Tag Archives: Kurdistan

With the “wolf at the door”, what does it mean for Kurdish independence?

Fast approaching 100 years since the Middle Eastern landscape was carved leaving the Kurds as the largest nation without a state, the Kurdish dreams for an independent homeland never wavered.

However, with ubiquitous disputes over oil revenues, disputed territories and share of the national budget already leaving Erbil-Baghdad relations at a new low, the onslaught of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq transformed the dynamics with the Kurds sharing a 1000km border with a new reality.

The Kurds have picked up the mantle in the fight against IS but for them IS was a product of marginalisation policies of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that fuelled another Sunni revolt and years of Western dithering in Syria that helped create the IS phenomenon.

With thousands of Yezidis, Christians and other minorities brutally killed and thousands more taking shelter in Kurdistan, and the Peshmerga taking the brunt of the battle against determined IS forces, the United States and other Western powers finally agreed to arm the Kurdish forces and provide support with air strikes and humanitarian relief.

However, with the US and European powers tip-toeing the diplomatic line, their support has been on the basis of preserving Iraq’s unity and installing a new inclusive government. Do the Kurds forfeit any plans to exercise self-determination and place their faith in Baghdad once more? More importantly will the growing Western motion to arm and bolster the Kurds, lead to an eventual support for an independent state?

Whilst a highly sensitive issue, for many MPs and analysts, the question of self-determination is ultimately one that only the Kurdish people can decide. Rory Stewart, Conservative Member of Parliament for Penrith and The Border, told Rudaw “this is a highly sensitive issue. In the end this must be a question for the Kurdish and Iraqi people. And conducted as sensitively as possible, in a situation of extreme instability. The key question remains the long-term stability and welfare of the people of Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq.”

Stewart, who recently spent time last week on the ground with Kurdish fighters and refugees, highlighted the apparent gulf between  what is needed to support the Kurdish army and to defend Kurdish refugee camps and what is currently been provided. He urged “There is a lot we can still do to provide further military equipment and training, as well as ensure essential supplies are reaching refugee camps to support those fleeing from IS.”

UK Labour MP, Mike Gapes, while pushing for support of Kurds “materially, militarily and politically”, stated “It would be better for the terms and timing and degree of separation to be negotiated and agreed but ultimately the Kurds have the right to self-determination.  The UK and US should respect the will of the people expressed in a democratic referendum.”

Angus McKee, UK Consul General to the Kurdistan Region, explained that the matter of any referendum is up to the Kurdish and Iraqi people to decide, not the UK.

Former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, strongly hit out at the UK hesitation to arm and support the Kurds and urged on a more integrated strategy for containing a wider war that would involve Britain and the US acting as the “handmaidens to Kurdish independence”. Ashdown warned that the borders of the Middle East will be inevitably redrawn and “Sykes-Picot will be out the window and we will see a shape of the Middle East which is much more arbitrated by religious belief than by old imperial preferences.”

Ashdown added, “Support the Kurds by all means we can. They can provide rescue and refuge for the Yezidis. They are secular. They act as a northern bulwark against the advance of Isis.”

The Right Reverend David S. Walker, the Bishop of Manchester, commended the Kurdish role in the fight against IS and in humanitarian operations. Whilst noting the present national boundaries are largely the product not of individual peoples but of former imperial powers in former centuries, he told Rudaw, “I would feel that it is within my remit to say that I would hope and expect that the key issues around self-determination include, alongside economic and political viability, the extent to which there is confidence that a people would govern themselves in ways that protect and respect the rights of minorities – exactly the thing that IS is adamantly opposed to.”


Other analysts have warned of the dangers of any separation, Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group, stated “the Kurds are now in a situation where self-determination becomes less a function of their own course of action than Iraq’s general breakdown. This may reduce the price to pay for secession, ultimately. But that price remains steep given the remarkable benefits the Kurds currently derive from their relations with Baghdad, Ankara and Teheran. Actual partition likely would negatively affect all three.”

But for Steven Cook, an analyst at the US think tank the Council on Foreign Relations, recent shifts in the Middle Eastern political landscape mean that Iraq’s Kurds will gain independence “sooner rather than later”.

Even as some major powers have slowly warmed to the idea if not inevitability of Kurdish independence, they have treaded carefully around the diplomatic line. As talk of Kurdish independence accelerated, Philip Hammond, UK Defence Secretary, towed the same line as the US, affirming that the government’s position was to keep Iraq as a unified state.

Germany was quick to support the Kurds in the recent crisis but Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned “An independent Kurdish state would further destabilize the region and trigger new tensions, maybe with the neighboring Iraqi state as well.”

US President Barack Obama somewhat reluctantly agreed to military intervention in Iraq but no doubt placed such support on preserving Iraq’s unity, seeing the ouster of Maliki and creating a unified and inclusive government. “The wolf is at the door…in order for them to be credible with the Iraqi people, they’re going to have to put behind them some of the old practices and actually create a credible, united government,” Obama said.

The Kurds are often warned that due to geopolitics considerations, their time has now come. Now Kurds wonder if in the volatile and explosive Middle Eastern plains, whether such a “good” time ever exists.

Even Turkey, who for years staunchly opposed any notion of Kurdish nationalism let alone independence, has slowly removed resistance to Kurdish aspirations.  A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman recently declared there was no “unease” about the weapons’ deliveries to Kurds or that it may boost their bid for independence.

In either case, under Western pressure, the Kurds may well have to shelve their plans for any independence referendum for now but either way the Kurdish position will never return to the pre-IS days.

The Kurdish demand for joining new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government will have grown stronger to include right to sell oil, purchase arms, measures to prevent any centralisation of power as was the case under Maliki and referendums on disputed territories that Kurds now control.

Kurdistan Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa Bakir, previously warned “there is a new reality and that requires a new policy and a new approach.”

The greater question for the Kurds remains not on their end of the bargain in keeping Iraq stable and united, but whether Baghdad will truly forfeit ministries such as interior and defense that the Sunnis crave. There is little the Kurds can do but to shut the door on Baghdad if the current Sunni insurgency cannot be quelled lest another deadly insurgency should rise in the future.

Iran has pledged support for al-Abadi and backed the unity of Iraq and the stabilizing of security, but it remains to be seen whether they will exert pressure on Baghdad to cede power to Sunnis.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Is it Time for Rojava and Kurdistan to Unite against Common Enemy?

Whilst the Islamic State (IS/ISIS) was propelled into the limelight in spectacular manner in Iraq, controlling Mosul, Tikrit and large swathes of territory across Iraq, for the Kurds of Syria their deadly battles with the al-Qaeda offshoot over the past year or so have largely failed to make headlines.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has ubiquitously engaged in furious battles against IS militiamen across the areas in Syria under Kurdish control. Those Kurdish areas are of strategic importance, as they straddle the Turkish border — and with it some of the most vital border crossings — and are home to some of Syria’s largest oil fields.

Conversely, the battle of the Peshmerga forces in Iraq has been well noted, as they have formed a formidable frontier against IS rebels, all but saving Kirkuk and many other cities from falling to the IS, which recently changed its name from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In the same manner as the Peshmerga, the YPG should be acknowledged for its vital role in keeping IS at bay in Syria.

Fresh from their gains in Iraq, a buoyant IS has returned to Syria with a new onslaught on Kobane and other Kurdish towns and villages. However, this time the goalposts have shifted. Armed with significant booty from their Iraq conquests, including Humvees, tanks and artillery — not to mention millions of dollars in funds – IS quickly shifted their guns to the Syrian Kurds once more.

According to Jabar Yawar, secretary general of the Peshmerga ministry, “ISIS has different types of rockets, tanks and other heavy weaponry that they got from the Iraqi army and now they use these weapons to attack Kobane.”

Faced with a barrage of attacks on Kobane from different sides, Kurdish forces have fervently confronted IS forces; but they will ultimately struggle under inferior firepower.  The co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Salih Muslim, warned that IS now possesses “heavy weaponry like mortars and tanks, which concerns our forces. We can’t use our weapons against their bulletproof tanks.”

Furthermore, Syrian Kurds have complained at lack of humanitarian aid over the past couple of years and have been hampered under the cautious eyes of Ankara.  YPG spokesperson Redur Xalil called on the international community to “intervene immediately and carry out their duty toward Kobane.”

The Syrian Kurds freed themselves from decades of tyranny and repression and announced self-rule across three cantons. But lack of political unity between the main PYD party and other political parties threaten the existence of the administration in the midst of increasing danger.

The situation has not been helped with lukewarm relations between the PYD and the Kurdistan Region leadership.

There could be no better time for the Kurds to unite and protect the Kurdish population in Syria and also preserve hard-fought Kurdish self-rule. IS is not just an internal matter for the Syrian Kurds: What happens there is very much a problem for the Iraqi Kurds.

Because if Kobane and other major Kurdish cities fall, the IS gets even stronger. That is not good for Erbil, which is also somewhere on the IS priority list of enemies to annul.

For Abdul-Salam Ahmed, co-chair of PYD, Kobane was effectively becoming a factor to “the end of the Sykes-Picot agreement,” the 1916 pact by which the powers of the time redrew the Ottoman Empire borders, essentially dividing the Kurds in the process. Whilst rallying Kurdish unity, Kurdish veteran politician Ahmet Turk emphasized that there is no difference between Kobane and Kirkuk.

PYD head Muslim warned that the unity of the three cantons and ultimately the Syrian Kurdish autonomous region itself depends on Kobane, which he labeled as the “symbol of the Kurds’ identity and resistance.”  He urged Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani to join a common struggle against the Islamic militants, claiming that Barzani “had not fully grasped the nature of ISIS.”

Whilst the Kurdish Region edges towards independence, the importance of a stable, secure and prosperous Kurdistan Region of Syria as a key neighbor cannot be discounted.

To this effect, the Syrian Kurds, who have already imposed compulsory military service, have tried to rally Kurds in Iraq and particularly Turkey. Gharib Haso, an official from the PYD, claimed that “Young Kurds from all parts of Kurdistan are going to Syria.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdul Rahman stated that at least 800 Kurdish fighters had crossed the Turkish border into Syria to join the battle.

“It’s a life-or-death battle for the Kurds. If ISIS takes Ayn al Arab (Kobane), it will advance eastwards toward other Kurdish Syrian areas, such as Hasakah in the northeast,” he warned.

The ultimate success of greater Kurdistan rests with all its four parts. There is no better place to start than with a political alliance amongst Kurdish parties in Syria and the fostering of better ties between the Rojava administration and the Kurdistan Region.

First Published On: Rudaw

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The time to push for independence?

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein and particularly in the latest sectarian storm as ISIS has swept through large parts of northern Iraq, many in the international arena point to the carving up and disintegration of Iraq. However, from a Kurdish perspective, it is a question of how can you break something that wasn’t whole to start with?

It is no secret that the dreams of the Kurds have always started and finished at an independent homeland. They gained nothing but genocide and repression under Saddam and they have little to gain now as part of an Iraq with a vicious cycle of violence and sectarian warfare that the Kurds want little to do with.

The booming, stable and prosperous Kurdistan Region was a reflection of anything but Iraq. Even before recent developments in Iraq, Kurdistan was virtually independent anyway. There were missing ingredients that the Kurds have worked hard to bridge. One of these was independent oil exports and control of their own revenues, as opposed to been at the mercy and goodwill of Baghdad for share of national budget.

With the Kurdish plains washed with so much oil, the revenues the Kurds could soon gain would far outweigh anything that Baghdad could ever give.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Nouri al-Maliki led Baghdad government have been at logger heads over oil rights for several years. Simply put, control of oil revenues and oil exports was a remaining noose that Baghdad had over Kurdistan. Kurdistan has tried to cut this remaining umbilical cord to Baghdad by working hard to build strong ties with Turkey, oil majors and building their own independent oil pipeline.

The second key ingredient to Kurdish push to independence was the status of disputed territories. Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution laid out clear steps and clear timelines for the resolution of such territories. Yet almost 7 years since the original deadline for its implementation, owed to a lack of appetite and constant foot dragging by Baghdad, article 140 was never implemented.

Now with the recent ISIS onslaught and latest turmoil in Iraq, not only can the Kurds press ahead and increase oil exports, they have now gained control of vast disputed territories, including Kirkuk, the symbol of the Kurdish struggle.

Depending on how and if the Sunni insurgency can be contained as well as well as the  time expended in doing so, Kurds may well fast-track their push to independence. But for now, they are willing to bide their time and crucially consolidate their newly expanded borders and bring stability to their areas.

Who can blame the Kurds, who never wanted to be a part of the Iraqi state in the first place, to push for separation when the country is yet again in sectarian flames?

Self-determination is a natural right at the calmest of times, let alone at times of war with bloodshed on your doorstep.

Even Turkey, traditionally a staunch opponent of Kurdish nationalism, has come to realise that not only is Kurdish independence a natural path that ultimately cannot be stopped, but they can gain tremendous benefit from a secular, oil rich, strategic partners in the tumultuous new age of the Middle East.

Kurdistan was always going to become an independent state, now the timelines have been greatly accelerated with the new crisis in Iraq.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The rise of Kurdistan must not come to the detriment of future generations

The new faceplate of Kurdistan is not an indicator of progress society still has to make

In most countries, extensive transformation of infrastructure, economy and society is a lengthy process over a considerable period of time. In Kurdistan, immense changes have taken place in little over a decade.

New high-rise buildings, luxury restaurants, 5-star hotels and dozens of malls now dot the Erbil landscape and the change in a short-period of time is remarkable. However, do society, the attitude and understanding of people and general skills and education really advance in parallel?

Evidently, transformation in the faceplate of the city is not enough for Kurdistan as a whole to really advance. In western countries, it took centuries for infrastructure and society to get where it is today.

The trials and tribulations and sufferings of the Kurds to get to the stature of today are taking for granted, especially amongst the youths.

In Kurdistan it is now common to see families own two or more cars in a single household or enjoy multiple incomes. People carry with them the latest smart phones and continuously strive for the next best thing. Just 5 years ago, old cars even from the 80’s were still prevalent, internet and technology was enjoyed by the few and there was hardly a mall or luxury hotel in sight. But while a rapidly growing city may belie its tender years in terms of real modernisation, it can be misleading in the progression of greater society.

A prime example is the attitude towards waste and litter. Kurdish families stock up on all sorts of food and dress in their glittering traditional Kurdish outfits and leave their homes in the early morning, spending much time securing a beautiful spot amongst the great landscape of Kurdistan to savour their day off. The trip is dominated by expressions of how comfortable, enjoyable and scenic the surrounding is. Yet after several hours of enjoyment and feasting, most Kurdish families leave a tale of destruction – litter and waste.

Rubbish and waste literally dot the surrounding area where the family sat. The blasé attitude employed amongst the masses is a detriment to the future generations. Why not allow another family to revel in the enjoyment you tasted another week?

As materialism grows in Kurdistan, so does the seemingly selfish nature of some people. Without working together, improving bonds within communities and an appreciation for the future amongst the masses, the advancement of Kurdistan will be hampered.

A selfish personal drive to attain fortune and enjoyment will see future generations suffer. Take to the road in Kurdistan and rarely does one give way to another or give thanks to other drivers.

Kurdistan beauty lies in its millennia old heritage, in its culture that is passed from generation to generation for thousands of years, in its immense hospitality and warm hearts and in the ability of the people to stick together and triumph against the odds.

As capitalism take grip and consumerism and new buildings rise, this must not dilute Kurdish culture. With the exception of the newly renovated Kurdish Textile and Cultural Museum in Qalat, museums and centres where culture can be preserved, displayed and celebrated are rare.

Foreigners and tourists must get a taste of the privilege to live amongst the Kurds and Kurdish culture and not just enjoyment in the best hotels and restaurants.

Education must be enhanced in Kurdistan so it is the Kurds who dominate highly-skilled jobs and technical and medical profiles. Above all else, the people must obtain an understanding of the importance of hard-work and putting real effort in achieving their goals without shortcuts.

Some people want to work as few hours as possible, put minimal effort and still become rich. A key action is promote and strengthen the private sector and reduces the strong dependency on the government for jobs.

The ability to combine the needs of today with the needs of tomorrow is essential. The growing pollution in Erbil can never be a good thing. The lack of a public transport system is detrimental as the road network cannot accommodate all these cars no matter how fast the Kurdish government builds new roads.

People continue to waste immense amounts of electricity and water and complain about lack of services. The appreciation for saving electricity and energy should not be valued on monetary means alone but on the benefits of the future generation.

This is the same case with recycling. Tons of wastage does not just miraculously disappear. It needs go somewhere and unfortunately with great effect on the future environment. Tons of plastics and metals could be recycled than end up in landfill sites.

The moral of this story is not to downplay the phenomenal rise of Kurdistan. It is to build a Kurdistan that will be sustained for hundreds of years and that many generations can continuously enjoy. The current selfish lifestyle and disregard for greater society, environment and the wellbeing of others, can only last a certain course.

The bottom line is that no disregard and neglect today is without future pay pack tomorrow.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Welcome to the Kurdistan Region of Syria

For thousands of Kurds in Syria, achieving basic rights and citizenship was a dream let alone witnessing the hoisting of the flag of Kurdistan on the historic soil of their ancestors.

For hundreds of years, Kurdish valour, passion and determination stood up to many forms of tyranny and the sheer force and military might of their oppressors. Often helicopter gunships, tanks, fighter jets and even chemical weapons were no match for the heart and pride of the Kurdish warrior.

After decades out of the limelight, it is the turn of the Kurds of Syria to seize their historic opportunity, to unite and liberate another part of Kurdistan from tyranny and dictatorship. As a series of cities succumb to Kurdish control, Kurds need to ensure that the last Arab troop to leave Kurdistan is the last oppressing force to ever be seen in their territory.

Much like the uprising of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991, Syrian Kurds must ensure that the newly hoisted Kurdish flags on-top of government buildings are the only flags that the region will ever see.

Liberation of Kurdistan

As Kurdish forces of the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) finally united via the recent Erbil agreement brokered by Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, the renewed vigour of the Kurds was on instant show.

The fall of Kobane, in the province of Halab (Aleppo) and close to the Turkish border, served as the first symbol of freedom. This quickly followed with the liberation of Amude, Afrin, Dêrik and the Cidêris district. Kurdish People’s Defense Unions (YPG) alongside the Kurdish citizens, were at the forefront of the liberation.

The battle for these cities was largely without any real confrontation. This is not because Bashar al-Assad’s government sees these areas as non-important. On the contrary, they dare not indulge in a bloody confrontation with a group of determined, passionate and patriotic Kurds, where the outcome was certain defeat. Instead, the Syrian army decided to regroup and focus their efforts in maintaining control of key cities.

With reported clashes in Qamishli, the iconic Kurdish power centre of Syria, it is unlikely that Assad will give up the city without a fight. However, with a united Kurdish offensive and the Syrian army already stretched in Damascus and in other battles with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Damascus can ill-afford a protracted and ultimately costly battle against the growing Kurdish brigades.

The Union of Kurdish Coordination Committees (UKCC) urged the members of the Syrian army to withdraw from the Kurdish areas or face consequences. Indeed some reports indicate that the Syrian army may well withdraw under certain conditions rather than risk a bloody conflict with the Kurds.

At this historical juncture, the Kurdistan Region must continue to support their brethren in Syria, both through a continuation of political efforts to bolster unity and harmony amongst the disparate Kurdish voices in Syria and also through logistical support and aid.

Erbil Agreement

Only a few weeks ago, there was a deep split in Syrian Kurdistan that threatened the nationalist goals of the Kurds, undermined their efforts at a key time to topple Assad and even threatened to break into civil war.

As part of the Erbil agreement, the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan formed an agreement for the join-administration of Syrian Kurdistan.

Maintaining unity is perhaps the biggest risk to nationalist goals of the Kurds in Syria. Even Assad is less of a danger that the danger of Kurdish disunity itself.

Through unity, the Kurds become a cohesive force and where their battle becomes one of ethnic and sovereign rights, rather than individual goals of political parties.

Kurdish parties seem to be well aware of the dangers of not fulfilling a united front. The importance of working together was recently echoed by the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Kurdistan Freedom Party.

Unity amongst such an array of Kurdish views will not be easy but any alternative is simply not an option.

Ankara Alarm

Whilst the Kurds in Syrian and throughout greater Kurdistan looks at the emergence of a Kurdish controlled region in Syria with great pride, Turkey is inevitably alarmed at such developments.

Regardless of greater Kurdish unity in Syria, there is no denying that a major force on the new Kurdish political maps is the PYD which has strong links to the PKK.  The PKK flags on display tell its own story,

Barzani has helped to reposition the PYD focus from one of anti-Turkey and supporting the PKK to one that can focus on the primary and historical objective of liberating Syrian Kurdistan.

PYD has changed its tone for now, but it has left Turkey in a precarious position. Does it remain idle and watch as the Kurds and particularly the PYD carve out a new bastion of Kurdish nationalism, or does it intervene and do something about it?

If Turkey does take military action to intervene then it almost certainly will alienate the Kurds further and may even lead to a greater cross border insurgency. It will also undermine their role as the main sponsor of Syrian oppositional if ironically they are seen to punish Kurds for ousting Assad.

Kurdistan Region on the other hand has the difficult job of keeping Syrian Kurds in tandem with their Region and working on their side and away from one that may incur the wrath of Turkey.

The Kurdistan Region will become the natural foster parent of Syrian Kurdistan and it will be interesting to see how Ankara reacts to this inevitable reality.

However, it may be a small price to pay if the Kurdistan Regional Government can manage to keep the PKK away from dominating the Syrian Kurdistan region.

Kurdistan First

The focus of Syrian Kurds must be on Kurdistan before the nationalist objectives of the Arab dominated Syrian National Council (SNC).

Syrian Kurds will be wary of taking any new power and influence for granted, knowing only too well of the Arab opposition to the idea of Kurdish self-rule let alone de-facto independence.

In this light, it was a wise move by the Kurds to prevent the FSA forces from entering their region and to limit the prospects of confrontation and thus damage to Kurdistan as much as possible,

While the Kurds should continue to do what they can to topple Assad from power, the very future of post-Assad Syria is far from certain.

How the array of opposition voices can be wedged together is a difficult undertaking. There are many echoes of Iraq in the new Syria, and once the euphoria of the eventual fall of Assad wanes, the battle to keep a united Syria will take centre stage.

Much like Iraq, Kurds in Syria would have a pivotal region with a plenty of oil reserves, and will work to safeguard and bolster their region before submitting to the sentiment of Arab nationalism once again.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd.net, Various Misc.

Kurds – showing a tongue with which to talk, but teeth with which to bite

The Syrian Kurds are in many ways the forgotten kindred of the Kurdish landscape that have suddenly found themselves at a centre of increasing regional and international focus. Indeed, while Kurdistan was forcibly partitioned in the selfish interest of the imperial powers at the time, the Kurdish national identity became increasingly more localised with the respective struggles following suit.

It has become a common future to be labelled as an Iraqi Kurd, Turkish Kurd, Syrian Kurd or Iranian Kurd, which in itself is rubbing salt into the wounds of the Kurds. They were segregated against their will and such labelling based on their new found minority status, may seem as a logical way to distinguish the new Kurdish segments, but it simply aided the assimilation drive of the respective occupying forces.

At a crucial and sensitive juncture of the Kurdistan national renaissance, the Kurds have a unique opportunity to rewrite the wrongs of history. While the borders cannot be redrawn overnight, the mere conception of the Kurds as a disparate force whose influence is limited to their respective state can be changed.

Whether based in Syria, Turkey, Iraq or Iran, a Kurd will always be a Kurd and successive Kurdish policies should reflect a coming together of interests and an alliance of different components for the benefit of greater Kurdish nationalism. The old Kurdish saying that Kurds have no friends but the mountains may have spoken true in yesteryears, but in the new dawn the Kurds have each other.

Millions of Kurds under Baghdad rule

Although the Kurdistan Region finds itself in an enviable position of becoming a prosperous, strategic, political and economic hub, it is at the end of the day only the boundaries of the Kurdistan that has been loosely defined by the Iraqi constitution.

Remarkably, over 40% of the Kurdistan ethnic border lies outside of the Region that form part of the so-called disputed territories.  Yet constitutional articles that govern how the status of these territories is to be resolved has been strategically stalled by Baghdad in order to restrain the rapid advancement of the Kurds.

Four years after the deadline for the implementation of article 140, these Kurds still find themselves no closer to an official return to the Kurdistan Region and to compound matters are at the mercy of insurgents intent on derailing Kurdish grip on these areas.

While most Kurds in the Kurdistan Region enjoy relative stability and welfare, the Kurds outside of the region do not enjoy such privileges. Deterioration in the security of Iraq or any political vacuums in Baghdad such as that experienced today ensures they get caught up in the whirlwind of violence and fear.

The Kurdish and Iraqi security forces have come close to outright fighting on a number of occasions in the disputed areas and Baghdad has frequently opposed the presence of Peshmerga forces in the disputed territories, but at some point the Kurds have to say enough is enough.

The recent spate of bombings across Kirkuk, Nineveh, Salahaddin and especially Diyala provinces continues to highlight the dangers that Kurds endure in the face of hard-line groups and Arab nationalists.

Kurdish complaints at the lack of protection from Baghdad are not new and have regularly called on the KRG to intercede on their behalf.

Baghdad cannot have it both ways – stalling the resolution of disputed territories yet not affording the Kurds the protection they are entitled to under their roof.

It is time for the KRG to intervene more directly in such hotspots and safeguard the wellbeing of the Kurdish citizens. Sitting idle or waiting for the goodwill of Baghdad to take pace will only end in disappointment.

More importantly, the Kurds have to grab the bull by the horns as far as the issue of disputed territories are concerned and set Baghdad key deadlines and milestones, whereby if they fail to deliver then the Kurds will take matters into their own hands.

Kurds too often have been fearful of not upsetting their neighbours with respective Kurdish headaches or straining ties with Baghdad. However, Kurds have done as much as anyone to preserve stability and unity in Iraq and indeed ensure dialogue takes precedence over violence in Turkey. The Kurds should not be any less weary than other nation to enjoy their legal rights and make their own demands and also enact counter measures as they see fit to defend their nationality and region.

This is not to say that productive relations with neighbours is not of paramount importance as this is key for the economic growth of Kurdistan and overall political stability, however it means that the Kurds have to be taken as an important strategic power in their own right and as equal partners at the regional table. To show that the Kurds have a tongue by which they engage dialogue but also teeth by which they can bite.

Plight of Syrian Kurds

Under the increasing limelight are the Syrian Kurds who in many ways are stuck between an Assad regime that has subjected them to systemic repression and Arab opposition groups they distrust.

While neighbouring Sunni countries have flocked to stand up for their brethren that are subject to increasing brutality amidst a fierce government reprisal, the Kurds in Syria have suffered for decades with much of the world turning a blind eye.

When Arabs defend their brethren, the Kurdistan Region should be ready to defend their own. Syrian Kurds look to the Kurds in Iraq as big brothers and it is the duty of Kurdistan region to embrace them with open arms.

As such the awarding of refugee status to 30 Syrian Kurdish soldiers who had defected is a welcome step. The Kurdistan Region should become the natural hub where Syrian Kurds can use to oppose the Assad regime and ensure a new democratic and federalist dawn in Syria ensues.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 to protect its Turkish inhabitants and has played a frequent hand in ensuring Turkmen interests are preserved in Iraq, with many other regional examples that follow suit. The Kurds cannot stay idle at a unique historical opportunity to unite all of Kurdistan in politics, strategy and spirit.

Federalism as a step to unity

The minimum demand of the Kurds in Syria should be federalism. While the Kurds have an undeniable right to self-determination that has been harshly and selfishly deprived, the greatest formula for the overall unity of Kurdistan at the present time is the establishment of federal region across all countries where they find themselves a significant minority.

A future federal state of Kurdistan in Syria will undoubtedly have a strong alliance with Kurdistan Region which will benefit the entire region in promoting long-term stability.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

End game for Assad; just the beginning for Kurds

Fast approaching a year of uprising and turmoil, the struggle against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is now by far the longest of all in the Arab Spring. The opposition movement in Syria clearly lacked the same national and military clout as in Egypt and particularly Libya, with an opposition that is still relatively localized and maturing as a force. But ultimately it is theindecisiveness and inconsistencies of regional and global powers that has been its Achilles’ heel.

On a regional front, the Syrian issue is complicated by a group of countries that continue to staunchly support Bashar al-Assad’s crumbling regime.

Syria is in many ways different to the countries that have succumbed to the tides of the Arab revolution. Syria finds itself at the heart of the Middle East and its numerous hotspots. It is a fulcrum for activities and tensions in Israel, Lebanon and Palestine, a proxy for Iran’s regional ambitions and power mongering, and with an inadvertent hand in the PKK conflict.

This is underpinned by the fact that Syria is a Sunni majority ruled by an Alawite minority. Such are the high stakes in Syria that almost no country in the region has remained silent one way or another as each aims to preserve their sectarian, economic or strategic interests. The predominantly Sunni-based Arab League has been at the forefront of rhetoric against Assad and the galvanization of the resistance in Syria.

Where now for the struggle?

After 11 months of a humanitarian crisis and protests in Syria, those who oppose Assad need to match words with more determined actions. A common UN Security Council resolution is looking as unlikely as ever,  and sooner or later, the powers that are in favor of strong action must decide their next move.

Rhetoric and sanctions only have a limited affect, and regionalpowers cannot remain content on indirect actions indefinitely. The growing humanitarian crisis as Assad continues to pound rebel cities is something that even Russia and China, who staunchly oppose military intervention, cannot ignore.

Assad’s regime has reached a point of no return, and in spite of empty gestures such as the upcoming referendum on a new constitution, the Syrian opposition and regional countries opposed to Assad have come too far in the conflict to let the uprising subside and allow Assad to continue in power.

At the current time, the anti-government forces lack the firepower or territorial advantages that Libyan rebels were able to enjoy. It is commonly overlooked that even though the Libyan opposition had far greater strength than the one in Syria today, only an Allied intervention prevented a mass slaughter in Benghazi as the government forces blew the gates down.

Even then, only weeks of fierce bombardment of Gaddafi forces finally broke the back of the government.

The probable way forward in Syria is now a full blown civil war. Foreign military intervention endorsed by a UN resolution may not happen, but nor will a passive observation of Syria. As the Arab League and supporters of the Syrian uprising continue to apply pressure at the UN, the Arab forces in the region may well find themselves in a position of having to directly thwart Assad in Syria. They may well arrive under the pretext of a peace-keeping force, but their end game is obvious. Some countries are already involved in supplying of arms to rebel forces, and in the short term this will increase.

A “human corridor” that is being seriously discussed as a compromise at the UN may have a two-fold benefit. It provides relieffor the besieged population and also affords breathing space for the rebels,allowing them to regroup and consolidate power.

An intensification of the military conflict threatens to deepen the regional divide, as Iraq, Iran and even Russia may up their support in preserving Assad’s regime.

The Kurdish card in Syria

If the Arabs in Syria thought they had it bad, one must spare a thought for the much repressed Kurdish population. Arabs may have lacked some rights and privileges, but in the case of thousands of Kurds there were literally no rights and condemnation to a state of non-existence.

The Kurdish plight under the hands of Damascus has been largely ignored over the years while Arab nationalism assumed its course. Now regional countries flock to protect a besieged population in Syria under humanitarian grounds.

Ironically, the Kurds have largely taken a backroom role in the conflict owed to a deep mistrust of the Arab opposition groups and Turkey’s long-term plans for Syria. Damascus has attempted to manipulate Arab fears of Kurdish separatism and at the same time Kurdish fears of Arab nationalism.

Turkey has been at the forefront of regional attempts to isolate and punish the Syrian regime while Assad has in return increased support of the PKK to preserve his regional leverage.

The Kurdish opposition groups themselves are divided between various loyalties, and without a united front they may well miss the revolutionary tide and with it an opportunity to play a strong part in the reshaping of Syria.

In this regard, the Kurdistan Regional Government needs to play a strong part in uniting and supporting the Kurdish groups in Syria while at the same time becoming a significant actor in the overall regional quest to oust Assad.

Baghdad may support Syria, but Kurdistan is no Iraq. The Kurdistan Region cannot stay idle to any regional upheaval, and with its growing power in the greater region it can successfully play a strong, strategic role in the new Middle East.

Gone are the days when the Kurds were bystanders as other powers decided their destiny. As one of the largest ethnic groups in the Middle East, the Kurds can be at the forefront of the new destiny of the Middle East.

As for Syrian Kurds numbering over 2 million people, they are hardly a small pawn on the post-Assad negotiating table. They must be unequivocal in their demand for federalism and equal rights or threaten to go their own way. Kurds must no longer accept second best, due to threat of regional powers working to dilute Kurdish nationalism.

It would be most ironic if Arab powers and Turkey liberated Syria, and then launched a crackdown on Kurdish nationalism in a new Syria only because Kurds wanted to enjoy their legal entitlement to autonomy.

The leaders of Kurdistan must work side by side to guide the Syrian Kurds. The majority of Syrian Kurds look to the Kurdistan Region as a big brother and their guardians.

The Kurdish opposition conference in Erbil last month was a largely welcome step. It displayed national solidarity and demonstrated that Kurds are no longer oblivious to cross-border struggles of their brothers. Such manoeuvres must intensify for the good of all Kurdistan. The Kurds may have been divided against their will by force, but no one can prevent unity in heart and spirit.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

Interview with British Consul General Chris Bowers

There are huge opportunities, people should come and explore it for themselves because they will find a real welcome here and find a region that is on a dash for modernity” – Chris Bowers

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel of the Kurdish Globe spoke with the British Consul General to Kurdistan, Chris Bowers, on the historic relationship between the Kurds and UK, the ever developing economic ties between the UK and Kurdistan, Kurdistan”s new strategic role within the Middle East and future relations between the UK and Kurdistan amongst a number of other local and regional issues.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – First of all, thank you very much for your time with the Globe. Let us start with how do you view the current relationship between KRG and the UK government?

Chris Bowers - Great. We are in a really good phase at the moment. You would expect me to say that but it is actually true. We have enjoyed very close working relationship with the KRG. I think it is a very warm relationship and that warmth enables us to speak clearly and openly I”m delighted that recently we have really improved the commercial element – 70 British firms in the Erbil Trade Fair is a fantastic result. And that now shows that people and businesses in the UK see Kurdistan as a place to do business and I think that says a lot for Kurdistan, says a lot for the KRG and specifically says a lot about the activities of KRG”s representative in London who I believe has done a fantastic job.

One thing that is really going to change the economic relationship between the UK and Kurdistan is the huger merger between Genel and Tony Hayward”s investment vehicle, that has now launched as a FTSE100 company which will mean that all the analysts in London covering the pension funds, the investment funds, the tracker funds and the like will all have to know about the Kurdistan Region.

A year or so ago, you could be an analyst in the city and not need to know about the Kurdistan Region. That has now changed and that is a very big development.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – The Kurds have a deep affection with the UK that began with its role in the creation of the 1991 safe haven, for Kurds anxious about their future fate based on their past, how does the UK government reassure them about an ongoing partnership and relationship going forward?

Chris Bowers - Well, I think the best defence for the Kurds is that the KRG continues to be a prosperous, effective and democratic region. That is the best defence. Also the region has relations with Baghdad that have in the past been difficult and I think it is never going to be the easiest of relationships but I think it”s a relationship that can work and the Kurdistan Region needs to do what it can to make it work. So these are the key factors in terms of security for the Kurds and of course relations with their neighbors.

The relations with Turkey have been very good recently and we are delighted about that.  We see ourselves as one of Turkey”s biggest supporters and friends – obviously Iran is another kettle of fish. We see a growing number of commercial ties between the Kurdistan Region and the UK.  . One of the best things for the future is also the higher education links. We have had a very successful outreach with the Kurdistan Region and with the Kurdish people and Kurdish students. I think now the Kurdish students who are thinking about where they should study abroad under the Human Capacity Development Programme think about UK as a first choice destination, and we are thrilled about that. My ambassador stated when we were starting to assist the programme, that if we cannot help educate the next generation of Kurdish leaders then we should go home. Well, we are still here!.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – As someone with oversight of the Middle East and Iraq, what role do you see Kurdistan playing in Iraq and the greater Middle East moving forward?

We see the Kurdistan Region as a place where Iraq can road test initiatives. The Kurdistan Region is in the fortunate position of being more stable and secure. I think it is more committed to market economy and has a clear vision for the future. If you were living in the rest of Iraq, say you are a governor and you want to know how you can build an airport,   how you can attract  businesses, how can you provide a safe environment, how you can provide an accountable government – where would you go to learn that? You would come to Kurdistan. So that”s a tremendous asset to the whole of Iraq, and it is something which the government here can promote. I believe it is a very important role. It”s really noticeable as well that this is a part of the world that has a great commitment to tolerance.  That is another important lesson for the whole region.  If you look at the broader region there are not that many countries in the Arab world in the Middle East which have a functioning federal structure. Arab states have tended to be unitary and centralized and if Iraq can show how an effective functioning federal system can work then that is a great message for the whole region. Of course a federal structure implies a relationship which is why we think the relationship between Baghdad and Kurdistan is so important.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – Taking that a step forward, people mention Kurdistan but for the Kurdish people Kurdistan geographically stretches a lot further. In terms of its role as a partner to Iran and Turkey and as a major nationality in the region, do you see it as a strategic power?

The best role and function for the Kurdistan Region is to make the region as effective, successful and prosperous as possible. To create a beacon is the best support for the Iraqi Kurdish people and I think this is exactly what the government and the Kurdish people are trying to do.

As for neighboring states have their own policies and their own functions.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – One thing we have seen in the PKK and PJAK struggle, that there is now a notion that the KRG can play a mediator role whereas before Tehran and Ankara were quick to say “you are the problem”. Do you believe the KRG can be the solution providers in the internal affairs of these countries?

Firstly, the PKK is a terrorist organisation. It is classified as such by the UK and EU.  We call upon the PKK to lay down their arms. The leadership in this region thinks the era of fighting is over, that it is now a time for discussion and negotiation and I think that is very true. The government here has done a great job in reaching out to Turkey and making a clear distinction between the PKK and the KRG. I think that is a vital distinction and my sense is that the Turkish leadership now understood that and that is a huge progress which is to the credit of both governments.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – What is your view of the Arab Spring and the ever-changing sociopolitical dynamic in the Middle East that even today is raging in Syria?

Where we see people demanding their rights this is hugely positive. It seems that we are still part way through the process of the Arab spring. Of course we support people”s struggle for greater accountability. That is what we hear – people want governments that are accountable and effective, governments that really speak for ordinary people. That is a tremendous thing. Wherever possible, we would like to see this happen in a peaceful basis. As you know, the UK and EU have been very clear in their belief that it is the time for Assad to go and we are sticking by that position.  The sanctions in place reflect the seriousness with which the international community sees the situation in Syria.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – Recently the 7th Erbil Trade Fair took place, what was your general overview of this?

It was great – a tremendous event. I”m thrilled by the UK participation in the fair with 70 companies and you know there were more people, more businessmen on the delegation which came to Erbil than went with the last delegation to China. Why was that? Mainly because of the opportunities here and the pro-business climate the KRG has created here.  Erbil is a City of Possibilities in a Region of Opportunity. There has been a lot of hard work that has gone into that, a lot of hard work from the KRG representative in London, from the MEA and from our side as well.  And, of course, getting them here is half of the story, the response they got from Kurdish companies was very warm and the buzz around the delegation was very encouraging and very positive.  Many companies said that they had lots of positive meetings, lots of contacts and even some signed contracts. Like any business, they now need to follow up these leads and make sure that they really get the benefits. The trade fair provides the platform for people to meet other people and opportunity to make those contacts and in that sense from a UK perspective it was an absolutely great event.

We were in particular pleased with the Northern Ireland element – there is a real synergy between Northern Ireland and the Kurdistan Region. Both are former areas of conflict that are now emerging with a new dynamism and new commitment to engage with the outside world. Both are conscious that because their image in the international scene has been one of conflict, the regions have to make extra effort and go the extra mile to convince people to do business with them.

Bashdar Push Ismaeel – Looking at foreign companies that have taken the plunge or risk, there are a number of British based companies such Gulf Keystone Petroleum, Heritage Oil and Sterling Energy. What is your view?

Right now, UK companies are managing 12 blocs making us a leading hydrocarbon partner for the KRG and we are delighted by that. In the last six months UK oil companies have invested something like 3 billion US dollars into the Kurdistan Region. That is a really significant vote of confidence in the Kurdistan Region.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – With the huge success of the so-called minors, is the time ripe for major oil players such as BP and Shell to enter the fold?

What is becoming clear is that we are entering a new phase in the development of Kurdish hydrocarbon development and I imagine that there will be further consolidation in the markets in the next year. The significant reserves here are going to attract any major company and the companies can speak for themselves but of course assets that like that are interesting. What I would to say about UK companies is that when they come in, they come for 40 years which is their general investment timescale.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – If you had a message for potential foreign investors everywhere who may still be unsure or tentative regarding Kurdistan, what would you say to them?

Come and take a look. There are real opportunities here; there is a premium to being British. There are huge opportunities, people should come and explore it for themselves because they will find a real welcome here and find a region that is on a dash for modernity, it”s a region wants to catch up for the time it has lost and a region which is committed to developing its international engagements and that is very positive.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – The historic British Film Festival in Kurdistan was intriguing and exciting to say the least, tell us more.

Chris Bowers - We were thrilled by the success of the British Film Festival in the Kurdistan Region, the first of its type. We showed 15 films from the 26th to 28th November at the Saad Palace with free entry, open to all. We even had a 100 metre red carpet and popcorn!  It felt like a real film experience.  Why did we do? Firstly, because they are great films and we wanted people to see Britain through the eyes of film-makers. The films were entertaining and watching films is a fun and sociable part of life. Secondly, it shows the profile of Erbil, that it is the kind of city where you can hold a film festival. This will help change people”s perceptions internationally and shows people that Kurdistan has a secure environment where people can go out on the streets and watch a film festival. Thirdly, we brought British film makers over to speak to young Kurdish film makers because the Kurdistan Region”s story has not been told yet and it can be told through film. It is partially about identity and telling the world your story.  We want to see a new generation of Iraqi Kurdish film-makers showing their films in KR and in international festivals around the world.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

KRG Foreign Relations Minister answers questions on key developments

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel of the Kurdish Globe spoke with KRG Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir – Head of the Department of Foreign Relations on a number of issues.

At a critical juncture in the Middle East, internally within Iraq and also in the context of global relations, the topic of KRG relations with its neighbours, its partners in Iraq and within the wider community takes ever greater significance.

The interview intended to gauge a number of critical factors affecting foreign relations and the Kurdistan Region”s onward strategic advancement on political, social and economic levels.

Bashdar Pusho IsmaeelFirst of all Kak Falah, thank you very much for your time with the Kurdish Globe. We have a few questions we would like to cover that encompass local and regional news, events and key political developments.

Perhaps, the first and best place to start for the Kurdish Region is its relations with neighbouring countries, specifically President Massoud Barzani”s recent visits to Tehran and Istanbul. What is your view of the current state of relations between the Kurdistan Region and both respective countries?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – You are welcome for the time, and thank you for the opportunity to shed some light on these issues. I believe that this is an important moment in our history and thus relations with neighbouring countries and the international community are essential for us. As you have mentioned, we have always wanted relations based on mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual understanding. And also to have the kind of relationships that are mutually beneficial for both sides.

As you know, President Barzani has just visited the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Turkey, and these visits underpin our belief that relations with our neighbours are very important for us. We have been able to make significant progress in our relations in recent years, and these relations will benefit this Region in terms of stability, security, economic development and overall prosperity.

As the president says, this kind of interaction and direct communication is a top priority for us so that our neighbours understand where we stand, what we stand for and what we want. By the same token, it is essential that we maintain an understanding of what our neighbours want, what kind of relationship they want and where they stand on key issues.

Bashdar Pusho IsmaeelAs the centre of Kurdish nationalism and a landmark in Kurdish history, do you believe that the KRG can act as the key to peace in both Tehran and Ankara with regards to their respective Kurdish populations?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – We have always stated very clearly that we support and sympathise with the rights of the Kurdish people wherever they may live and have always encouraged them to find peaceful and democratic solutions to problems with the governments in their respective countries so that they could obtain a prosperous and bright future.

Our people have suffered a great deal; we have witnessed tragedies, oppression, denial and deprivation. It is time to enjoy a better future. We want to make clear that we abide by international law, and we are fully in favour of good neighbourly relations based on non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries. We are committed to this principle as well as to the respect, integrity and unity of each country. We desire relations that are based on respect, understanding and dialogue that will enhance the peace, stability and security of both sides. We understand that it is normal to have differences but at the same time we have a lot of common goals; thus, we try to focus on such commonalities so that through dialogue we can ease the tension, solve problems, and address the issues.

As the President said while we were in Turkey two weeks ago, the Kurdistan Region is prepared to fully cooperate and support any peaceful efforts to resolve the issues between our neighbouring governments and their respective Kurdish citizens. However, we will not endorse any plans that involve violence and conflict.

Bashdar Pusho IsmaeelIn that regard, not necessarily just within Iraq but in the wider region and beyond, are people increasingly seeing Kurdistan as a strategic power in its own right?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – The Kurdistan Region has to be taken for the values it stands for, for its key strengths and also for its resources, including both human and natural resources.  It has to be taken for the principles it stands for including tolerance, liberalism and democracy, where we not only believe in talking about of such values but also in actively practicing them.

We share the values of western democracies, the respect of human rights, individual and public freedoms, freedom of the media, rule of law, and an active and vibrant participation of civil society. These are the values and principles we stand for, and I believe those who visit the region and have a first-hand experience of it are greatly impressed by the progress we have made, particularly considering  the troubled area in which we live. There are many problems, and we are surrounded by conflict, but we have been able to make significant progress in spite of these constraints.

Therefore, I believe we could be a key factor in helping to solve and address problems in the wider region as well.  Through supporting and promoting tolerance, including political tolerance, religious tolerance and ethnic and cultural tolerance, we can stand as an example that democracy can work in this region. In addition, our commitment to the role of women in public and private life, to the empowerment of women, to benefitting from their special contribution and from that of the youth, we can serve as an example to others. As a society, and also as a government, these are areas that are of paramount importance to us.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – Taking that concept a step forward, with the Arab Spring that has arrived this year, many have realised the sway and velocity of people power that is still on-going specifically in Syria, what is your view of the Arab Spring and how it can benefit the Kurdish populations all over?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – In fact, it is easy to forget that the Kurdish Spring started much earlier, over two decades ago. We welcome this wave of uprisings because we believe at the end of the day, it has to be the people in these countries that determine their own future and decide on the system of governance that they will live under. We welcome democratic alternatives to the current regimes in power and we believe that everybody will be better off by having a democratic Middle East and North Africa.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – If the uprisings turned violent and the regimes go down fighting as we witnessed in Libya and now in Syria where the Kurdish population is directly affected by a harsh government crackdown, what is the stance of the KRG?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – History has proved that no ultimate solution can be achieved through weapons and military means. The only way problems can be truly resolved is through dialogue and negotiations, and through peaceful, democratic means. I believe in certain cases, such as Syria, when it passes the point of no return, the regime in Syria will have to accept this reality. It is a clear sign of weakness when the only means of sustaining power is through the use of force, and whenever even this fails, then there truly must be a change. History has shown that it is only a matter of time before an oppressed people will rise up and demand that their natural rights are respected.

Therefore it is important for the governments around us, those still not under democratic systems to know that the time of totalitarian based regimes is over. At the end of the day it is the people who lie at the source of countries prosperity and its future direction. So In the case of Kurdistan that has produced two generations who have now lived in democracy and freedom, it would now be impossible for them to live under a dictatorship again.

I believe that as time passes, people will also realise more and more that Iraq was in a unique position having its spring in 2003, while the Arab Spring started much later. I believe the Middle East region is on the right track towards a new brighter future, but the concern now is ensuring that these revolutionary waves lead to the establishment of democratic alternatives in order to promote the interests of the people, to generate equality, justice, distribution of power and wealth, and at the end of the day, to allow people to live better lives.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel - The use of force obviously works both ways. One is the use of force by the government on the people and the other is the use of force by the people against the government as in the case with both PJAK and PKK that seeking greater rights. With the positive statement from both President Barzani and also Tehran regarding the end of the issue with the PJAK, do you feel that peace can really be achieved after decades of conflict and social turmoil?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – It is important to clarify that the KRG is not part of the problems in neighbouring countries as both the PKK issue in Turkey and the PJAK issue in Iran are internal issues. However, at the same time, we do realise that these groups are present at the border areas of Kurdistan region and we want to help, as much as we can, to find peaceful solutions to these issues. If our assistance is desired, then we are ready to do whatever we can, for the sake of a peaceful and democratic solution to these problems.

We believe that the time has come for governments and political organisations to understand that there is a lot that can be achieved through peace and dialogue. History has proved the limitations of military confrontation through the experiences of the IRA, PLO and others. If fighting continues then the end result is only more bloodshed. At one point you have to say, enough is enough, let”s try another way. These problems should have been solved earlier. Force has been used by both sides. Even here in the Kurdistan Region, force was used against the Iraqi regime and the Iraqi government used tools of destruction, chemical weapons, the Anfal campaign and all kinds of weapons, but they were not able to annihilate the Kurdish people, they were not able to solve the problems. With the uprising of 1991, we were able to free our region from the dictatorial regime that was in power.

In Turkey, where there are democratic elections, parliaments and elected Kurdish politicians, the best way is to fight for rights within parliament, using democratic tools and using peaceful means including the media and civil society. There is a lot that can be achieved through peaceful means, and killing will never bring about a solution.

Since the PJAK and the Islamic Republic of Iran have agreed to stop fighting, all parties now have a chance to focus their energy on initiatives that can achieve long-term peace, stability, economic growth, investment, job opportunities etc.

These problems are of a political nature, they”re not militaristic problems. Cultural activities, artistic development projects, economic activities, commercial activities, are all factors that can help bring about solutions, so it”s not just about weapons being used.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – Therefore, the underlying message is that for that elusive peace to be achieved, it will take both sides to reach out a hand. Turkey to listen and reach out a hand to the Kurds and for the Kurds to embrace Ankara.

Falah Mustafa Bakir – The Turkish government, with the onset of democratic initiatives and the courageous steps that have been taken by Prime Minister Erdogan in order to address these problems have all shown their desire to reach out. However, we have to be realistic and appreciate that this process will not happen overnight; it takes time, it takes patience, perseverance, hard work and mutual trust. Confidence must be built so that both sides can trust each other.

What”s important for us is that the relations between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey remain strong. Turkey, as an important neighbour, wants to have a key role in Iraq. We can be a gateway for Turkey”s economic interests, commercial activities, investment, and cultural exchange programs in Iraq, so there is a lot of room for cooperation and understanding. I believe that with the right policies and understanding at the leadership level, we will be able to make progress on both sides. The facts that the Turkish Consulate General is active in Erbil, that the largest proportion of international companies in the Region (about 900 or so) are Turkish and that Turkish banks, schools and universities have been established in the region all speak volumes. We want to build on our common ground and further encourage this business and cultural exchange.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – Perhaps those external relations can only be driven that much stronger, with strong relations internally with Baghdad. The Kurds are part of a coalition government in Baghdad that many describe as fragile or tentative and with the withdrawal of US forces at the end of the year to compound matters. What is your view on the current state of relations and will it be a factor for reconciliation or further feuds after the US withdrawal?

Falah Mustafa Bakir – We want Baghdad to look realistically at the current situation. If Baghdad thinks time is in their interest or if they have no political will to solve problems, we will never solve any problems or achieve any semblance of a stable, secure and prosperous Iraq. Iraq is a rich country, but this richness is no guarantee to a bright future if there is an absence of right polices.

What we need in Baghdad is a visionary leadership working for a better future, with commitment to that future and the political will to solve problems. Baghdad does not have a firm understanding of some key facts. The Kurds are the second largest nationality in Iraq. We are not guests and we will no longer submit to being repressed, oppressed and treated as second class citizens. The Iraq constitution even before the fall of the regime was clear that Iraq is comprised of two nationalities, Kurds and Arabs. Arabic and Kurdish are the two official languages of the country.

We have all the characteristics of a state including people, land, language, history, civilisation and culture of our own. The only reason we don”t have a state of our own is due to political complications and past injustices. Since we are determined to work for a better future for our people, we have committed ourselves to a federal, plural and democratic Iraq. An Iraq that lives in peace with its own communities and its neighbours. An Iraq where all are equal, an Iraq that works for peaceful and long lasting solutions. We have confidence in ourselves, trust in our leadership and trust in our people, and we know that the future is in our own hands. But we want a peaceful and long-lasting relationship with the rest of Iraq.

Therefore we have been patient, flexible and endured a lot, but it is time for Baghdad to play their part in keeping a peaceful and united Iraq. The moment Baghdad is ready and willing, these problems can be solved. These are not unsolvable issues.

The underlying political problems in Iraq have to be resolved as well as economic problems before the situation can change for the better. Because there are a lot of possible hazards on the table (the Sunni-Shiite disputes, ethnic struggles, economic and political challenges and external threats), Baghdad must find the will to solve problems in new ways rather than trying to use the commonly accepted methods of the past. If Baghdad abides by the constitution, has enough political will and understanding then Iraq can remain on the right track, but there has to be common acknowledgement that only dialogue and understanding can resolve any problems.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – It seems to me that withdrawal of US forces may not change a great deal of the political landscape. The common Iraqi problems were there and will be there regardless of US forces, so really the onus is on Baghdad.

Falah Mustafa Bakir – The security mechanisms and the balance of power will change. Although we have the UN, and we believe they need to be heavily engaged in supporting political issues in Iraq by aiding, advising and helping to seek solutions, we strongly welcome the EU to be more present. We encourage greater participation and assistance by more EU member states and we encourage other Arab countries to have a greater presence in Iraq, and of course, when I say Iraq, I mean they also need to be present in the Kurdistan Region. The EU should have an office here, Arab countries should open their consulates as we need to be part of whatever goes on in Iraq as a whole. There are potential threats and problems that include both domestic and external factors, so as Iraqis we need to put aside our differences, be open with each other, and work with each other so we can have a better future.

We are a people that have suffered a lot, but we are not captives of our own history. We are a forward looking nation that wants to secure a better future for our people, but this cannot happen overnight, nor can it happen without external assistance. We need the support of the international community, we need to have a democratic system in Iraq, and we need people to understand that.

People in the rest of Iraq are not doing us a favour by trying to solve problems apart from the federal constitution. There are commitments, there are political agreements and there are issues that are enshrined in our constitution. Identity is an important thing for us, and we will not allow anybody to take our identity from us. We refused to surrender to the will of Saddam Hussein, and we will certainly not surrender to any similar dictatorial regimes that may come after his.

Kurdish identity has to be respected. People in this region have to feel that they are equal citizens of Iraq and that they are free to enjoy their full rights within this country. We are a model and a success story with a vibrant economy where the growth rate is over 8% per year, GDP per capita is over $5000 a year. There is political maturity, a vibrant civil society and institutions, and day after day the region makes progress as it works with the outside world.  We are what we are because of the values we stand for. We believe in equality, justice and tolerance. We are proud that there are over 20 foreign representations in the region, which have benefited from their presence politically, economically and culturally. The KRG is constantly reaching out to international partners, and we are actively looking to bolster foreign representations in this region. Currently we have 12 KRG representations abroad and hoping to actively increase these also, as they are an essential means of encouraging people, businesses, universities and institutions to grow in Kurdistan.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

As the “last great oil frontier”, the battle between Kurdistan and Iraq continues apace

One of the main topics of contention between the KRG and Baghdad has been agreement on a national hydrocarbon law, format of oil sharing and specifically the ownership and jurisdiction of huge oil discoveries in the Kurdistan Region.

As the number of oil companies flocking to the region has steadily grown in recent years so has the general anger and animosity from Baghdad. However, with hopes of reaching a breakthrough on the elusive national hydrocarbon law dashed earlier this year were a draft oil and gas law was rejected in parliament, the Kurds have continued the development of their region and in particular their oil sector at speed.

Whilst major oil giants have stayed out of the Kurdistan scene for fear of upsetting Baghdad and potentially losing a greater slice of the cake further south, things took an unexpected and historic turn this week with the announcement that oil giant Exxon Mobil had signed a milestone oil contract with the Kurdistan Region to explore six fields in the region.

Dubbed as the “last major oil frontier”, the broad global interest and world class oil discoveries has put Kurdistan firmly on the map, however, the region as well as the smaller players have been eagerly awaiting the entry of the big actors that will undoubtedly change the tide.

The oil giants may have stepped aside and let the minors run the show in Kurdistan to date but it has become increasingly evident that as time passes by and with little sign of a breakthrough in the ratification of a commonly accepted oil law, those who linger in the background will lose out greatly in the long run. As the widely acknowledged last frontier, oil companies must arrive first or arrive too late.

The deal with Exxon Mobil may have been drawn on an economic basis but certainly the political ramifications echo a lot louder. In the short-term it makes reconciliation with Baghdad that much more difficult but ultimately as oil giants wane into the equation, finding resolutions with Kurdistan have to be taken a lot more seriously and Baghdad will have no choice but seek concord.

Almost inevitably the deal sparked immediate condemnation from Baghdad, with Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs Hussein al-Shahristani, a long-time nemesis of the Kurdish position on oil, giving Exxon Mobil the choice to either work on the West Qurna fields in the south or on the fields in Kurdistan whilst deeming such contracts with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) as illegal. “Exxon has violated the ministry directions and instructions concerning the companies working in Kurdistan,” said Abdul-Mahdy al-Ameedi, director of the oil ministry”s contracts and licensing directorate.

However, the greater significance is Exxon Mobil”s choice in essentially siding with Kurdistan. They knew very well what Baghdad”s response was likely to be having been warned a number of times during the negotiations with the KRG and the fact they risked their involvement in the development of the 8.7-billion-barrel West Qurna Phase One oil field in the south speaks volumes. They knew the consequence in drawing the wrath of Baghdad but still saw a stronger attraction to Kurdistan.

According to sources, Washington had warned Exxon Mobil”s about the risks of striking any deal with the KRG amidst a backdrop of hostility from Baghdad. In reality, such a deal would not have been possible without the consent of the US government. As oil giants are made to take difficult positions in ongoing friction between Baghdad and Erbil, increasingly global powers such as America would also need to take a position on the matter one way or another. Either way, standing on the side-lines politically or economically as the years ensue and progress is protracted at best in Iraq will serve no side.

As the feuds continue between Baghdad and Erbil, unless Baghdad can finally find a long-term resolution, more and more firms will have to choose between Kurdistan and Iraq. In this manner, the issue is not over Kurds of Iraq or over a federal region of Iraq but almost between two states – Kurdistan and Iraq.

With the discovery of huge oil reserves in recent years, the region is beginning to realise its much anticipated potential. With reserves of up to 45billion barrels of oil and a booming infrastructure, Kurdistan is becoming a force within its own right, with or without Baghdad.

Ironically, Shahristani is no longer the Iraqi Oil Minister but has continued to maintain a hard-line on Kurdistan oil projects on what has become more of a personal battle than a federal power management dispute. A key condition for the Kurdish support for the current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki”s coalition was a ratification of oil contracts signed by the KRG with dozens of oil firms. Although, exports have resumed, it is by no means at the capacity that Kurdistan can produce and frosty relations have continued with disputes over payments to foreign firms under PSC agreements blighting any short-term gains.

At the same time as the announcement of the Exxon Mobil deal, KRG Oil Minister Ashti Hawrami confirmed that they were in talks with another two major oil companies which would bolster the region further.

However, on the back of the major fallout surrounding the Exxon Mobil deal, it was reported that Royal Dutch Shell Plc, who were rumoured to have strong interest in the Kurdistan Region, had decided to pull out of oil exploration and development talks with the KRG. This was clearly a ploy to protect its lucrative investments in southern Iraq much to the disappointment of the Kurds.

Either way, even if no other oil giants join the Kurdistan arena in the foreseeable future, a major taboo has been broken. Baghdad”s continued stance towards deals brokered by the KRG and its seemingly lack of enthusiasm to see KRG prosper ahead of the rest if Iraq, places the already fragile coalition in Baghdad into further doubt.

As Kurds become increasingly disillusioned with Baghdad over oil disputes and territorial disputes that shows no signs of progress, they are more likely than ever to take matters into their hands. As witnessed with Exxon Mobil and encouraging diplomatic support from abroad in the stand-off with Baghdad, other entities will increasingly support Kurdistan in its strategic goals and the fulfilment of its immense potential.

Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP and now the head of Genel Energy, voiced his support for the deal while the UK government simultaneously waned into the dispute. Michael Aron, the UK ambassador to Iraq, urged both parties to resolve longtime differences and end the heightened uncertainty for those signing contracts in Kurdistan.

Many expect a continuation of mergers and consolidation of the oil sector in Kurdistan. As oil minors make increasingly lucrative discoveries, the chances of them combining to become majors will become an increasing reality. Just this week Norway”s DNO announced it was open to partnerships, with Turkey”s Genel Enerji touted as a potential partner.

The Kurdistan Blocs Coalition (KBC) in the Iraqi parliament strongly criticised Shahristani”s stance on the oil deal with Exxon Mobil, while the KRG were quick to point out that the deal was good for all of Iraq.

After all, if Baghdad truly sees the Kurds as partners and the Kurdistan Region as an integral component of Iraq, then why should the prosperity and advancement of Kurdistan be such an issue for Baghdad?

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.