Tag Archives: KRG

Moving forward in Kurdistan and setting the stage for change

As demonstrations and protests across Sulaimanyia rage past its third week, what is resoundingly clear is that the Kurdistan government needs a detailed plan of action to deal with grievances and to cater for the demands and voices of the people. Ultimately, it’s the people that sway governance, and leaders and politicians can only assume power based on jurisdiction, stewardship and mandate from the people.

At the end of the day, when the people talk the politicians must listen. The reason is simple, other than the evident fact that politicians are elected to serve the people, above all the very people that bring you to power, can just as easily take you off it. However, the basis for this is purely by democratic, constitutional and non-violent means.

Whilst an aurora of negativity and hopelessness has somewhat underpinned the current situation in Kurdistan, the events that have unfolded should be heralded as potentially serving as the crucial milestone in the democratic, political and social evolvement of the Region.

If utilised affectively, the much publicised protests and heated political discussions can serve as the launch pad to a greater Kurdistan.

All sides including the KRG have openly admitted the need for reform. It’s no secret that Kurdistan has many deficiencies that if not addressed pragmatically and systematically will hamper the Kurdish national existence.

The question is not whether Kurdistan needs reforms but it is finding common ground on what aspects require reform, the extent of the reforms and how the reforms will be implemented.

Any reform package needs to be unanimously agreed in parliament with clear responsibilities, timescales and no ambiguity in the mechanism for its implementation.

For this affective reform to take place, the ruling parties and the opposition must work closely together.  A balanced, constructive and partisan atmosphere is required for such motions to prove successful.

With the Gorran Movement facilitating as the first real opposition in Kurdistan, this was undoubtedly a major accomplishment in the Kurdish democratic lifecycle. An affective opposition is needed in any democracy to act as a check for the performance and actions of the government and to act as the pressure point to induce the government into real change.

The opposition should serve as a reminder to the ruling parties that should they fail, then there is another party ready to assume the mantle. The onset of opposition should highlight to the government that real results are needed, that they need to raise the bar in winning over the people and fulfilling electoral pledges, because if they don’t then a real competitor is ready to pounce.

Just take a look at the Labour party in the UK, after a number of landslide victories over the Conservative party, they were emphatically ousted last year as the people lost trust and patience, much as they had done with Tory rule prior to 1997. Now, the conservative led coalition is under fierce pressure to deliver on their election promises and ensure that reforms they have proposed are implemented affectively.

The labour party, far from downbeat, are already sharpening their political knives to win the people over once more.

However, Gorran has many deficiencies of its own in terms of its approach to assuming power and dismantling the current government. In this light, Gorran has failed thus far to showcase itself as a viable alternative power. Gorran lacks a clear programme or political manifesto to highlight what it intends to do once it is in power and exactly how they intend to enact the changes needed in Kurdistan that they supposedly epitomise.

Gorran needs to work more as a productive force than a destructive force in propelling the Kurdistan Region to new prominence and evolvement. What Kurdistan now needs is a national opposition party and not just a localised opposition movement. The elections in 2009 clearly showed that the KDP and PUK still mustered a significant support base.

The recent events in Sulaimanyia have illustrated the polarised nature of the Kurdish political landscape. Just this week, marking the 20th anniversary of the Kurdish uprising, one side of Sulaimanyia was in fierce protests whilst another PUK dominated side were waving political flags and orchestrating political rallies. When anti-government and pro-government camps become entrenched, it commonly highlights the lack of moderate voices and balanced approach to fermenting change and ultimately it is the people that suffer.

Clearly, those who state that the KRG has achieved nothing are short-sighted as are those who claim that the government has no deficiencies. There have been tremendous achievements in the Kurdistan Region in a short time period. However, this should in no way whatsoever serve as an excuse by the ruling parties to devolve, rest on their laurels and overlook the corruption, extensive bureaucracy, lack of public services and missing political accountability that is also rife.

As such the proposition by Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani to hold new elections must be embraced as a significant and bold step. It is just the right tonic to settle upset political stomachs in the region. This move, which was a clear stipulation by Gorran must endorsed and not diluted by further unrealistic demands. The calls by Gorran for the dissolution of the government prior to elections bear no weight.

This is the same government that was overwhelmingly elected by the people less than two years ago under the watchful eye of the international community. This government remains the legitimate authority of the Kurdistan people. In any Western country, even when there has been widespread condemnation of the government or a serious political storm where new elections have been called, governments have not been dissolved prior to the holding of the elections.

In an extraordinary session in parliament this week, the current KRG cabinet survived a vote of no confidence by a clear majority. Now the government needs to urgently investigate the unfortunate attacks on the media outlets, the attack on the KDP offices, the most tragic killing of a number of protestors and the burning of Gorran buildings.

Reform packages will not be implemented overnight or in mere weeks, it will likely be the job of the next elected government to carry out proposed reforms. In the meantime, now is when electoral campaigning should begin. All political parties should make clear their political manifesto and programmes and then it’s down to the people to ultimately decide who they trust to deliver to them.

New elections are an important step at this sensitive juncture as it’s a chance for political parties and politicians to renew oaths and validity with their people. Political parties need to retain the trust of the people and renew the mandate from the people to rule once more. This is why without new elections and clear choice of the people, the situation in Kurdistan will have deteriorated into a nightmare political scenario.

At the end of the day, the voice of the people either at the ballot box or on the streets doesn’t lie. Therefore, whoever wins the next elections is the undisputed choice of the people to run the next government.

The main political parties in Kurdistan should run on separate lists, this way it can be clear who attained the votes and ensure power is representative of the will of the people.  It also makes the election process more transparent by having clear choices on the electoral lists.

Regardless of who comes to power, there needs to be an impartial reform committee to oversee the proposed changes and reform packages on the table. Reform can only take place through the Kurdistan parliament and must have the overall consensus of all parties. Negotiations require moderation and compromise and can never be one-sided.

While positive seeds are potentially sown in Kurdistan in hoping of bringing evolvement, prosperity and new opportunity, it will be criminal to forget that Kurdistan is an entity that still suffers from great handicaps in Iraq and the Region. The stance of the Kurdish parties must be differentiated between the importance of serving Kurds in Kurdistan and the serving of Kurdistan in Iraq. Disunity at home must not be at the expense of Kurdistan national interests in Baghdad.

While key reforms are implemented in Kurdistan, the list of key demands made by Kurds in the Iraqi government negotiations must not be overlooked. The Kurdish politicians should be squarely held accountable if any of these 19 points are not achieved as much as the reform packages that need to be implemented internally.

Let there be no doubt to any Kurdish party, internal Kurdish issues can never be resolved in Baghdad. As a nation that fought bitterly for self-rule and federalism, Kurdish issues should remain within the Kurdistan parliament which was created for this clear purpose.

Its time for Kurdistan to move on and build for the future.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Placing the events in Kurdistan within context

The winds of change that have swept across the Middle East have been nothing short of remarkable and a breeze of fresh air in the decades of poisonous policies, repression and social stagnation that has suffocated the people.

It is easy to forget that only 20 years ago, Kurdistan was subject to the same barbaric rule and wide scale suffocation under the oppressive Baathist regime. Great credit must go to the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan people for their bravery, determination and the largely bloodless manner in which they have arisen and orchestrated their phenomenal social revolutions.

In the midst of the great hysteria that has been created by alarming developments in Suleimaniya where week-long demonstrations have resulted in 3 dead and over 100 wounded, the situation in Kurdistan has been blown out of context.

The idea that the current Kurdistan regime should be assessed in the same breadth as the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan dictators who have ruled with an iron-fist for literally decades is wide of the mark.

This fact is not designed to hide, diminish or obscure the reality that Kurdistan is in need of significant reform, or to conceal the corruption, nepotism or centralisation of the economy and the media that has plagued the development of Kurdistan.

There is a fundamental basis for the propagation of evolution in the Kurdistan Region but any notion promoting revolutionary uprising lacks perspective. There is no denying that Kurdistan needs change a clear plan for reform and the politicians need the right tonic for accountability, pressure to deliver and transparency in their work.

Kurdistan is need of a more liberal economy, independent judicial system, more independent media, more accountability and less bureaucracy.

However, the notion that Kurdistan is undemocratic and that the people live under an authoritarian cloud is simply mustered by people wishing to greatly diminish Kurdish advancement and a strike a blow at their strategic goals.

While the Gorran Movement has clearly been a welcome development in the Kurdish democratic experience, providing the first real opposition in parliament, great responsibility falls on them as well as the ruling parties.

If Gorran can instigate the reform and addressing of the deficiencies that have been highlighted earlier in this article, then this will be nothing short of a positive contribution and a milestone for the Region. But Gorran, who has an undoubted support base, must also take full accountability that their strong statements calling for the dissolving of the government and questioning the impartiality of the security forces amongst others are simply unproductive.

Gorran accepted the outcome of the elections in 2009, so if the elections were so badly plagued and do not reflect the will of the majority, why then wait until now to renounce the elections? Furthermore, the elections were orchestrated under heavy monitoring and international observation and were in the main deemed fair and representative elections by the various bodies.

Unlike other countries in the region, the people had a number of parties to choose from and a number of candidates to select in the presidential race.

Any show of people on the streets, be it in the tens, hundreds or thousands, must be taken seriously and by no means is the protests in Suleimaniya to be taken lightly. Peaceful protests are an important way for people to be heard and the government must take stock of their demands. Furthermore, the actions that resulted in the deaths of three protestors must be investigated to the full extent of the law.

The ability of the people to peacefully protest and express their public discontent is one of the cornerstones of democracy. However, under any law especially in the UK and the US, demonstrations must not infringe the rights and liberties of others, induce vandalism or propagate violence.

The small group of demonstrators who turned on the KDP building in Suleimaniya were after only thing – mass controversy and publicity. Exactly who orchestrated this deviation from the mainly peaceful protests is open to debate, but clearly the intention was to manipulate these events to portray the government as barbaric and merciless towards any opponents of its rule. A regional hand in these affairs can not be ruled out – this form of instability and tension can play in the hands of many an adversary of the Kurdish region.

In light of a lack of evidence, claims and counter claims have been all too frequent. The events have clearly polarised opinion from anti-Gorran or anti-government. After the riots and attack on the KDP offices, the fires were inevitably stoked further with the burning of the Gorran buildings in the KDP controlled areas.

Security forces should have done all they can to protect the KDP building in Suleimaniya, whilst with the knowledge that Gorran offices would have become an evident target in the KDP controlled areas, those offices should also have been guarded.

The onus is now on the government to fully investigate all these events and show clearly to the people that as the ruling authority that they will not take any such matters lightly.

But clearly, the events in Suleimaniya are not reflective of the will of the greater sections of the Kurdish people. There were no demonstrations or uprising in the provinces of Duhok or Erbil.

Ironically, the KDP has little sway over the Suleimaniya powerbase which has long been administered by the PUK. Even then, the current administrative and political foundations in Suleimaniya have been contributed to by the Gorran movement. After all, they were directly or indirectly a technical and administrative part of the current setup for so long.  Through attacks on KDP office and subsequent reprisal attacks on Gorran offices, the aim by some elements was to turn the events into a national furore.

Unlike the recent events in North Africa, where the majority regardless of class or social background rose up, the events of the past week do not represent a national uprising.

Both the KDP and PUK still muster strong support and in the event of any future election they are likely to attain the majority of votes once again. At the present time, Gorran’s support is regional and not entrenched nationally. If Gorran rises as a political force due to a genuine and increasing support base, then this can only be embraced.

Above all the unfortunate events, it must not be forgotten that be it Gorran, PUK or KDP, that every party is empowered to serve the Kurds and Kurdistan. No party should work towards their own interests, but only for the interest of their people.

The current controversies, burning of political offices and endemic media attacks only serve the opponents of the Kurdistan Region.

No events in Kurdistan must detract from the importance of unity in Baghdad. Any discussions on internal shortfalls of the Kurdistan region in the Baghdad parliament will hardly be met with positive ears by Arab parties.

Without a doubt disunity has long been a Kurdish downfall. All the political parties must come together to enhance Kurdish goals and resolve current disputes with the Baghdad government including Kirkuk and oil sharing.

Many a Kurdish politician has taken the status of Kurdistan for granted. Kurdistan is still fresh in its existence and its foundations have yet to even dry.

The meeting of all the political parties with view to reaching consensus and common grounding is a positive development. Escalating tension and resentment is to the detriment of every side.

Kurdistan needs more moderates, balanced media and more of those who seek reconciliation. In addition to the highly regrettable deaths, the attack and burning of the NRT TV station after their coverage of events was most unfortunate.

Rogue elements who decided to take matters in their own hand to “punish” NRT, only paint a bad picture for the whole administration.

Those who claim that nothing has been achieved in Kurdistan for the past 20 years or so are short-sighted. Only 20 years ago, Kurdish lives were tainted with misfortune, suffering and destruction. Kurdistan was the long-time warzone of Iraq. It had no infrastructure and a basic economy, let alone any political representation or international recognition.

Progress in Kurdistan in the short time since liberation has been nothing short of remarkable. The ruling parties (including members that now constitute Gorran) have played a strong had in the gains and current status-quo. However, by no means should this represent an excuse to stagnate, to ignore the need for reform or not to evolve in the many channels required.

Any party that rests on their laurels and takes their power base for granted leads to degenerative politics, this is why the role of Gorran as a real opposition force is so important – it should ferment the right pressure and productive hand to ensure the governments improves and raises the bar in standards, for the benefit of the people and the Region.

Any opposition group is there to seek power, if Gorran want to win the next election then the onus is on them to entice the people with a clear manifesto and plans for reform. But the playing field is politics and affective campaigning, not means of sensationalism and mass controversy. Gorran must prove that they will not succumb to the same corruption and bureaucracy if they come to power.

In summary, no events should mask the fact that Kurdistan is need of great reform and evolvement, but the path towards this is through democratic channels and on the basis of propelling the interest of Kurds and Kurdistan, no one else.

Whether you are KDP, PUK or Gorran, your only remit is to serve the very people who have elected you. It is time for all these major parties to come around the table and prove to their citizens that they will do all they can for the benefit of Kurdistan, democracy and unity.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

The missing ingredients in Kurdistan’s economy

From decades of repression and barbaric rule, the rise to prominence and political prosperity for the Kurdistan Region has been nothing short of remarkable.

As the Region has undergone significant transformation, the expectations of the population have exponentially grown.

Nowadays new airports, luxury malls, classy restaurants, highways and skyscrapers have become an accustomed part of the Kurdish horizon. Long perceived as an existential threat, the only invasion by neighboring countries was from Iranian and Turkish companies flocking to the region to strengthen their hand economically, culturally and politically.

However, whilst the Kurdistan Region has literally become “the other Iraq”, new lofty buildings and brand new cars do not always paint the most accurate picture of economic progression, social equilibrium and the path of development that needs to ensue.

Such rapid progress is unmistakable and has attracted the plaudits of many but in truth the establishment of the foundations of a healthy and vibrant economy goes much further than infrastructure that takes the eye.

Without the establishment and promotion of a number of key ingredients that underpin economic affluence, long-term growth and sustainability cannot be achieved.

There is great risk that the economic growth is faster than the current infrastructure or social apparatus is able to support. At the current time, the price of land and real estate has sky rocketed, with the price of rent been driven to new levels by those relocating across the more volatile south.

Generally, whist the cost of living has rapidly increased, the standard of living has not necessarily kept the same pace.

There are certain dangers that if the imbalances are not adequately addressed, it may not only derail economic progression but also the strategic goals of the Region.

The factors that underline a healthy economy is maintaining and protecting growth whilst controlling inflation. At the same time, ensuring that the economy is sustainable and safeguarded against a number of outside risks that come as a result of globalization.

As such self-preservation is crucial for Kurds to safeguard their current prosperity. After all, the Kurds need no reminders about their not so distant past. Only a few years ago, the Kurds enjoyed frosty relationships with its neighbors who frequently threatened to invade, while less than two decades ago, Kurdistan was subject to genocide and destruction.

Self-sufficiency is pinnacle to the survival and economic independence of a nation. In this regard, agriculture is the cornerstone of an effective and healthy economy and the bread-basket of its people.

Ironically, for a land and a people who established their existence over thousands of years on utilizing highly arable lands and agriculture, Kurdistan has a strong dependency on neighboring countries to feed it.

The government needs to introduce firm incentives for ordinary Kurds to return to agriculture and farming that most abandoned for the dependability of city life. Such people need access to modern tools, subsidies from the government but also the same level of education and public services as they would enjoy in the cities.

One of the reasons people flocked to the cities was partially due to scorched earth policies of Saddam but also due to the contrasting conditions across Kurdistan. While the main cities have witnessed marked progress, this is not necessarily reflected across the entire Region.

The Kurdish market is very much import driven with little exportation aside from oil. As a result, Kurdistan relies heavily on outside parties for everything from building materials to consumer items.

The Region may have an abundance of oil, meaning that it has tremendous purchasing potential but without economic diversity this leaves a fragile economy that is susceptible to outside market conditions. The Region has the potential to export many other items. With adequate infrastructure and production capabilities in the future, the Region can support its own growth and also ensure that money stays internally.

There are simply not enough Kurdish made items, factories or production lines to underpin the economy, and a private sector that is far too embryonic for people to stop relying on the government.

While there is a very weak banking system, no affective system of taxation, an infant IT infrastructure at best and a lack of self-sufficiency, the economy cannot be deemed strong.

There needs to be an economic cycle, whereby as the economy prospers, there is more money to spend and a higher budget for the government who in turn plough more money back into public infrastructure and society.

With the majority of people working directly for the government and essentially reliant upon the state, over 60% of the regional budget is consumed solely by salaries. Whereas in the majority of the Western world, not only is this typically less than 20% but the government has even more revenue through both ordinary and corporate taxation.

The rapid growth in Kurdistan needs new ways of thinking and close monitoring. Quality assurance and compliance to international building and management standards is imperative. Ever increasing construction is fine but can we be sure that they are of the highest standards?

This makes economic regulation of paramount importance. Investment and business must comply with law and be transparent in nature.

With a growing social infrastructure and roads packed with cars, there now needs to be environmental regulations to protect Kurdistan’s future. The environment and the future of the children simply cannot be traded off for more money and infrastructure projects on the ground.

One of the greatest dangers in today’s Kurdistan is the evident divide between the rich and the poor. New luxury foreign style villages may be iconic in our social heritage but ultimately this is confided to those able to purchase such expensive homes. New parts of Erbil aside, old parts still suffer from a lack of basic services.

The Region still has a shortage of electricity, an inadequate sewage system and medical care that is not all encompassing. As the economy advances, there needs to be a social welfare balance to narrow the rich-poor divide and ensure taxes are paid based on one’s capability.

While, the Kurdistan government has an investment law that rivals any of that in the Region, this should not be at the expense of encouraging a skilled local workforce which is currently lacking.

In this light, education and training should be the building blocks of the economy. The Region is overly reliant on foreign skills, which more training, qualifications and education can address.

Above any of the factors mentioned above, the mentalities of the people need to change for real progress to ensue. There is a lack of professionalism amongst the workforce and a lack of accountability in employment.

People often want to do the minimum to become as rich as quick as possible. Once the private sector really takes hold, this is when there can be more professionalism, competitiveness and a desire to improve skills sets.

In Western countries, economic conditions and business dealings are bound by tight regulations and a systemized way of working. Workers have clear contracts with employers that drive their terms and conditions, salary and working hours, with both sides afforded rights under legislation. In Kurdistan, such systemized working conditions are lacking and employers do not always drive the highest of returns.

This is because too many jobs in Kurdistan are provided by the government which become a safety net and are often around providing services such as security. In the West, which is based primarily on skilled professions and working for corporations, the fundamental aim is profitability. Every individual directly or indirectly works towards growing the company portfolio and its bottom line. As such, the employers are often under fierce pressure to deliver under a cut-throat environment.

In Kurdistan, there is not the same pressure on employees to deliver or meet certain obligations.

Once ordinary Kurds start to develop their own businesses and hire their workforce, competition will naturally increase which will put an undoubted onus on qualifications and the professionalism of candidates.

In addition, much of the basis of Western society is about forward planning, investment and notion of ensuring a better tomorrow. Too often in Kurdish society, it’s a case of live for today and worry about the future later. Kurds can start thinking about investing for the future and protecting what they have today.

This mentality of lack of forward thinking is not exclusive to finance, the same rule applies to the environment and attitude to healthy eating and fitness. Littering and the abuse of our landscape can be ignored today but will certainly bite even harder in the future.

Ultimately, it far easier to erect blocks and cement for plush buildings, than create an affective skilled and professional workforce that can underpin an efficient economy.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Various Misc.

Demonstration law must regulate not prevent a fundamental human right

The crux of democracy is the overlying freedom of choice and existence of an individual and a system of government that is owned and controlled by the majority. The origins of the word democracy are derived from Greek, meaning “the people to rule” or “ruled by the people”. Therefore the simplest implication of the word democracy is the notion of power to the people.

On this basis, the ability of the people to openly express their views and organize protests or demonstrations is a fundamental part of modern society and the democratic principles that underpin effective governance.

As such whether in an election, via a petition or indeed a demonstration, the primary concept is the ability of the people to be heard.

Many of the freedoms expressed today, especially in European countries renowned for democracy, have come as a consequence of the desire and willingness of ordinary people to stand up especially at passages of times when many subjects were taboo, including woman rights and rights of workers.

Many laws and legislative measures have been introduced as a result of “people power”. Once the very people that elect governments come flooding to the streets in great numbers, in any true democracy no legislative power can ignore such a compelling message from its inhabitants.

In the Middle East, where democracy has been a longtime taboo, the ability to stage demonstrations are often forbidden and repressed with great force and where allowed to be formed are severely restricted.

In the Kurdistan Region, after years of repressive rule under a totalitarian regime, a fledgling democracy has taken shape that can serve as a symbol of tolerance in the region. However, while the current form of democracy is a milestone achievement, it is far from perfect with some accusing the ruling parties of curtailing the freedom of expression.

In this regard, it was somewhat unsurprising that the government received a backlash with the passing of the new law around the staging of demonstrations (Regulating Demonstration Bill). Although, the bill was met with resistance by some quarters of parliament particularly the Goran movement, it was essentially passed by the sheer numbers of the KDP and PUK in the assembly.

There has been growing disgruntlement in sections of Kurdish society, seeking greater reform and more transparency in government. Amidst such prevailing skepticism, the exact basis for the new demonstration law that has been passed has become murky and subject to misinterpretation.

For an affective understanding of this new bill, the question of why is a demonstration law is needed and what it is intended to achieve needs to be adequately understood. Any reservation from opposition party’s aside, regardless of the democratic basis of the right of the people to protest and be heard, any democratic principle still needs a framework and a measure of regulation.

This notion of control should not be intended to “prevent” but to regulate, which for example is the case in the UK. The reason is simple – allowing and facilitating the freedom of expression of a group of people, is finely balanced against ensuring and maintaining the daily freedoms of the greater sections of society.

The underlining basis of a demonstration is peaceful protesting. Unfortunately, sentiments can sometimes spill into aggressive and violent behavior, attracting the headlines for the wrong reasons but above all creating danger to the greater community.

Therefore, in the vast majority of Western countries, while protesting is a fundamental right, they do not necessarily have an exclusive hand to act, organize and proceed as they deem fit. For example, under the Human Rights Act in the UK, protestors have a great deal of freedom to protest but under the firm basis of “Non-violent direct actions” which has the clear objective of ensuring that the people can get their message across without the proceedings descending into violence, bloodshed or anti-social behavior. Therefore protests must not harm the person, group or element that is the subject of the protests, or the security forces and rival protestors.

One of the major concerns around the passing of the demonstration law is that it will allow the government to manipulate the bill to prevent demonstrations or restrict protests as a form of self protection. A new requirement means that any demonstrations that are intended to be held must be authorized by the government.

In most Western countries, depending on the nature and extent of the protests, some actions require consent from the authorities but no consent can ever be denied on the mere basis that the authority does not want you to speak out.

The current sentiment towards the Kurdish government is not strictly that a law to control demonstrations is undemocratic or a new phenomenon in a modern society, but owed largely to the distrust felt in sections of Kurdish society towards the ruling parties.

It is this general cynicism that needs to be addressed, with the ruling alliance providing the necessary assurances to its people. In this light, time will tell what demonstrations are held or prevented or how restrictive this bill will become in practice. The grounds for any rejection must be clear and on the basis of safeguarding the greater community, preventing violence or damage to property. The law itself as it stands is not an obstacle to democracy but the danger is the manipulation of this law to suit a particular side.

In most of the major European countries, organized marches by the people need approval and protests can be disbanded or disallowed from been run if they are deemed to incite racial hatred or against the interests of the greater public.

In this light, the Kurdish government must work transparently around the demonstration law and allow external monitors to assess any cases where demonstrations are rejected.

The passing of the bill has already placed the ruling government in a precarious position. Demonstrations against this bill have been held that have ironically already broken the law. It also begs the question of how the government would react if unlawful demonstrations are subsequently carried out.

Such is human nature that spontaneous protests can never be avoided and sometimes gatherings or rallies occur or gather pace depending on the sensitivity of an event or issue without any prior planning or intention.

Any heavy handed responses by the security forces will only backfire, whilst at the same time they cannot be seen to be idle while a law is been violated.

Clearly, the overlying message to the Kurdish government is not that some measures they undertake are necessarily undemocratic but that the people still require assurances and that the region will expand on democratic values and evolve and not contract.

The need for the government to reform and implement a more effective form of democracy is still very much an ongoing objective, in order for the region to grow, prosper and become a showcase for effective lines of communication between the government and the people who select the government to serve them.

Kurdish politicians must be in touch and be seen amongst the ordinary people, in the very quarters where the people go about their day-to-day lives. After all, it is down to the people to express their voice and vote but ultimately down to the politicians to listen and deliver.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Once bitten, twice shy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Now deadlock is over but hard tasks are ahead

A political breakthrough is finally reached but after eight months of tiresome political jostling, in what shape does the new government get to work?

It was an arduous, protracted and tiresome journey at the best of times, but Iraqi politicians finally brokered a deal to form a new government. The announcement came as a result of days of intricate negotiations both in Baghdad and Erbil, were an elusive power-sharing formula that satisfied all sides was finally reached.

As it has became widely expected in recent weeks, Nouri al-Maliki would retain his position as Prime Minister, with the Kurds retaining the presidency. Iyad Allawi’s al-Iraqiya would assume the Speaker of Parliament position, along with the heading of the newly established National Council for Strategic Policy.

Although the basis for the new government is crucial, distribution of key ministries and the makeup of the new cabinet are still to be confirmed. Either way, the likes of al-Iraqiya and the Sadrist will exact a price for their support of al-Maliki with key roles in the new cabinet.

With a new journey that weary and dejected politicians must now assume, the crucial milestone of agreeing on the basis of a new government may soon be eroded by the many political cracks that Iraq will need to taper. The maintaining of such a delicate balance may prove more difficult than the onset of any agreement itself.

Facts speak louder than words. Any country that sets the world record for the longest period of time without a government after an election speaks volumes about its socio-political handicaps.

Eight months and twenty parliamentary session minutes later, the MPs have plenty of work to get started on. For every day the MPs bickered and the government forming stalemate ensued, the very people that these politicians were elected to serve suffered. Much progress remains to be made in Iraq and as far as the government is concerned the real work has yet to begin.

The problem in Iraq, a disparate country fuelled by historical mistrust is the thirst for power. No side is easily willing to relinquish power to another. And finding a power-sharing solution that will satisfy each side is much easier said than done as the facts clearly prove.

Amidst the current political frenzy, it is often forgotten that protracted negotiations and political stalemates is hardly a new phenomenon in Iraq. Often at critical junctures in the past, fervent pressure from the US ensured political progress and compromise amongst the main factions. As much as the US has encouraged and attempted to help muster an inclusive government, their lack of influence this time round is clear, as Kurds, Shiites and Kurds stuck to their guns.

As kingmakers, the Kurds had clear demands for their inclusion in any coalition and if all their preconditions have been met, then this serves to solidify the Kurdish strategic standing both in Iraq and the Middle East. In recent weeks, the Kurdish leadership has played a key role in facilitating negotiations and acting as the political raft in a gulf of political tension. This illustrates the vital role that the Kurds play, both in terms of commanding a share of seats that affords them the role of kingmakers but also as the key balancing piece in the jigsaw between the Sunnis and Shiites.

In theory, the biggest breakthrough for the Kurds was the commitment of other parties to the constitution. Whilst Baghdad often look to find solutions to political rifts, the constitution which already provides a roadmap for resolving a number of key issues such as disputed territories, hydrocarbon law and federalism is sidelined.

Simply put, as long as Baghdad abides by the constitution and acts on its promise in practical terms, then the vast majority of the Kurdish wish list is already covered.

Although, a number of breakthroughs had been prematurely announced in recent weeks, it became increasingly clear that Nouri al-Maliki had won his challenge to retain the premiership. His pan Shiite alliance already made formidable reading on paper and the strategic enticement of the Kurdish coalition was all that was needed to cross the line. With the Kurds mustering a tight grip on the demand for the presidency, it left al-Iraqiya with the Speaker of Parliament position.

The heart of the problem ultimately lies with the appeasement of the al-Iraqiya group and the idea of establishing an all inclusive government. Allawi held the view to the last moment of negotiations that as the victor at the polls, his group should play the lead role in government formation. In light of this stance, convincing him firstly to accept a role under al-Maliki and secondly as a “second” party was not going to be easy.

Ultimately, the application of democracy to Iraq is often like applying square pegs to circle holes. Regardless, of the elections results and the number of seats that parties are afforded, no side is happy to take proportional power in line with the seats attained.

Although on paper, al-Iraqiya came out on top at the polls, it was under a misleading reading. State of Law only came second as the major Shiites groupings initially failed to form a coalition. Once the Shiites groups announced a new alliance to create a Shiite super-party, this sent ominous danger signals to the Sunnis. However, the timing of Moqtada al-Sadr’s backing of al-Maliki was the real hammer blow to Allawi. Thus Allawi’s instance on a government which reflects the results of the elections is not so accurate, once the real votes in parliament are tallied up.

Whilst foreign powers have tried to push Iraqis along and have lamented the time taken to form government, ironically they have been at the core of the problems. Turkey, Iran, America and Sunni neighbours have each had their own ideals on a future vision of Iraq and the basis for power-sharing. For neighbouring Sunni countries and the Washington administration, a new Sadrist backed al-Maliki premiership tipped the scales firmly in Tehran’s favour, and they worked tirelessly to readdress this balance.

It may well have been pressure from Tehran above all other external parties that led to the current deal between the main parties.

The real question for a parliament who will get to work based on power-sharing and national unity on an undoubted bitter taste, where do politicians with an over flowing “in tray” of tasks go from here? Any compromise or power-sharing formed on delicate foundations or through gritted teeth will be prone to future splits and ultimately collapse. For example, one of Allawi’s conditions was that no political decision could be made without its agreement.

As a price for his inclusion, Allawi wanted roles with real power but this is in many ways in contradiction to the constitution. Any position that can rival the role of prime minister in executive powers spells trouble. However, the backdoor manoeuvring that has taken place to appease Sunnis comes from an evident desire to avoid a return of the dark days of insurgency. By the same token, although Allawi remained steadfast on his quest for power, other elements within his ranks could clearly see the reality of a new al-Maliki leadership and wanted to avoid the bare-cupboard nature of political exclusion that they witnessed before and as a result showed increased willingness to work with al-Maliki.

Either way, it appears that Allawi and al-Iraqiya commanded a high price for their endorsement. The presidency of the National Council for Strategic Policy was designed to keep Allawi in the frame as a key Iraqi leader. However, Allawi was far from happy with consultative or ceremonial roles and demanded real power in this role. It is still unclear how much authority this council will really have.

How al-Maliki will fare in an environment were his wings are essentially clipped will make interesting reading, especially as al-Maliki has often been criticized in the past for monopolising power and having too much of a direct influence on the security forces.

One thing is clear. The new government of 2011 will certainly be weaker and not stronger than the government of 2006, and in reality this new national partnership may pose more questions than answers.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

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

While much of the attention since the liberation of Iraq has been occupied by the sectarian strife of the south, heightened tension between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad are increasingly the object of much focus.

Although international mediums have concentrated on the tense relationships in recent times, none of the issues are particularly new and too often have been merely brushed under the political rug for the sake of progress.

Time and again political agreements such as with the constitution and key laws have been fraught with protraction, acrimony and difficulty. On many occasions, Iraqi’s agreed to disagree under fierce pressure from the US, intent on showcasing a new democratic Iraq and political progress amongst the feuding elite, whilst in reality the problems were simply postponed.

Ironically, even when the Iraqis did find concord on political notions after what may be deemed as “classic compromise”, in the aftermath not all sides had the stomach to implement the measures it entailed. Article 140 is a prime example of a legal stipulation that has been overlooked and prolonged, for the simple reason that ultimately Baghdad does not want to implement the motions for fear of its underlying implications – Kurdish control of oil.

The Kurdistan Region since 1991 has been practically independent and as such reintegration with the rest of Iraq was never going to be easy. Kurdistan has been relatively stable and protected, while bloodshed and terror has ensued further south. It is evident that the Kurds have benefitted from the situation, economically and politically, becoming kingmakers in the new Iraq. Now voices in Iraq cry of overreaching and hostile actions. 

A look across the 300-mile or so “trigger line” that spans from Syria to Iran covering disputed territories paints its own story of why friction is a common theme as the Arab-Kurd divide becomes murky. However, it’s hardly a secret that ethnic and historical pride aside, one can not overlook the simple fact that this line weaves through an immense amount of oil.

As compromise on issues such disputed territories, particularly Kirkuk and article 140, national hydrocarbon law and federalism has become more difficult to muster, both sides have seemingly dug their heels in.

On the one hand, a rejuvenated Baghdad is somewhat on a mission to rescind Kurdish powers, thwart their demands and form a new strong centre. This is best highlighted by the refusal of Baghdad to recognise oil contracts signed by the KRG and in reluctance to deal with the issue of disputed territories.

The fear is simple, Kurdish expansion in terms of land, power and economy will push the country further towards de facto disintegration, even if in reality it may have occurred long-ago.

With the US engaging in its elusive exit strategy and beginning its much anticipated withdrawal, its eyes are firmly on political reconciliation. Washington has placed much focus on reconciling both governments in fear of leaving an Iraq on the verge of all out war. The Pentagon has expressed it anxiety with what it calls as the “most dangerous” development in Iraq, but in reality these problems did not arise overnight but with the very foundation of the state. 

Recently, influential senator John McCain and a number of aides visited Kurdistan on the back of a recent visit by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, with the easing of the current stand-off likely to be on the agenda.

The US must not overlook the very fact that the Kurds and Arabs have been at odds for decades over influence, autonomy and natural resources. Fear of Kurdish power and demands, is the very reason Saddam Hussein went to such great lengths to repress the Kurdish community.

In this historic land that houses different ethnicities and sects, only an all encompassing and “future proof” solution can work. This can be achieved by a loose federation, with borders decided via internationally recognised and legitimate referendums, which no sides can dispute. It is ultimately the people that should decide their fate, taking the argument around the importance of implementing article 140 a full circle.

Under US pressure, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki travelled to Kurdistan with hope of striking reconciliatory tones with Kurdistan President, Massoud Barzani, and the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani. Although the meeting was symbolic, given that al-Maliki and Barzani had not spoken in over a year, smiles in public are unlikely to change moods in the background.

Both sides agreed to create committees to deal with disputes, however, such committees have proven ineffective in the past and in essence may change little if the appetite for such principles does not change from the top.

Iraqis need a roadmap and legal starting point to underline their negotiations and as such there is not better product than the blueprint of the country – its constitution. There should be room for compromise and negotiation, but primarily on the principles of this document. The sidelining of this document, the calls to deem key articles as void or attempts to make wholesale changes to the constitution is a prelude to the collapse of the “heart beat” of Iraq and thus its demise.

In all essence two national armies are employed in Iraq, with as much animosity for each other as ever. As the disputed borderline becomes cloudy, so do the lines of responsibility, engagement and control. As tensions have reached dangerous heights, this has pitted the Kurdish and Iraqi forces ominously on a collision course. A number of recent incidents have been averted, while clearly the message from the respective commanders was shoot on order.

Ill-feeling has not been helped by a string of bombings in the Nineveh province and disputed territories with al-Qaeda keen as ever to foster instability. This has led to a war of words between both sides as the KRG have warned about the increasing violence and has accused al-Hadba of fermenting the escalations. Sentiments are hardly aided by the fact that the Kurds boycotted the new Nineveh administration after been deprived of practically all key positions by al-Hadba.

Now, not only two armies roam this province but also now in essence two administrations. If Kurds are deprived of power as a minority in Mosul, then the Kurds may choose to do likewise in Kirkuk. The call for compromise on hypocritical foundations is recipe for future problems.

With key Iraqi parliamentary elections around the corner, this may provide room for a breakthrough as sides look to build alliances. However, all too often in Iraq it has been a case of one step forward and two steps back, simply because animosity has been masked by short-term tactical gains.

Kurds are ever-weary of a stronger revitalized Baghdad and anxious about the prospect of US withdrawal. Their stance has also served as a warning to their US counterparts that in spite of pressure and mounting friction, they are not going to be the ones that budge over what they deem as legitimate rights.

Focus on ethnic tensions further north, must not mask the sectarian bloodshed that still firmly grips Iraq, as recent bombings have ripped through the heart of Baghdad. The question of how the Iraqi cake can be affectively shared between the Iraqi mosaic is as pertinent as ever.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, 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.

A Look at Democracy in Kurdistan

From fighting in the mountains to running in parliament, fundamental achievements have been made since 1991 but democracy is still bogged by changing times, factional alliances and increasing expectations of the people.

To state that 1991 was a unique milestone in Kurdish history is perhaps the understatement of the century, for the Kurds, quite literally.

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 now 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.

Sometimes the best way to highlight what your enemies fail to give you is to implement it yourself. Kurds have tried hard to implement a system of tolerance to other religions and ethnicities that they themselves have not received. Where their democratic liberties have been deprived, they have chosen to win back their lost rights such as over the city of Kirkuk, in a democratic manner than by using the same force that their enemies would have used on them.

Iraqi Kurdistan legislative elections of 1992

On May 19th 1992, history was made as the first ever elections were successfully held in Iraqi Kurdistan. For the first time, the Kurdish people could choose who they voted for as elections were made to the Kurdistan National Assembly (KNA), the parliament of the Kurdistan Region. It was not only the first ever elections in Kurdistan, but was also the first free and fair parliamentary elections in Iraq itself.

105 seats were made available in the KNA with 5 seats reserved for the Assyrian community. The 7% threshold that political parties had to achieve ensured that the seats were contested between the two main parties in Kurdistan, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led alliance. This system naturally alienated some parties such as the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (who achieved just over 5% of the vote), and this later contributed to difficulties with Islamists in later years.

Though the KDP had won 51 seats and the PUK alliance 49 seats, it was agreed to share power 50-50. The first law was passed by the assembly a few months later, establishing it as the region’s legislature. 

The elections were clearly a monumental achievement for a region that had fought hard to see such an elusive day, and was well commended by a number of international observers.

However, for all the early promise, democracy in Kurdistan fast displayed a number of fundamental flaws as the infant roots of democracy in the region would soon haunt the short-lived gains.  

Civil war and the stalling of democracy

The euphoria around the recently won freedoms and the historical milestone of democratic elections soon turned sour. A number of differences soon resulted in perhaps one of the most unforgettable events in Kurdish history, as a bloody civil war between the PDK and PUK Peshmerga forces raged between 1994 and1997.

In the period around the civil war, and the ensuing years after it, democracy suffered a major setback in Kurdistan. The deep rifts between Massaud Barzani, who narrowly won the presidential elections that were conjointly held in 1992, and Jalal Talabani, resulted in control of Erbil changing hands between both sides on a number of occasions

Iraqi Kurdistan was then affectively split into two administrations, one PUK controlled from Suleimanyia and one PDK based from Erbil. The de facto delineation between both administrations naturally diluted full democratic practices. This period saw freedoms restricted and a tense political climate in the two major cities. Tolerance for supporters of each group in opposing regions was minimal.

A UN embargo on Iraq coupled with Saddam’s own brutal economic impediment on the region, further compounded matters in the region.

This was made worse, as Kurdistan at the time before UN oil for food program, suffered from inflation and lack of commerce and basic necessities.

However, with the UN agreeing to permit authorized oil exports in Iraq, on the provision of aid to the people, this brought a welcome relief for the Kurdish people. A 13% share of oil revenues, and custom duties from trade with Turkey, brought welcome income to kick-start much needed development in the region.

Washington Accord

Although no major fighting took place after 1st September 1996, it was much a case of no war and no peace. This was until a peace deal, referred to as the Washington Accord, was brokered under the auspices of the Clinton administration, that saw both the PDK and PUK agreeing to a transitional power sharing followed by elections,  equitable distribution of revenues and the easing of restriction of movement between their regions.

With the Kurds extremely keen to win support for long-term Kurdish autonomy, there was little room for a lack of reconciliation.

In spite of the agreement, the thawing of ties was very much at a leisurely rate and animosity remained. Implementation of the accord was stalled by disputes over revenue and the format of the proposed joint administration.

In 2001, the administrations finally resumed formal dialogue and eased restriction of travel. The two sides moved quicker to resolve their differences with the emergence of a militant Islamist group, Ansar al-Islam with ties to al-Qaeda. Reconciliation was deepened further with US plans for the removal of Saddam from power in 2002. Barzani and Talabani had the first face-to-face dialogue in this time for seven years.

The Kurdish parliament convened later that year for the first time since 1994 to implement the Washington Accord and get the ball for legislative elections rolling.

General elections were not held until 2005, almost 13 full years since the landmark elections of 1992 that offered much hope to a nation that was already ravaged by repression and war, but delivered setbacks.

Changing political climate post 2003

Although a grainier form of democracy was still practiced with relative civil liberties and municipal elections in opposing administrations, it was hardly in a commendable shape prior to 2003. The fall of Saddam Hussein and the second Gulf War, not only brought unprecedented elections to Iraq, but also kick started democracy in Kurdistan.

With the removal of Saddam Hussein and all the prospects of a new Iraq, Kurdish leaders were at a unique juncture. Under full international view placated by a growing threat from the Turkish government over ever-increasing Kurdish ambitions at the dawn of their new era, Kurds could ill-afford not to represent a united front lest waste an opportunity to promote a strong brand of democracy in their region, as Iraq hit the international spotlight. A united front was encouraged by the US, with strong ties and a reliance on Iraqi Kurds, as their Iraqi adventure was soon derailed.

Elections to the KNA were held on 30th January 2005, to coincide with the Iraqi elections and elections to the provincial elections. The turnout was high as over 1.7 million people voted. There were 111 seats contested in the elections via a system of proportional representation. This time the PDK and PUK united under one list, the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan, attaining 104 seats or just over 89% of the votes.

The alliance, at least on paper, forged a strong unity across a number of parties, including the Kurdistan Islamic Union, Turkmen Party and other minority parties.

Current state of democracy

Although the democratic system in Kurdistan is far from perfect, achievements in less than 2 decades and particularly in the last 6 years have been historic. No democracy has ever flourished without its pains and conflicts, and Kurdistan is no different.

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

Elections for the KNA are to be held every four years as stipulated in article 8 of the Kurdistan Electoral Law. Elections for the KNA are based on a closed party-list representation system, meaning that the electorate votes for the list of candidates of a party rather than individual candidates. Seats are allocated to each party in proportion to the number of votes it receives, and the party is then free to choose someone from its candidate list.

Amongst the main highlights of the Kurdish democratic experience is that the system of government is secular, freedom and practice of faith are high and there is a strong encouragement for wide representation across ethnicities in the region. As an example, there is a liberal attitude to alcohol consumption, wearing of head-scarves and public expression of love.

The current system ensures that if no party representing a minority wins a seat, one seat is automatically awarded to that minority (for example, Assyrians, Chaldeans or Turkmen). There is currently one independent and 14 political parties represented in the KNA.

Another fundamental benefit in the current system is the strong representation for women with the legal requirement that at least 25% of the parliamentarians must be women.

The passing of several laws has heavily contributed to the regions relative economic progress and social progression in recent years. Politicians have been generally quick to adapt laws to accommodate the present socioeconomic environment and modernize the legislative aspects of the region in line with modern-day demands, for example a European standard investment law, the outlawing of polygamous marriages and increasing intolerance to honor killings.

Although, the KRG has evolved a great deal of the past few years, high expectations of the people, means that the government will need to continuously adapt to meet the growing pressure from the public.

For example, an open party listing where people can choose their candidates is strongly advocated. Such a system, were individuals are directly voted into parliament, puts the people more in choice of their democracy and at the same time places pressure on politicians to serve the very people, who have purposely selected him to full his duty.

Flaws of the democratic system

Although, the achievements have been commendable in a short period of time, there are also a number of flaws in the application of democracy in Kurdistan. Elements of corruption still exist in government and nepotism has been an all-too frequent criticism. Although, the major cities have seen major economic boom and construction projects, basic services are still lacking across the social spectrum. The increasing economic prosperity, has created a growing rich-list and depending on where you visit in Erbil, there is a contrasting standard of living amongst the citizens.

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.

In the West, where politicians make mistakes or attract controversy, their political careers are often quickly doomed and public enquiries are launched. However, this level of accountability to perform, answer to mistakes and actions and generally deliver under great public strain is somewhat lacking.

However, to truly augment the democratic process, the availability of an experienced and proficient pool of politicians to create a vibrant level of competition and opposition takes time. The transition from been freedom fighters in the mountains, to running a Western democracy is hardly a small gap to plug.

Regional expertise and intellectualism has improved significantly, aided by an educated and developing Diaspora. As the people become more accustomed to rights, freedoms and privileges, this has increased pressure on the government to raise parliamentary standards.

The parliament must respond to the will and voice of the people, which is not always the case in Kurdistan.

However, one must also 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.

At least in Kurdistan minorities have representation, for decades the Kurds, forming a large part of the population of Turkey did not have a single voice in the Turkish parliament. Even today, cultural tolerance is hardly to a European standard, and this comes from a country who has received wide-scale credit as a strong example of an Islamic democracy and with ambitions to join the EU.

With a good level of religious and social tolerance and a ubiquitous aim of attracting support from major global powers, it is evident that Kurdish leaders have obviously tried hard to implement a system of government that is closer to the West than the geographically closer East.

The need for adaptation and evolvement

Democratic elections in Kurdistan are to a large extent predictable. Much like the US where certain states have become beacons of support for either the Democrats or Republicans, there is a general affiliation across parts of the region for either PDK or PUK. You can almost determine a rough geographical electoral line between the PDK and PUK.

However, although there have been criticism in the past of a lack of political opposition, there are signs that some political parties are evolving.  For example, recent instability in the PUK alliances briefly resulted in strong rumors of the splitting up of the party.

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.

At times in Kurdistan, it is who you know and not who you are that will help in your progress. Commerce, investments and administration still runs deeply through government. For example set up of companies, buying of land and the majority of the workforce is under the direct employment and jurisdiction of the government.

Growing freedoms in Kurdistan can be seen in the wide range of liberal papers, which are growingly confident in constructive criticism and opposition to the government and in the debate of regional affairs. Although, Kurdistan could tout a flourishing press since it won autonomy, too often they were mouthpieces or under the control of political parties. As a result, there was little room for independents without approval from government authorities.

The next elections in Kurdistan are just around the corner, May 2009 to be exact, and it serves to be an interesting reflection of the feeling of the people in the last 4 years or so. There is still a notion of a conceptual battle between the old school of thought and new liberal minds in Kurdistan.

Democracy in Kurdistan may not be perfect but Western democracy was not created in 2 decades. Even democracy in the US and recently in Europe, resulted in the rise of extremists to power and the manipulation of democratic systems, and the onset of deadly wars. Only these painful mental scars contributed to the efficient, tolerant and dynamic Western forms of democracy.

In an imperfect region, it is hardly fair to scrutinize Kurdish democracy and pick out its evident failing in a sea of political and social progression in the region in a short period of time. However this is no means an excuse for Kurdish politicians to rest on their laurels and not strive to improve the region, politic establishments and in the way the serve the very entity they have been created for, the people.

Just because Western democracy learned the hard-way by decades of evolution and adaptation amidst changing global climates, Kurdish politicians must not use this as an excuse to drag their feet on the advancement of democracy in the region. Time is not always a pertinent excuse for failings, if the failings are visible. There is nothing to say with tweaks and evolution, that Kurdistan will not become a model democracy across the global sphere and just the Middle East, in a much shorter time span than by most global standards.

However, we must not also forget that democracy in Kurdistan is to a great extent intertwined with democracy in Iraq, as they are officially part of one state. Democracy in Iraq is far from perfect and when it comes to the practice of federal democracy, such as the implementation of national legislations and an elected constitution, it takes two to tango.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

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

As Obama Takes US Elections by Storm, the Legacy of Bush is Not Lost on the Kurds

Barrack Obama swept to victory in the US presidential elections, marking a momentous day in American history. The appointment of the first-black US president represented more than just this iconic and ground-breaking significance. Indeed the world, gripped with the worst economic crisis since the 1930’s, facing a growing threat of fundamentalism and reeling from cynicism caused by recent US foreign policy, has been crying out for a fresh impetus and new hope. 

Perhaps no individual will have greater expectations right now than that on Obama’s broad shoulders. Obama may well represent the energy that the globe is lacking, but he is no miracle worker. Obama can only work with the tools at this disposable and manoeuvre within constraints that the political stage allows.

Obama would do well to get people’s feet back on the ground and quell a level of expectation that if unchecked may ironically cripple his tenure before it has even started.

Obama’s appointment certainly stole the worlds gaze. However, as the worlds attention had turned to historic elections, the heated US presidential contest between Barack Obama and John McCain was observed with as much interest in Kurdistan as any part of the world.

After recent Republican legacy in Kurdistan and the more clear-cut promises of McCain over the US course in Iraq, arguably Obama was not the first choice of the Kurdish people.

The Name Bush in Kurdish folklore

If George Bush senior can be viewed by the Kurds with eternal gratitude for the establishment of the no-fly zone and onset of Kurdish liberalisation from tyranny in 1991, it is perhaps the actions of his son George. W. Bush that is forever etched in Kurdish folklore.

Conceivably, in later generations the Kurds may even view the decision by Bush junior to oust Saddam Hussein from power in the same breadth of Newroz folklore when Kawa the blacksmith defeated Zehak the evil ruler of these mystical lands, to free a nation in captivity thousands of years ago. The significance of the new dawn in Kurdish existence can not be overestimated.

Although, the Kurds have been betrayed far too many times, particularly by successive US governments, to take future American support for granted, the change of fortune in the seventeen years and particularly the last five since the liberalisation of Iraq, have been truly remarkable for an ancient, battle-weary and emotionally scarred people.

Not all the policies of the US government have bode well with the people of Kurdistan and US presidents throughout their new found autonomy have stopped short of full-fledged backing and support for the Kurdish nation, however the symbolic nature in which the Kurds were afforded their first opportunity to guide their future and look ahead to a new prosperous and unmolested path, can and will never be forgotten by the ever-grateful Kurds.

The Kurds, cold-heartedly sliced into pieces like disposable by-products in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, waited many decades to be rid of mass-oppression at the hands of their occupiers.

US intervention in 1991 may ironically have been forced and not wilfully decided by the US administration at the time and the world-super power could have acted years before the massacre of thousands of Kurdish civilians, rather than persevere in their own selfish strategic interests, nevertheless an invaluable opportunity was given to the Kurds to begin new chapters in their existence.

Kurdish anxiety

Kurdish trepidation and weariness at seeing their hard-fought gains vanish, is all too common, especially when their gains have not quite been encapsulated in protection and guarantee. Such mistrust, particularly towards their former Arab rulers in Iraq, can not simply vanish in a small period of time.

Pain and mourning, are not concepts that just disappear, lest from mentally-scarred citizens who have loved many a lost one and witnessed the razing of their villages.

So when an end of era arrives in America, a country on the path of ground breaking political change, Kurdish anticipation of the electoral results was understandable.

As thousands of Kurds watched with intent, it was the candidate that represented the next best thing to George Bush that dominated their gaze. In this context, John McCain was in a way the default man of choice in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Where Obama has raised Kurdish tension, by declaring his open-intent to withdraw troops from Iraq as soon as possible, McCain had remained defiant to stay the course and not allow their hard-won security gains in Iraq disappear.

Now Kurds watch developments in the White House with close-interest, and anticipate with anxiety the policy Obama adopts towards the Kurds. As US foreign policy in Iraq becomes destined for a shake-up under Obama, whether the Kurds will be given commitment and protection, as American attention turns elsewhere, is uncertain.

US Bases in Kurdistan

The willingness and encouragement for the establishment of permanent US bases in Kurdistan Region, may have stoked national sentiments further south in recent times, however the concept is nothing new.

Kurds have campaigned and supported the idea of some form of residual US presence in Kurdistan, regardless of any greater US-Iraqi security pact.

It’s hardly a secret that the majority of Kurds in Iraq are pro-western. However, such blatant endorsement of Kurdish autonomy by the new Obama administration may be nothing short of wishful thinking.

Just as the Kurds rely heavily on the US in the present and the future, in the quest to end their 5-year nightmare and to safeguard the seeds of their greater Middle Eastern project, the US rely heavily on broader Iraqi endorsement and Arab support.

Kurdistan president Massaud Barzani, currently in Washington for talks, emphasised the warm welcome the idea of the stationing of US troops in Kurdistan would receive, if the security pact was not signed by year end.

His remarks drew strong rebuke somewhat unsurprisingly from anti-US hardliners, namely from Moqtada al-Sadrs bloc, but also ironically from leading Kurdish figure and Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani. Talabani statement that all Iraqi constitutional laws apply to the Kurdistan region was inevitable. He may be an influential Kurdish leader, but as the symbolic figure-head of Iraq, he was hardly going to embrace the idea in public with open arms.

Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) stalled

With the chances of passing the security pact under the remaining stewardship of Bush now slim, the chances of an agreement before year end, when US forces will find themselves in a legal vacuum, are now also diminishing.

What was deemed a final document awaiting vote by Iraq’s parliament, the draft has now been returned, somewhat disappointedly in the eyes of the Bush administration, with a fresh set of proposals and request for further rework.

US officials had previously labelled the chances of further revisions as unlikely. Despite more recent encouragement from Bush that a deal will be struck before year end, the US analysis of Iraqi recommendations, coupled with scepticism of high-ranking US officials may well mean that the pact will become one of the first testing challenges facing Obama as new US president.

The attitude of a majority of Iraqi politicians to be seen standing up for national pride and not to cede under US influence, has meant an agreement, that was already a product of dilution, may require further downgrading to the annoyance of the US.

However, as much as Baghdad can ill-afford to lose the support of the US in such a short period of time, conversely Washington without common agreement to remain in Iraq, will suffer huge humiliation come 1st January 2009 with the absence of symbolic legal cover

Greater Iraqi View

Other than the Kurdistan region, where the next US president and more importantly his moves and motives for the country, have taken much more significance, the general view in the rest of Iraq is less intensive.

Obama’s appointment will bode well with large sections of the Iraqi population who favoured a quick departure of American forces, and remained unmoved from a perception of Bush as their own Western tyrant. The significance of Obama’s skin-colour and his distinct origins is not forgotten on most Iraqis (or the great Middle Eastern landscape for that matter).

However, most Arabs sceptics generally believe that the choice of presidency will hold little sway, in light of more encompassing strategic institutions that will determine greater US policies.

This view may hold some weighting, after all to a large extent the arms of the new US president will still in some way, shape or from be constricted by the legacy of the Bush administration. No US president however gallant can escape from this fact.

Furthermore, US foreign policy has always been long-term especially with certain regards, for example the strong support for Israel becoming almost constitutional over the years. Decades of foreign ideals and strategic manoeuvring for a world order in the vision of the US, can not be altered greatly or at the pace many demand. Even the effervescent and bold Obama, may struggle to conjure wholesale and controversial changes.

Untangling of this web by Democrats now in power, will take time and may consume their first term. In light of this, Obama can ill-afford to bring down Bush’s principles in Iraq, with a lack of remorse. If he does and the Iraqi project derails badly, the nails in his presidential coffin may have been sealed before it even began. The security pact, even if modified further, will clearly see US presence in Iraq for at least 4 years.

However, regardless of the differing camps of view on Bush’s eight-year tenure at the helm and the capacity of Obama to enact real change, there is a broad and energised consensus in US and the international stage, that a fresh outlook was required and a new page can now be turned. A jubilant Obama hopes to provide just that.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

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