Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Kurds Abandoning the Constitution

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 8 July 2010 17:32

A recurrent theme in US commentary on Iraqi affairs is that things are moving in the right direction as far as a greater emphasis on democratic values is concerned.

The latest comment on constitutional matters by Faryad Rawanduzi, a Kurdistan Alliance official, offers some intriguing insights into the current level of respect for the constitution in Iraq. Or, rather, the lack of such respect. In an interview with the Aswat al-Iraq news agency, Rawanduzi yesterday bombastically declared that “the Kurdistan Alliance will not accept that two leading positons [prime minister, president or parliament speaker] are awarded to two persons from the same sect”!

وقال راوندوزي لوكالة (اصوات العراق) إن “التحالف الكردستاني لا يقبل ان يخصص منصبين سياديين الى شخصيتين من مذهب ديني واحد

Needless to say, these criteria are one hundred percent his own innovation (or possibly that of the Kurdish leadership at large). Apparently, some still need to be reminded that the presidency council and the special majority requirements that came with it were a unique transitional feature of the 2005–2010 period and have now expired. Formal sectarianism is not part of the Iraqi political system, and there is nothing that prevents, say,  three Shiites or three Sunnis from taking all the leading positions if there is political support for this in parliament, i.e. absolute majorities for the speaker and the government and a simple plurality for the president. (Incidentally, Rawanduzi seems to forget that most Kurds are Sunni Muslims; in order to square his own path-breaking criteria with another stated Kurdish demand – that of having a Kurdish president – they would probably have to nominate a Kurdish Jew.)

This is of course not the first time the Kurds are seeking to undermine the constitution which they previously seemed to hold in such high regard. Perhaps the best known example is their insistence on implementation of article 140 (on disputed territories) and their complete disregard of article 142 (on constitutional revision, which could ultimately cancel 140). Similarly, late last year, amid discussion of French weapon sales to Iraq, another Kurdish politician, Adel Barwari, claimed the constitution dictated that a share of weapons procured by the Iraqi central government should be given to the Kurdish regional authorities in accordance with the constitution!

قال عادل برواري عضو مجلس النواب العراقي عن قائمة التحالف الكوردستاني في تصريح خاص لوكالة انباء بيامنير وراديو زاكروس: وقّعت وزارة الدفاع العراقية عدة عقود مع وزارة الدفاع الفرنسية، وذلك بهدف شراء بعض الهليوكوبترات والمصفحات الحديثة وآلات لكشف المتفجرات والعديد من المعدات الأخرى من فرنسا. مضيفاً أنه وبحسب الدستور، لإقليم كوردستان حصة من تلك المعدات والأسلحة، لأن إقليم كوردستان جزء من العراق، وقوات أمن الإقليم هي جزء من قوات الدفاع العراقية.

The context of Rawanduzi’s outburst is of course the intensified rapprochement between State of Law headed by Nuri al-Maliki and Iraqiyya led by Ayad Allawi. Perceptive Kurds correctly read this as a sign that their votes are not really needed to form a government this time. If that realisation in turn helps them reframe their own demands in a more moderate fashion, then it is a good thing and could offer good possibilities for their inclusion in government (as Allawi’s recent visit to Arbil may have indicated). If on the other hand it means a collective flight into the fantasy world of Faryad Rawanduzi, then it will lessen their prospect for participation in the next Iraqi government. Not much is expected to happen this week, which is a long holiday weekend in Iraq (though with both Allawi and Maliki currently in Lebanon according to reports). But suspense appears to be building towards next week, when the “first meeting” of parliament will have lasted exactly one month.

27 Responses to “Kurds Abandoning the Constitution”

  1. Ali W said

    I read that article and I was furious with it. It was so obvious why he said that. How dare he state that the shia who make up 70% of the population cannot take the two most important positions. I really hope INM-SLA allaince happens, and with that, the emasculation of Kurdish power and over repsresentation in Iraqi politics.

    Sooner or later, the Arabs will wake up, it will either happen in this election or next. the Kurds need to realise that, and start decreasing their demand.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    On the subject of imaginative Kurdish thinking, here is an interesting statement this morning that the “National Alliance” (the would-be Shiite alliance) is the one they consider closest to themselves:

    الا طالباني : التحالف الوطني هو الاقرب للتحالف الكردستاني بسبب تقارب وجهات النظر

    Except that the NA does not exist.

  3. Ali W said

    The situation to me seems extremely complicated that only an alliance between INM and SLA could bring about the closure to this episode.

    The Kurds are insistent on Jalal Talabani becoming the next president, even though there are three other bigger coalitions. There are only three important positions (and only two are really sought Presidency & PM). Everywhere I read, INM state that they want a “Partnership Government” which makes this impossible unless one coalition goes into opposition.

    The Kurdish stance, couples with SLA only prepared to have the PM postion, whilst INA refuses Maliki, I cant see a government forming for a very long time.

    Many are saying that the Iraqi politicians will have no option but to allow INM the chance to form the next government next week when the parliament convenes, due to SLA/INA not being able to name a PM. This in my view would be impossibe because it would mean that those parties that have nearly have the seats would be only given the speaker position, which is not good enough.

  4. I see the Kurdish moves as part of a healthy struggle between two dichotomies: Centralism vs. federalism on one hand and sectarianism vs. secularism on the other. The Kurds are finding themselves on the weaker side of federalism, which they care about, while they are on the stronger side of secularism, which they don’t care about. Well, guess what, the centralism dichotomy is gaining in importance and attention in Iraq like it is in many democracies, if the Kurds and ISCI push for federalism after the clear popular mandate for centralist parties then their effort will have to be outside democracy.

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Yeah, I think that is spot on Faisal. When Ala Talabani calls for a Kurdish alliance with the (non-existent) National Alliance, what she is really saying is that she imagines a pro-federal Kurdish alliance with an ISCI-dominated Shiite alliance. But nothing can hide the fact that the parliamentary strength of the decentralisers has been reduced to less than 80 out of 325 seats, since, as pointed out in your article, centralisers prevailed even in Shiite-dominated constituencies where State of Law emerged on top and with Sadrists beating ISCI. Hence, her call for an imagined alliance based on numbers that don’t add up highlights the Kurdish quandary right now.

  6. Jason said

    53 rounded up in Basra in one day. Maliki still at war with Sadrists on the streets? Makes INA look like Hakim’s wishful thinking.

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, frankly, you cannot use those stats to derive anything about the Sadrist-SLA relationship. It is just too crude. Too many other local factors play a role.

    On the other hand, of course, all the signs are that the Shiite alliance is in trouble, although Iran is probably scrambling to restore it.

  8. Salah said

    sorry agin for my mess.

    Faisal, Can I ask question here:
    There are Kurds Shiites and Sunni what make them not acting like southern Iraq?
    Where those Turban running whiled between the people seducing them for nonnicences behaviours that nothing can feed them just looks make them feast for bombs?

  9. Salah said

    “the Kurdistan Alliance will not accept that two leading positons [prime minister, president or parliament speaker] are awarded to two persons from the same sect”!

    There is no argument with what they stated as granted by the “Constitution” isn’t? Correct me please if I am wrong.

  10. Reidar Visser said

    You are wrong, Salah. As explained in the article, the constitution does not stipulate any denominational criteria for the presidency or indeed for any of the leading offices of state.

  11. Jason said

    Is this true? Has Maliki conceded to Allawi?

  12. Reidar Visser said

    What was said at the Hariri press conference was certainly interesting, although you might also see it as commentary of a slightly more hypothetical kind: If Allawi is charged by the new president with forming the next government, then Maliki will not object.

    I think the key point is that negotiations between the two sides continue, whilst INA and the Kurds are doing their best to say that SLA and Iraqiyya will never succeed. Of course they say that…

  13. observer said

    One note from history,
    In the last 90 years, the central government “forced” their solutions on the Kurds, resulting in eventual violent confrontations. Consistently since the late 1950’s, the Kurdish hopes for self government were dashed as a result of their desire to control Kirkuk and the reluctance (or inability) of the central government to give them such.

    The writers here and even Reider, seem to indicate that Iraqiyya and SLA “Do not need” the Kurds of Hakim to form the government or govern Iraq. I am one of those who believe that this is folly at this point in time even though it may be constitutionally and theoretically possible. Ignoring the Kurds will end up destroying federal Iraq. In fact, in my opinion, giving them “more than they deserve” will only result in cementing a long-term relation of trust (which is missing ingredient in the Kurdish-Arab relation since 1960).

    I believe that Allawi cares too much about the unity of Iraq to contemplate ignoring the Kurds in the formation of the government or forcing alternatives down their throats. Allawi is a long term strategist and I believe he will be able to find a solution to keep all of the rest with a share (and a stake) in the government. It is not just about the formation of the government, for there is a “day after” and governance of Iraq is no longer possible with the use of force and violence !!!

    Further, the major objection to Maliki comes from Sadrists. Without their objection, the game would have been over for Allawi, constitutional problems not withstanding. Thus, Allawi can not (and should not) ignore the Sadrists in the formation of the government (precisely because of the Day After).

    In other words, the US may have it right after all. Pushing for an All Party Government will not only provide for a smooth withdrawal, but also easier governance. The PM MUST work on the real policy issues. Corruption, Electricity/Services, Oil/Kirkuk, Economic Liberation from state control. These are issues that require a lot more than 180 seats voting together.

  14. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, my sense is that an SLA-Iraqiyya govt would offer the right level of generosity to the Kurds. The problem of the oversized govt in the 2005-2010 period was that it gave away way too much, to the point where Baghdad ceased to exist as an effective central government. The bigger it gets, the weaker it gets, and more often it will have to wait for consultations with Tehran and Arbil to make even basic decisions.

    As for the Sadrists, I think the experience of the 2008-2010 period suggests that the problem could well be alleviated to a considerable extent with targeted development schemes for the pro-Sadrist slums in Baghdad and Basra. I suggest that you go and revisit some of the things Baha al-Aaraji has said the past year and ask yourself once more whether he really is a credible prospective partner in government!

  15. Salah said

    In the last 90 years, the central government “forced” their solutions on the Kurds, resulting in eventual violent confrontations

    I don’t know this bit of history you stated here, although I am Iraqi born living in Iraq.

    Let first say going back 90 years in history there were no central government in Iraq. Iraq was under British occupation ruled by military force. So all Iraq’s mosaic nations suffered equally under that invasion and occupation it might be some marginal differences in the losses.

    Coming back to early 1950 Barazani was a triable man looking for power and control; he got the idea exactly like Arab nation both suffered for 700 years of Othman Empire with humiliations, poverty and wars that men were collected to be fed to Othman’s wars followed by British Empire with their sweet falls promises ended with occupation on Arab Land in all ME. Kurd like Arab looks forward to get things for their side started with Mullah Barazani who get support first from commonest movent early 1950 then the waves changed to UK and Then CIA.

  16. amagi said

    So, I realize we’re slightly far afield of the thread topic, but in the absence of a new thread about recent SLA-INM developments, I have to ask my question here: in the event the ‘180 solution’ becomes a reality, how far do you think Iran will go to sabotage it? I mean, if they were to ‘pull out all the stops,’ so to speak, what can we expect?

    (As an aside, let me just say I hope that the phrase ‘180 solution’ really catches on because I think it sums up the situation perfectly… as in, ‘let’s turn 180 degrees away from where we are now — sectarianism, violence, corruption, incompetence — and walk forward into a brighter future!)

  17. Reidar Visser said

    Amagi, thanks, I am sure Iran would try to use whatever leverage they may have. That is, mainly the Kurds (probably PUK more than KDP), ISCI and some of the Sadrists. But I don’t think it would amount to much in the Kurdish areas, where Turkey after all has more leverage and where pragmatists are more interested in the monthly oil revenue subsidy that accounts for almost all of the local economy and that also requires working relationship with Baghdad (since the oil that matters is produced in Basra).

    As for the Shiite Islamists, I think that as long as there is a Shiite Islamist party with a nationalist/centralist orientation included in government (such as SLA in a coalition with Iraqiyya), it will enjoy the upper hand versus pro-Iranian challengers. If Maliki could challenge Sadrist militias in 2008, an INM-SLA govt would be able to do the same thing in 2011.

  18. Amagi,
    I think it is a mistake to look at Iraq vs. Iran in isolation of other players. Iran is in a difficult economic situation and the most harm it could do is dependent on its confrontation with Israel/USA. Terrorism, assassinations and propaganda are relatively inexpensive but will depend on opportunities. If the 180 solution becomes a reality then an important factor will be the loss of opportunities for Iranian initiatives, it will be up to Maliki/Allawi to make sure Iran doesn’t get them back.
    Salah: Why Kurds and Sunnis are not acting like Shia’s? I think they are, we are all motivated by fear, but there is an economic underpinning with Shia clergy, they don’t like to lose khoms income if the sectarian identity is diluted.

  19. amagi said


    Thank you, and I understand your point. My feeling is that should a democratic Iraq flourish, the ‘ouster clock’ for the current Iranian regime skips ahead quite significantly. I think that of all regional players, the Iranian government has the most to gain by keeping Iraq unstable and that while jihadist entities such as Al Qaeda have been working full-bore to undercut stability, Iran may yet have quite a few tricks kept in reserve.

    Specifically, I guess, I am concerned about open hostility (as opposed to the largely covert and proxy influence seen thus far) and I wonder how far the Khomeini regime will go to stay in power. Perhaps I am off base, but I cannot see a democratic Iraq and theocratic Iran co-existing side by side.

    I know that even with these potentially positive developments we are a long way from seeing a free and stable Iraq… but I wonder how close to a reality it can become before Iran drops all pretense and uses everything it has to thwart progress, because as near as I can tell, the survival of the regime depends on it.

  20. observer said

    to understand the point of view of the Kurds, you have to know kurds close enough for them to speak to you without worrying about being “PC”. The history you “read” was written by Arabists. to claim that Barazani was “terrible” is too simplistic, as clearly he has had a lot of support internal to the Kurds. The Wilson Declaration of 1919 talked about two peoples that would supposedly get the right for self determination 0 namely the Palestinians, and the Kurds. yet our history books do not talk about he second but talk about the first and condemn the Belfour declaration. The Kurds, do not see themselves in isolation of the Kurds of Iran and/or Turkey. The struggle of the Kurds for self determination did not suddenly start in 1960!!!. Ask yourself why Barazani was in exile in Armenia/CCCP/USSR between 1946 and 1958? You might view the Mahbad Republic as and Iranian-Kurdish affair, when in fact eh Kurds view it as a Kurdish affair. Anyway, this venue is not for historic education. I will tell you that as an Iraqi Arab, I felt shame for not knowing the Kurdish history from the Kurdish point of view until I came back to Iraq in 03 and have learned much since. Unless and until you believe in your heart of hearts and prove it to the Kurds that you believe in their just cause, you will not get them to speak with clarity and without paying attention to political connection.
    In my book, the root cause of much of the instability of Iraq goes right to the Kurdish rights issue. Foreign governments have been able to use that JUST cause to their own advantage throughout the last century to destabilize Iraq. The central government can ignore that problem again but it will mean that Iraq as an entity will not have much of a chance to grow and become the success story that it can be.
    I will stop at this point, because I do not want to sound like I am lecturing, but I will state one last time that Arabs of Iraq need to understand the legitimate rights of the Kurds so that they can actually work on a true federation and not get bogged down with an illusive, strong central government governed by the majority. Iraq right now is on the path to a confederation (as opposed to federation). It should be set properly on the path for a federation with decentralized services and a federal government that represents the interests of Arabs and Kurds TOGETHER.

  21. observer said

    I am afraid of Iran using JAM as a Trojan Horse to render the government of Iraq impotent. This is quite a real danger given the immanent withdrawal of US forces. The Democrats fear only one thing more than the dillusion of their base, and that is beign accused by Republicans that they (Democrat) lost the war that Bush won – so there is naturally pressure to include Sadrists (i.e. JAM reps) in the government. But beyond that – the reason why Maliki has failed to secure the PM position of the PM through pressure of Sadrists. SO do you think Allawi would/should forget this?

    Be that as it may, it is my “gut feeling” that it is the personal weakness (lack of self confidence) that made Maliki paralyzed the first two years of his regime. He only got “balls” when the rest were about to depose him in early 2007 with a motion of withdrawal of confidence that he was made to move against JAM. Recall that he owed them his chair at that time. Allawi is a far better poker player than Maliki will ever be. He will not be (in my opinion) be hostage to the threats of the others. He is as adapt as Talabani and Chalibi at using favors and deal to divide and conquer. While we are all lamenting the time lost since the elections, I must say that nobody is giving Allawi enough credit for his masterful maneuvering. WHile Chalibi is viewed by many as the Nuri al Said of this generation… I think that this opinion over estimates the “foxiness” of Chalibi and underestimates that of Allawi (to Allawi’s advantage).

    Let us see what the next few days will bring us.

  22. observer said

    Amagi – If I were an Iranian strategist, the easiest solution is to assassinate Allawi. While some believe that Allawi’s claims of conspiracies against his person are just sour grapes, I believe that they have a base in reality. The US better be careful for if Allawi is harmed or god forbid is assassinated, there will be a civil war for real……

  23. Amagi,
    I think your concerns are legitimate but if I put myself in the shoes of Ahmedinejad I would see a chicken and egg situation in Iraq regarding instability. The biggest threat to change of regime in Iran would be internal from reformists, if Iraq is made too unstable then it could support the reformists and worse, mujahedi Khalq. As Ahmedinejad I would see open confrontation is not in the interest of Iran, even a failed assassination attempt could push the new Iraqi government to support the Iranian opposition. Failing the unforeseen, I think the stage is set for positive change.

  24. Jason said

    Amagi, Observer,

    If not clear from my prior posts, I strongly share your concerns about Iran and JAM. If democracy (and free-market, economic prosperity) truly succeed in Iraq, then Khamenei will have no choice but to demonize it as another “Little Satan” in order to maintain his internal control. I predicted from the beginning, the development of another Korean Peninsula-like standoff between Iraq and Iran. Only it will be more unmanageable because there is no DMZ to stop the flow of terrorists and assassins from Iran, or the flow of information about freedom and greater prosperity from Iraq. It will be a grand experiment: democracy vs. theocratic fascism, freedom vs. oppression, and (still hoping) Capitalism vs. Socialism. As soon as Obama finishes his retreat, expect the fireworks to start. I believe JAM is just lying in wait for the starting gun. Realizing the “180 Solution” (I also love that term!) would go a loooonng way to to getting Iraq off to a substantial head-start.

  25. amagi said


    Yes, assassinating Allawi is exactly the sort of game-changing move that concerns me. Blowing the Mosul dam is another. I realize it’s pointless to dwell on such cataclysmic possibilities… I was hoping, perhaps, that someone might have insight into why Iran might *not* choose to attempt such things, or ideas about how they could be hedged against.

    I guess I am just trying not to get my hopes up too much regarding the 180 solution, now that it seems a relative likelihood. There are still many spoilers that could ruin everything.

    If Allawi was killed, is there anyone who could fill his role? Would the bloc necessarily collapse?

    Reidar, apologies — I know that this kind of paranoid speculation is not what we should be here for, but I feel it may represent a more realistic future than any of us wish to admit.

  26. observer said

    Amagi, Jason,
    In my personal opinion, there is hardly anybody even close to filling Allawi’s shoes. If the unthinkable happens ( and I hope that his plane is refueled outside Iraq !!!!)… His bloc will disintegrate because there are too many “wanabes”. Right now, they are yielding to his opinion because he has the connections/credential and they are convinced that he is genuine in his beliefs and that what he claims in public is the same that he says in private and also he has a track record of staying the course and not changing for tactical reasons.

    I like the idea of having a DMZ along the border. The 25 million mines that exist along the border shroud not be leaned up until the relations are set properly.

    By the way, blowing the mosul dam is not that easy and the iraqis are keeping the water level low in the reservoir for reasons other than concern with the Iranians (I believe the foundations have seepage problems and the US army corps of engineers declared it the most dangerous dam in the world a few years back).

  27. Salah said


    Just of matter of fact that Israel / Plastein case very different and far to be related to Kurds issue here.
    It’s staggering some keep been megaphone for some new Kurds who like more than that in facts some Kurds (Btw not all the Kurds) asking for Halabja been considered like Holocaust… which really laughable to make this connection and comparison.

    Anyway observer you should read around the world what smiler case ended , Like south Africa between the indigenous Black and the occupiers the White how they learn to live in peace., take North Ireland how both British and North Ireland came to realisations of peaceful solution to live together although the sad and troubled past.

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