Tag Archives: Iraq Federalism

The regional fear of the disintegration of Iraq is out-dated, it has already happened.

The fear of the disintegration of Iraq is hardly breaking news. A persistent theme of the past 9 or so years of the new Iraq has been how to preserve unity and bring about true national reconciliation amongst a climate of deep mistrust.

Iraq in its transition to democracy may have achieved historical junctures but it has often stumbled to its milestones as opposed to a painless arrival at its new dawn.

More often than not, the major achievements in Iraq were underscored by heavy US pressure and much political jockeying and drama in Baghdad. As successive crisis”s have brewed, a semblance of calm were somewhat reinstated in the short-term by last minute dealings but too often at the expense of any long-term benefits. A policy of brushing key issues under the political rug always ran the risk of haunting the Iraqi political arena at some stage and just days after the US symbolic withdrawal from Iraq, another explosive crisis reared its ugly head in Iraq.

If the issues are been assessed at the surface then one can argue that current turmoil was instigated by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki”s issuance of an arrest warrant against Iraq”s Sunni Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashemi and the subsequent ploy to sideline Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak from power. However, the water has been boiling on the sieve for several months and for one reason or another, it wouldn”t have taken much to tip sentiments over the edge.

Just take the current brittle coalition that was remarkably concluded after 11 months and set an unwanted world record. That in itself sums up all that is needed to explain the current upheaval and instability.

Even though Iyad Allawi”s predominantly Sunni-based al-Iraqiya group were the ultimate victors at the polls, they were threatened with been marginalised by al-Maliki”s Shiite Coalition. Months of wrangling ensured agreement on power-sharing but more through gritted teeth than true brotherly reconciliation.

Once al-Iraqiya didn”t get the empowered it demanded and real decision making authority, it was always a question of time before the political landscape would be rocked once more. Almost 2 years since the national elections, a number of key positions remain unfulfilled and still in the hands of al-Maliki in what was supposedly a temporary basis.

Turkish anxiety has dramatically increased by unfolding events, leading Ankara to go back and forth between Baghdad and Washington in recent weeks and warning about the dangers of an Iraqi disintegration. Although Turkey may have chosen to ignore reality for a while, the writing has been on the Iraqi wall for decades and particularly these past 9 years.

There is no danger of Iraqi fragmentation. It is already fragmented and now it”s only question of just how far the disintegration will go and regional countries must accept that reality sooner or later. Democracy has been fraught with difficulty in Iraq with voting along heavy sectarian and ethnic lines. Voting has been almost akin to a de facto national census than a true national voice gathering exercise.

While Turkey and neighbouring countries seemingly worked to promote national harmony and reconciliation in Iraq, ironically they have been responsible for the entrenchment of camps in Iraq.

Successive Shiite governments have swayed heavily towards Tehran, whilst Sunni groups, essentially marginalised from power from their heyday under Saddam Hussein, have worked to force a hand at the political table through the threat of insurgency or through jockeying in the political chambers. Turkmen have used the big brother threat, calling on the support of Turkey to ensure their cards on the table are not ignored, while for the Kurds it has been a case of not letting the rest of Iraq drag the prosperous Kurdistan Region down with them and at the same time building strategic ties to boost their autonomous status and growing economic clout.

How regional sectarian influence continues to grip Iraq can be seen with al-Maliki”s persistent support of the much maligned and under fire Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

This week al-Iraqiya kept up their boycott of Iraq”s parliament and cabinet accusing al-Maliki of monopolising power and not abiding by the terms that led to the eventual breakthrough of the current coalition.

Accusations of the centralising of power by al-Maliki is hardly new, it was a frequent criticism throughout the last election term.

With the importance of upholding calm and dialogue seemingly at large, a national conference has been proposed that should be held sometime this month. A national conference may save the day in the short-term as did the Erbil agreement but true concord may prove elusive once more.

No amount of political manoeuvring at the end of the day can paper over deep mistrust and animosity.  Even if national elections were held early, the end game would be the same. There is no guarantee that Iraq would not end up at the same juncture after new elections are held whilst the key ingredients that continuously poison the political atmosphere remain.

As for now, it is unlikely that al-Maliki will relinquish his firm grip on power. While al-Maliki has been under intense domestic and regional spotlight, he may escape this current escapade largely unscathed. Al-Iraqiya have used the threat of boycott but with so many Sunni”s in their ranks badly scarred from the boycott campaigns of the previous campaigns, it is unclear just how far the loyalty of their MPs stretch.

The current political tension may have hurt al-Iraqiya further with 11 politicians already revoking their ties to the alliance.  Al-Iraqiya MPs are mindful that further boycotts or spotlight may see more positions of power been relinquished to the powerful Shiite alliance.

The biggest danger is a coalition without al-Iraqiya altogether where al-Maliki musters support from Kurds and al-Iraqiya dissidents, a scenario that would certainly place sectarian tensions into overdrive. The recent spate of initiatives towards autonomy by predominantly Sunni provinces is an indicator of growing Sunni fear that preservation of local power aside, the may be confound to a running battle to avoid been sidelined in Baghdad.

The Kurds, who have attempted to remain neutral, once again find themselves with all the aces. Only with Kurdish support could al-Iraqiya spearhead a new government and only with Kurdish support could al-Maliki be ousted from government.

Logic would dictate that after many failed promises by al-Maliki towards the Kurds, including the lack of implementation of the vast majority of conditions that he signed up to as a prelude to Kurdish support, the Kurds would side with al-Iraqiya. However, the new crisis and the key Kurdish role of calming tensions, gives the opportunity for the Kurds to preserve al-Maliki”s seat and the current coalition, but no doubt with much sterner warnings and conditions for the Shiite Alliance and al-Maliki.

The fact remains that all too often al-Maliki has boldly reneged on agreements with Kurds and has simply gotten away with it, even as the Kurds have saved al-Maliki”s political skin on more than occasion. The issue of disputed territories remains as open and pertinent as ever, Baghdad remains at loggerheads with the Kurds on oil sharing and Baghdad has been hardly provided a positive endorsement of growing Kurdish strategic clout and prosperity. It is time for the Kurds to use their aces wisely.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Amidst Political Wrangling, the Existing Guiding Light in Iraq, the Constitution, is sidelined.

Hopes for a swift ratification of the provincial election law, after parliament’s summer recess, have been dashed with the negotiations assuming the same protracted path.

Further attempts at reaching a compromise agreement have only culminated in heightened emotions in rival camps. Earlier this week Kurdish lawmakers rejected amendments to the elections law regarding Kirkuk, a city fast becoming the Iraqi thorn most dreaded. The UN envoy, led by Steffan de Mistura, in tune with their Iraqi counterparts have been slow in  proposing solutions acceptable to all sides, almost a year after been charged with resolving the crisis over article 140.

However, disputes over Kirkuk and the shaping of the election law is just a tip of the iceberg in mounting friction between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region. Debates still rage on claims of Kurdish advances beyond their “zone” of influence, the share of the Iraqi budget, status and integration of Kurdish forces into the Iraqi army and the formation of a new hydrocarbon law, which with the record oil prices on the global stage has added extra bite to the distribution ofstaggering oil revenues.

Somewhat ironically, Kurdish-Shiite relations were strong as the fledgling democratic motion took grip in Iraq. Both sides formed a productive and solid alliance in the mayhem that ensued after the Iraqi liberation. Understanding was commonplace on the blueprint of Iraq, non-better highlighted than the passing of the Iraqi constitution in 2005, despite some key differences. 

So much as agreement on federalism, Kirkuk and definition of the new Iraq highlighted the promising signs of democracy and all the trappings of classic compromise at the time, in hindsight the tentative agreements only veiled a ticking time-bomb.

It is no coincidence that as Nouri al-Maliki’s government has grown in power and military confidence, their stance has been continually more authoritarian and rigid in execution. Whilst al-Maliki can certainly be accredited for installing growing security and taking impartial action against rogue elements as an Iraqi strongman, it must not be forgotten that he is only the head of a coalition cabinet and is appointed to serve the whole of sovereign Iraq.

Clearly, a strong government in the midst of many destabilising elements in Iraq and contentious neighbours is a necessity for Iraqi progression. However, this must be based on the virtues of democracy and pluralism. Swaying of a military might and the associated threats this brings is simply unacceptable.

Beyond all the issues currently tainting relations between Kurdistan Region and Baghdad, lies the quandary of power. The Kurds, after a painful and unforgettable experience in the Iraqi experiment, are naturally careful to safeguard their gains as well as their future. The thirst for Kurdish strength comes in the quest for self-sustainability and self-sufficiency. For them, only greater autonomy as part of a federal structure will enforce that.

Mistrust and animosity, simply can not be wiped by a mentally-scarred nation. Conversely, it’s unwise to assume that all the Baathist elements that created Saddam Hussein and Arab hegemony have simply disappeared because Saddam statues and pictures are no longer in sight.

As Kurds strive for protection and implementation of a strong region, in turn this rattles the cages in Baghdad who in fear of inhibiting a weak status and losing national sway, invariably want to show who is still boss in Iraq.

If the rest of Iraq is genuine about partnership and a harmonious existence, then any achievement or gains in Kurdistan should be heralded and not despised.

The negative campaign to discredit the Kurdistan region and tarnish the image of the Kurds is unwelcome. Clearly, some politicians in Baghdad have been inducing and taking advantage of bitter stand-offs, with the aim of weakening the Kurdish position.

A future based on dialogue and federalism is the safety-net for all of Iraq, from Arbil to Basra. If Kurds ask for anything more than stated in the adopted constitution, then Baghdad will have a point.

Much of the current disputes including Kirkuk, oil sharing and federalism were already agreed and approved by 80% of the Iraqi population. There is already a strong basis for the shaping of Iraq.

Although US officials have continuously backed the constitution, after all it represent the exact democratic beacon that they claimed to bring, they have avoided taking sides in the debacle – even as democracy they have doggedly heralded is undermined, to safeguard their own achievements in their troubled adventures in Iraq.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

‘Time for Realism’ But is it Really the Kurds in Need of a Reality Check?

Evidently, the Kurds have excelled under de-facto autonomy since 2003, whilst the rest of Iraq has been in turmoil and insurgency. However, it is often forgotten that Kurds have been practicing self-rule and increasing prosperity since 1991. Kurds chose to rejoin Iraq under a ‘voluntary’ union, whilst inheriting their pre-2003 status.

Depending on your source of news and political oratory, Kurds may be portrayed as a rather small rebellious group that has consumed more than its entitlement and has made unlawful gains whilst subsequently blocking national reconciliation. Common reference to ‘time for Kurdish realism’, Kurdish unilateralism, overreaching, land grabbing and disproportionate share of power, portrays a rather indifferent, greedy, inconsiderate and outrageous picture of the Kurds. 

Perhaps, neighbours, politicians and foreign analysts, simply fail to observe eight decades of Kurdish history let alone the rich-history and culture dating back thousands of years. Admittedly, the rise to prominence is unparalleled in a remarkable short period of time in comparison to their lost and neglected existence for several decades before that. However, by no means should a tale of rags-to-the-riches be perceived as over-ambitious tendencies or overreaching.

The Kurds were harshly treated as second-class citizens and obstacles to the ideals of successive regimes. Neighbours Iran and Turkey and other Kurdish critics with their own agendas, should take note that the real parties in need of a reality check are not the Kurds. Days of denials, systematic persecution and crimes against humanity in the knowledge that the world would turn a blind eye is over.

Clearly the Kurds are reaching a critical conjecture in their history. After enduring decades of pain and sacrifice to rewrite partial wrongs and misfortunes of history, the Kurds must do all they can to patiently safeguard their historical gains and strategic standing. Swaying to the pressure and unjust rhetoric of Arabs, Turks and the like may well set the Kurds back decades more.

This is an opportunity for the Kurds via democratic and diplomatic means, in true contrast to their oppressors, correct the wrongs of the past and stand-up to chauvinism, aggression and belittling by other nationalists in the region.

Kurds must not allow foreign parties to dictate their fortune and destiny once more or be used as pawns in the greater schemes of global powers. This is nothing short of political suicide.

In Iraq, where the Kurds control the only stable, prosperous and peaceful part of the country, Arab Sunnis and Shiites after battling each other relentlessly for years, are now slowly uniting against the Kurds.

With a political memorandum issued by Arabs parties, the aim was clearly to halt Kurdish gains and impede their ‘overreaching’. A normalisation of Kirkuk, jurisdiction over oil, distribution of budget and regional authority had all been key conditions for Kurdish coalitions in government. Baghdad has been dragging its feet for years over Kirkuk and now Baghdad’s self-imposed actions that culminated in the missed referendum in 2007, are been used to annul article 140 of the constitution.

Reversal of past policies and crimes is the first litmus test of whether Arab mentalities really have changed or democracy can really be achieved. However, rather than stick to constitutional principles, Baghdad and their neighbours are simply looking at the unilateral aspect of Kurds inheriting oil in Kirkuk. Oil or no oil, money should not tamper the rights of inhabitants to return to the homes of their fore-fathers and to decide their fate.

The Iraqi flag imposed by Baathist leaders should have been the first to change and not grudgingly in 2008. After all it is the very symbol of a country. Yet more strikingly, the Iraqi national budget continues to remain stalled due yet again to a perception of transgression of boundaries by Kurds.

Disputes over provisional powers and rights of regions to explore oil, are again designed to put a spanner in Kurdish advancement. Clearly, Baghdad is now deflecting the blame for a lack of national reconciliation onto ‘uncompromising’ Kurds.

Ironically, as Kurds should be commended for their hard-fought gains, democracy, economy and a model of religious tolerance, they are been harshly judged as overstepping the mark.

Anywhere else, rectifying wrongs of the past, embarking on economic achievements and prominence against remarkable odds would be applauded, however clearly this would not happen in Iraq or neighbouring countries, only simply because in this instance it is the ‘impudent’ Kurds who stand to endure benefit and prosperity.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Hewler Post (Kurdish), Peyamner, Various Misc.

New Dispute Over National Budget Marks Mounting Friction Between KRG and Baghdad

The Iraqi Political Paradigm – taking one step forward and two back.

The transitional road to democracy in Iraq has been symbolised by protracted negotiations, widespread animosity and mistrust and above all a lack of lasting compromise. However, in spite of the recent commendations by the US administration and the United Nations on progress in Iraq and the desire and effort to establish national reconciliation, particularly with the disenfranchised Sunni Arab population, fundamental problems continue to haunt Iraq.

The fulcrum of national discord is a long-running feud and increasing divide between the largely autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad, on a number of highly-contentious issues.

Often in Iraqi politics, much to the frustration of a disillusioned population and their foreign occupiers, where Iraqis take a step forward in striking the right reconciliatory tones, other deep-seated issues plaguing the social horizon, means it habitually takes two steps back.

On paper, two major milestones were achieved in Iraq recently. Firstly, the Iraqi parliament unanimously passed a law to allow certain ex-Baathist Party officials to return to public life, fulfilling a key demand of embittered Sunnis.

Secondly, the Iraqi parliament voted in a majority over a draft to modify the existing flag by removing the three stars that served as an icon of Baathist Party ideology, to satisfy demands by Kurds who refused to fly a flag that symbolised all the misfortune and suffering that they had endured under it.

Although it marked a rare union in the National Assembly, in essence the urgency of taking a swift measure to change the flag, where similar initiatives had been rejected in the past, was the threat of a great embarrassment that would have engulfed the Iraqi government at the planned meeting of pan-Arab parliamentarians in Kurdistan, had the Iraqi national flag not been raised on a territory of a member of the Arab League.

To blight short-lived hope, as agreement over the new temporary national flag was embraced, almost simultaneously another hot-issue came to the fore. Over three weeks into the new year, the Iraqi national budget for 2008, allocating some 49 billions dollars, is dramatically stalled.

At the heart of the debate are objections from Sunnis and particularly from the ruling Shiite alliance, whose traditional alliance with the Kurds is diminishing, on the allocation of 17% the national budget to the KRG. The Kurds had also insisted that the Kurdish Peshmerga should be paid out of the national defence budget as a legitimate “Iraqi” defence force. Other reservations, stemmed from the lack of accountability of government spending over the last few years and the perceived lack of strategy and clarity as to how the budget will be affectively spent to tackle key areas of poverty and unemployment.

In reality, the dispute over the national budget is an off-shoot of the bitter disagreement over the Iraqi hydrocarbon law all that was all but postponed indefinitely due to deepening disagreements between the fractious groups in Iraq, over the rights and jurisdiction of regions in the distribution of Iraq’s immense oil wealth.

Add the heated-disputes over the unilateral signing of oil-exploration contracts by the KRG in defiance of the oil ministry and the increasingly shaky-ties with Prime Minister al-Maliki’s Shiite alliance become ever noticeable.

All the while in the foreground, politicians stutter towards a much-publicised drive to bring the nation closer to reconciliation, reconstruction and stability.

Recent Arab motions to effectively reign-in what they perceive as Kurdish overreaching only served to fuel increasing antagonism.

150 Arab lawmakers, including both Shiites and Sunnis, issued a memorandum criticising the ‘go-it-alone’ mindset of the Kurds and attributing their stance on the holding of the much-delayed referendum on oil-rich Kirkuk, and signing of independent oil-deals as a threat against national unity.

As tensions simmer, the Sunni population continue to demand more influence in the national security forces, more representation in government and more of a direct sway on the future blueprint of Iraq, starting with the amendments to the Iraqi constitution which they see as unrepresentative of Sunnis who largely boycotted the vote.

However, despite the recent much-hailed gestures, meeting bold Sunni demands, whilst simultaneously seeking concord between the KRG and Baghdad, would be near impossible, at the current way each party is driving their bargain at the negotiating table.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Hewler Post (Kurdish), Peyamner, Various Misc.