obama downplayed such beliefs of an ideological clash and stated “America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” Obama was evidently keen to eradicate somewhat negative stereotypes that surround both Islam and the US, and the cycle of distrust that had undermined common ties.

Obama frequently highlighted a great respect for Islam while aiming to show that there was more common ground than differences.

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts

From the outset, Obama has clearly been keen to reach out to the greater Middle East. A common theme of his tenure as president is that the US will aim to “listen rather than dictate” to the Muslims.

Indeed, the Middle East is as much of an interlinked web as ever, and no solution or stability in any one country will achieve the greater goals of the region.

Peace and success in the Middle East can not be achieved without a broad consensus amongst the social mosaic of the region. The American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown that individual achievements will only ever be hampered by greater obstacles in the surrounding environment.

More importantly, US relations in the Middle East have reached a vicious and perilous cycle, which Obama has been clearly intent on breaking.

Obama tried to win the hearts of the Islamic audiences by making references to texts from the Quran, and by emphasising that with a “proud tradition of tolerance”, the positive role that Islam plays in solutions rather than as a source of problems.

Ties with Israel and Palestinians

In his quest to turn a new page with the greater Muslim world, there can perhaps be no greater starting point than resolving the historical Palestinian dilemma.

Peace between Israel and the Palestinians formed a core focus of the Bush era, however, the much-hyped peace road map never really started.

Obama speech echoed a neutral stance with regards to the present Israeli-Palestinian standoff. The Islamic view of America has long been defined by the strong historical support of the Jews, seemingly at the expense of Arab suffering and the deprivation of Palestinian rights.

This notion has only served to add to the view that US foreign policy was hypocritical and unequivocal.

In his keynote speech, Obama once again reaffirmed the strong bond between the US and Israel, which is “…based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.” However, Obama was clearly keen to ensure that Palestinian rights and sufferings were treated on equal footing, describing the situation of the Palestinians as “intolerable”, who he believes “endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. ”

Shifting US ties with Israel?

Many have pointed to a shift in US policy towards Israel. However, this policy is needed if the overall “reach out” of his administration to the Muslims is to be taking seriously.

It remains to be seen how much political or public pressure, the US government is willing to place on their historical ally in the region.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, visiting Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the back of Obama’s speech, reiterated that the US views a two-state solution as the “only viable political solution” to the conflict.

A key note of Obama speech on the peace process was the firm need to halt all Israeli settlement building activity in the occupied West Bank, which is deemed illegal under International law.

This caused a potential confrontation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who previously vowed to at least to accommodate “natural growth” building in the settlements. Furthermore, Netanyahu and his cabinet have appeared reserved to endorse the principle of a Palestinian state in public, much to the contrary of American support to the idea.

Netanyahu is due to deliver a key speech later this week, which will go a long way to underlining the path that his Israeli government will pursue. Either way, the Israeli government will need to make concessions in terms of cabinet personnel or policy, as they realign with the new realities in Washington.

Many in Israel are evidently concerned about the new shift of support from the US government. With Obama placing equal focus on both the Israelis and Palestinians, many will now be looking at the political movements and initiatives shown in each camp. On the back of the historical speech by Obama, there is now a danger for either side to be singled out depending on the steps they undertake.

Both the Israelis and Palestinians have been cautiously warm to the renewed efforts called for in Obama’s speech.

Moreover, Israel may need to make greater concessions not just in the face of US pressure, but also in their quest to win greater endorsement from the Arab world and particularly support against the growing Iranian nuclear threat.

The US has been keen to emphasise to their Israeli counterparts that the resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue must come hand-in-hand with the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians. What is certain is that no side can act against the Tehran government without a broad support of the greater Middle East.

Any Israeli unilateral action on Iran, as much as its nuclear programme is also feared by many Arab regimes in the region, would go a long way to ensuring further isolation of Israel.

The need for tough measures

For Obama’s brave new policies to become a reality, the US government must go beyond strong rhetoric and mixed this up with tough action and decisions.

For example, while the US have been insistent that no Israeli settlement building continues, what will they do if Israeli continues their justification of further construction in one form or another? Furthermore, the US should be clear on their exact policy regarding settlement building, so that there is no doubt or misinterpretation to suit one side. Does opposition to settlement building mean future settlement expansions or the presence of these settlements altogether?

In his speech, Obama was signalling the prospects of a new definition of ties with Hamas, if Hamas refuses to change its policy towards Israel and does not become an apart of a new unity Palestinian government, then how will the US react to the entity that affectively rules the Gaza strip?

If the peace process goes down a productive and positive path, then the stance of the US will look after itself, however, such similar paths in the past have seldom followed such positive motions. The position of the US will come under much scrutiny, if key differences emerge between Israel and the Palestinians or if indeed outright violence erupts again.

Obama is correct in that no ideology or principle, such as democracy can or should be imposed on a nation. It is indeed down to the real will of a nation, on what they choose to adopt or how they want to be ruled.

By that token, Israelis and Palestinians must make the real concessions and choose what kind of a future they want, but obviously the right US policy has great bearings on the decisions and directions taking by each nation. One thing that is certain is that the current status-quo will serve no side.

All sides, particularly Israel must realise that peace measures should not just be political, more opportunities and economic progression in the Palestinian territories will be a major influence to sway Palestinian sentiments.

The dangers for the Kurds

One side that has clearly benefited from the US foreign policy of recent years are the Kurds. A pro-American, democratic and secular nation does not come around too often and the US and Kurds have developed positive ties. However, many Kurds have grown disillusioned at lack of US support or appreciation of these bonds.

Clearly, when one takes a greater view of a subject matter, certain components that make up key parts of the whole, may miss out.

Too often in the past, the US has neglected so-called “smaller” actors to attain their bigger strategic goals with the perceived more dominant powers in the region.

The US must not forget that that as the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, the Kurds deserve recognition as a firm actor in the region and to be credited for their recent gains, their path towards prosperity and democratisation.

Too often reach-outs in the Middle East have been represented by Jews and Arabs. Reach out to the Muslim world, includes all such parties, including Kurdistan, which is after all a predominantly Muslim nation.

However, there is an inherent fear that the US can not keep all sides happy, which is next to impossible and as a result the Kurds have to be careful no to over rely on fickle foreign policies in the region, be it from the US or neighbouring countries.

By keeping the “major” parties happy in the Middle East, the US may well choose to do this at the expense of others. The Kurds have to ensure that they achieve self-sufficiency for their experience and reinforce their region based on a future that is not necessarily dependent on Western powers whose support is conditional and reserved at the best of times.

Support against extremism

Clearly, the war of the modern era has been the battle against terrorism and extremism. This new battlefield is one that is unconventional and high-impact. As the last several years have highlighted, it is one war that the might of ones military alone can not win in the long-term.

The battle against fanaticism and fundamentalist can be won on ideological grounds alone, by affectively winning the hearts and minds of the populations or uprooting the support base of these elements.

In Palestinian, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan, it is indeed that battle against extremism that has handicapped reconstruction, social advancement and peace. In any of these cases, US can not win these “battles” by merely imposing their ideology or military might. In other words, they strongly need the support of the greater Muslim “moderates” to establish long-lasting peace.

It is only with the establishment of a strong moderate support base, that the extremists can then be uprooted. The previous cycle of animosity and alienation between the US and Muslim powers, further distanced such moderates and indirectly encouraged support for more radical elements.

Obama was quick to emphasis that violence is not a part of Islam. In the case of Palestine, Obama stated that violence was a “dead end” and that “resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed”.

Obama, although stating that America was not at war with Islam, openly warned that the US would continue to confront extremists that threatened its security. This is a clear reminder that the US has not necessarily gone soft on its determination to battle radicals or employing a complete shift in foreign policy, particularly against elements like the Taliban in Afghanistan or the regime in Tehran.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

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

Iraqi Cabinet Approves Security Pact with US

All smiles in public, as agreement mark an end to a sour chapter in relations.

Almost one year after the signing of a declaration of principles between US President George Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, governing long-term cooperation and friendship between the two countries, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was finally passed by Iraq’s Cabinet.

The draft agreement, overwhelmingly endorsed by Cabinet members, was later signed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker, in a showcase ceremony, aimed at emphasising a common bond and vision between both sides.

The final draft, encompassing a series of amendments requested at the end of October by Iraqi government, ended months of protracted and at times tense negotiations, that was fast becoming a thorn for both allies. More critically the belated signing of the pact avoided a nightmare scenario for both sides.

The preceding draft, originally earmarked for approval by Iraqi politicians in October, was perceived by key figures in both administrations as the final text to be voted on by Iraqi parliament. That draft was already the subject of much dilution, owed mainly to Iraqi anxiety around sovereignty and the level of legal immunity afforded to US forces.

On the back of broad-endorsement by the Iraqi Cabinet, the draft is widely expected to win the necessary number of votes in Iraq’s parliament, which is expected to vote next week, marking the last step in negotiations.

However, as Iraqis celebrated the end of an era, the reality of the obstacles that lay ahead could not be better demonstrated than the deadly terrorist bombings that coincided with Iraqi approval.

Sweet end to a bitter debacle?

In many ways, the signing of the pact marked a sweet end for both sides, of what was fast become a bitter debacle.

The target date for the signing of the Sofa agreement was the end of July, however in spite of negotiations spanning much of 2008, agreement proved elusive and for a while unlikely before the end of this year.

The agreement was essentially perceived as a pact on the withdrawal of US forces by the Iraqi government. The US had long resisted setting a firm timetable for the withdrawal of its estimated 150,000-strong forces in Iraq. The Bush administration had always insisted that any specific reduction of forces (let alone full withdrawal) could only be linked with security gains on the ground, and had only loosely adopted a roadmap for withdrawal.

However, with the Iraqi government under fierce public pressure to assert a sense of nationalism and ‘control’, a fixed-timetable for withdrawal became a core aspect of any agreement.

Under the signed pact, US forces are committed to leaving streets of Iraqi towns and villages by 30th June 2009 and leaving Iraq altogether by December 31, 2011.

Without a doubt, the setting of such a timetable on the surface represents a major negotiating victory for Iraq. Clearly, no matter how well dressed any agreement would have been in Iraq’s favour, it would have represented a symbolic failure, predominantly for Arab sections of the population, if withdrawal of US forces was not stipulated in such clear terms.

For the first time, Iraq’s government, at least on paper, is given authority over US troops. Furthermore, serving more of a symbolic importance than a practicality, US soldiers could be tried under Iraqi legislation but under very tough conditions.

The US viewpoint

Although, the US administration had insisted that the bar to changes to the previous draft was very high, in reality it had little choice but to adhere to the new round of amendments requested by Baghdad.

The US presence since shortly after the toppling of Saddam in 2003 has been governed by UN Security Council backed mandates, which has not been without its share of controversy from the beginning. The final UN mandate expires on 31st December 2008, meaning that a lack of a greater strategic framework agreement with Iraq would render US presence in Iraq as affectively “illegal”.

Such a scenario would have resulted in the stark possibility of a US suspension of activities in Iraq. More importantly, such a scenario just days before Bush’s tenure at the helm comes to an end, would have been capped as somewhat of a humiliating end to what was already a highly-contentious US adventure in Iraq under the auspices of Bush.

The Barrack Obama card in the agreement was indirectly a huge factor. Iraqi politicians were hesitant to sign any agreement prior to the US presidential elections without assurance that the next US President would honour the agreement. From that perspective, the appointment of Obama over presidential-rival John McCain was significant as Obama had highlighted the importance of withdrawal from Iraq within a set period (16 months of his appointment).

The US would clearly have advocated a strategic agreement affording a much stronger role in the execution of operations in Iraq and a more prolonged influence on the future direction of Iraq.

The Iraqi viewpoint

The agreement was certainly advantageous from an Iraqi perspective. A more forceful approach towards their US counterparts has been witnessed over the last year or so, and perhaps the agreement is a culmination of that.

It was of high-importance for Iraqi politicians to safeguard their reputations, as the negotiations became a case of national honour. The importance not to be viewed as yielding to US pressure and expectation to stand up to what many still perceive as “occupiers”, became a fundamental factor in the approach to negotiations.

Evidently, the finer details of the agreement were not clear to all Iraqis, and the significance for the Iraqi government became the overriding public perception of ‘victory’. In that perspective, nothing speaks more volumes of victory for most of the Iraqi population than the idea that they are under full control of all affairs and that their sovereignty is safeguarded.

The difficulty in incorporating such a spectrum of views across the across the Iraqi social fabric was iconic of the difficulties of the new democratic Iraq. On the one hand, the Kurds have overwhelmingly supported a decisive strategic agreement with the US from the outset and have long campaigned for a long-term US military presence. Conversely, the Sadrist bloc and other hard-line Shiite and Sunni groups on the other hand, have staged demonstrations marking their opposition to any deal with the US and have openly battled US forces at various intervals.

The aforementioned factors, coupled with the vital provincial elections scheduled for Iraq in early 2009, swayed the stance of Iraqi politicians.  With the upcoming provisional elections threatening to change the socio-political landscape of Iraq and thus endangering the position of many key personnel in the current Cabinet, the standpoint and perception of Iraqi politicians was under as much individual, as collective scrutiny.

The last round of amendments to the draft was designed to appease skeptical Shiite lawmakers and particularly Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who threatened to use his immense influence to “veto” support for the draft. It is likely that final adjustments to the draft, was the result of a direct trade-off with al-Maliki and ensure the public ‘silence’ of al-Sistani on the draft agreement.

With Iraqi politician’s witling down the pact beyond original expectations, Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh statement that the agreement was “the best possible, available option” could not be truer.

Greater strategic agreement

Part of the security pact, is a draft framework agreement underlying the future shape of Iraqi-US relationships in a number of spheres. The framework is designed to define future cooperation and friendship in the areas of economy, culture, technology and a number of other areas, between both countries for years to come.

However, clearly the agreement became so dominated around withdrawal and sovereignty, that understanding and cooperation on other important levels became secondary.

However, for the both Iraq and particularly the US, the overall relationship must go beyond the next three years when US forces withdraw altogether. The US can ill-afford to abandon their Iraqi or Middle Eastern project without some surety that they can continue to influence proceedings in Iraq and the surrounding region.

In the long-term, in many ways this greater framework agreement, mapping out the relationships between both parties, was just as significant as the Sofa agreement.

Iraqi repercussions

Although the bold stance of the Iraqi government in negotiations marks an increasing aura of confidence, especially in light of dramatic security improvements, the road ahead for Iraq remains as tentative as ever.

The simple fact is that in spite of the tough position adopted by Iraqi negotiators, Iraq is not ready politically and certainly not as a force, without US assistance. A suspended US ‘presence’ on 1st January 2009, may have been welcomed by large sections of the population, but would have been catastrophic for Baghdad.

There are a key number of political milestones that must be achieved in the aim of great national reconciliation, with the cushion that the US forces can present.

The pressure is certainly on Iraqi politicians to build fragile security gains into concrete achievements. The landmines that dot the path ahead must be negotiated as successfully as the perceived security pact with the US, if Iraq does not transcend into a far worse position in three years time without the US, than the uncertainty of today with a world super-power at its disposal.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

Fuzzy Democracy is a Prelude to National Disaster

As attempts to defuse the current crisis over Khanaqin intensify, it alludes to a more extensive web of tension and animosity between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Baghdad Ministry.

It appears that enmity between both parties, undoubtedly fuelled by certain elements in Baghdad and abroad, is not isolated but threatens to rip Iraq apart.

Almost all major negotiations and key parliamentary bills have been over-shadowed by heated exchanges between both sides. No other dispute is better illustrated than the current stalemate over Kirkuk.

Politicians scamper to intact a “democratic” and “fair” solution to the disputed territories, yet ironically millions of Iraqis have already adopted their democratic solution via a national constitution. Beyond the mask of greater security achievements and an improving national picture, lies much political uncertainty and an Iraqi practice of fuzzy democracy that is making national reconciliation in real-terms an improbable task.

Clearly, behind the Iraqi political veil, there still exists a deep-rooted problem in the mentality of some politicians in Baghdad. The totalitarian regime may have collapsed five years ago, but it’s unwise to assume its historical legacy vanished with it.

The Kurds make a significant portion of the Iraqi coalition and are in theory the partners in the new Iraq. However, the recent uncoordinated moves to employ Iraqi forces in disputed territories, the order for Kurds to evacuate offices in Diyala and the passing of the provincial election bill on 22nd July 2008 amidst a Kurdish boycott, does not just highlight puzzling motives in the Baghdad camp but smacks of a great deal of insincerity towards the Kurds.

Furthermore, coupled with the non-adoption of article 140, attempts to nullify oil exploration contracts awarded by KRG oil ministry and the annual squabbling over the Kurdish share of the national budget, this clearly does not just represent common democratic disputes but points to a general agenda against the Kurds.

There is currently a feverish campaign to discredit the Kurdish administration. This anti-Kurdish hysteria is designed to undermine the Kurds, and promote the perception of the Kurds as over-reaching, encouraging problems in ethnically mixed-cities and as obstacles to Iraqi progression.

This motion places pressure on Kurds to over-compromise or even cede certain demands. But the moment Kurds accepts crumbs, when they are entitled to their share of bread, then the ultimate result is Baghdad hegemony over the north, and in turn a heavy reliance by Erbil for economic and social support.

If Iraq is democratic as the brochure entails, then the Iraqi constitution is a real achievement for the Iraqi nation and should be heralded. However in Iraq, there is an ironic perception that abiding by such democratic values is the actual threat, not the solution.

As such Kurdish demands for the adoption of the constitution are a fair and legal obligation. Any article of the constitution should only be amended by a popular vote, not by hasty pro-Arab politicians. The constitution is the legal red-line. If Baghdad decides against any portion of the constitution and national power-sharing, then they are again choosing authoritarianism over democracy and Kurds should have no part of this project.

Kurdistan President, Massaud Barzani, in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat issued a damning assessment, and raised doubt that Baghdad views them as partners. The increasingly frustrated Barzani accused the Iraqi government of “monopolising authority” while pointing to a prevailing totalitarian mentality and has warned that voiding any part of the constitution will rip Iraq apart.

Kurds have proved a vital cog since the fall of Saddam when Arab factions were pointing guns at each other, by ensuring security and promoting national reconciliation. Now with the security improving in places such as Diyala, the Iraqi forces now threaten to point the gun at the Kurds. All this denotes to a campaign to diminish the Kurdish role in mixed areas and thus make political resolutions more one-sided.

Kurds could have taken advantage of the Iraqi bloodshed by annexing disputed lands, now their quest for legal justice may have worked against them.

Iraqi lawmakers that are genuine about driving the new Iraq must root out elements and ill-intentioned hands pushing for escalation and confrontation. Any Baghdad conspiracy to return all Kurdish forces to the blue line is a sure way of provoking armed conflict sooner or later. These are early doors in the new Iraq, if the right moves are not taken at its foundation, then there is really no hope.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.