Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for October 6th, 2010

Let the Kurdish Drama Begin!

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 6 October 2010 13:59

It is a pitiful sight: The two would-be saviours of the Iraqi nation, Ayad Allawi and Nuri al-Maliki, trying to outbid each other in an attempt at satisfying the author of one of the most destructive and separatist agendas for Iraq’s political future, the Kurdish leader Masud Barzani. All because Allawi and Maliki cannot trust or even talk to each other.

But that is where we finally are, some seven months on from the 7 March elections. The nomination dynamics within the recently-reconstituted all-Shiite National Alliance (NA) played out in way that suited the Kurds more perfectly than they could have ever dreamt of: The size of the internal protest against Maliki – in the range of 10-20 NA deputies – was just big enough to make him totally reliant on the Kurds, instead of having the theoretical alternative of building ties to smaller parties like Tawafuq, Unity of Iraq and the independent minority representatives. It was also big enough to keep the scenario of an alternative Allawi-led government afloat, at least in a theoretical sense, thus finally turning the Kurds into real kingmakers.

So there we are. Maysun al-Damluji of Iraqiyya yesterday said “Iraqiyya looks positively on the Kurdish list of demands”. As for Maliki’s approach, Muhammad Khalil of the Kurdish alliance said his initial response consisted of “positive signs”. Let’s not forget what the Kurdish list of demands is: It consists of 19 points aimed at finishing the project of emasculating Baghdad that was begun with the constitution adopted in 2005 (whose co-architect, Peter Galbraith, was today awarded compensation estimated in the range of 55 to 75 million US dollars from the Norwegian oil company DNO for lost business stakes in Kurdistan dating from 2004-2008 when he was also a consultant for the Kurds on constitutional issues). According to the Kurdish perspective, the constitution did not go quite far enough, so they included new ideas about decentralising the oil sector, settling territorial disputes within a new timeline and prolonging veto powers based on ethno-sectarian formulas of power sharing. Additionally, there are some new demands more reminiscent of a kindergarten logic than modern democracy, including the idea that “the government is considered resigned if the Kurds withdraw because they consider it to be in violation of the constitution.” So much for the principles of separation of power and parliamentarism! Ironically, the Kurds already seem to be in violation of a pledge reportedly made during the visit by Masud Barzani to Washington last January to refrain from raising controversial issues like Kirkuk as a basis for participating in the next government; no prize though for guessing Washington’s “reaction”, which so far has consisted of encouraging Maliki and the Kurds to talk more and get on with forming a government anyway.

The reason we finally got here is fairly simple. Since last autumn, due to its dislike of Maliki as a person, Iraqiyya has been wasting its time talking to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) more broadly, hoping to lure this half of the then still putative all-Shiite NA away from Maliki (possibly through the medium of the Sadrists). For his part, Maliki has been cultivating ties with the Kurds and to some extent Tawafuq. In isolation, none of these strategies provided numbers that sufficiently added up towards the magical 163 majority mark; the change came through the sudden change of heart by the Sadrists, who until recently were loud critics of Maliki. With a little help from Iran, though, axes were buried and Sadr began supporting Maliki’s nomination within the NA. And voila, on a more realistic basis this time, Maliki could resume his dialogue with the Kurds which has after all been in the making for more than a year.

So the question is whether Maliki can satisfy the Kurds, who felt short-changed during the previous government, and this time are demanding firmer guarantees. He will probably have problems given the considerable but often under-estimated opposition to Kurds from within his own ranks, where there are those who think of both oil and Kirkuk in centralistic terms and are generally quite critical of the Kurds: Media close to the Daawa published slander about the private jets of the Barzani family only days ago. The recently-announced government decision to postpone the planned census a couple of months – against the wishes of the Kurds – is another indication of the limited room for manoeuvre available for Maliki. But the point is that neither Maliki nor Allawi seems able to do anything else at the moment – and the Iraqi electorate seems incapable of articulating the level of disgust that this ironic twist of events so clearly warrants. So maybe we should all lean back and watch the Kurdish drama unfold for some time?

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Iraqi nationalism, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories, Oil in Iraq | 42 Comments »