Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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?

42 Responses to “Let the Kurdish Drama Begin!”

  1. Sadiq said

    Any Iraqi Government will be will advised to separate the kurdish north and declare it as an independent country for the Kurdish contribution to Iraq has been nothing but problems, procrastination, weakening of central Government and its ministries, fueling ethnicism and at a time when most Iraqis are fearing for their lives they are enjoying the hefty and unfairly gained budget from the the Central Government. Where is the nationalism or Patriotism in that??

  2. TeTsuo said

    Hi Reidar, i read your blog with regulatity and have wondered on your Kurdish stance for some time. Why is it you think the Kurds should have no regional rights?

    Iraq is a country created through British partition of the Ottoman Empire, it has only existed since the 1920.

    The Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without a country, on the most very basic of humanistic levels, do they not deserve one? I believe ultimately they do.

    In the meantime, within the constraints of the Iraqi constitution they seek to steer their own destiny and improve the lives of the Kurdish people.

    Considering the mess Sharistani has made of the South, oil service agreements where the IOCs and MOO have totally opposing interests, i am not surprised they seek some autonomy. Just look at the investment in Kurdistan, a beacon to the rest of Iraq.

    kind regards, TeTsuo.

  3. Reidar Visser said


    For the historical part, I keep repeating myself and apologies to those who have heard this before, but please discard the non-empirical cliche that Iraq is artificial and never existed before 1920. I recommend the following article I wrote, “Proto-Political Conceptions of ‘Iraq’ in Late Ottoman Times”, International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies, vol. 3 no. 2, autumn 2009. Here is the abstract:

    This article criticises the so-called “artificiality paradigm” concerning the emergence of the modern state on Iraq, according to which the kingdom of Iraq that came into being in 1921 was nothing but a random collection of Ottoman provinces that had little in common. Based on documents from the late Ottoman period, the article shows that the opposite appears to be the case: In many ways, the modern state of Iraq had regional antecedents that predated the British invasion in 1914. The article shows that for long periods before 1914 there existed a pattern of administrative centralisation of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul under Baghdad as a paramount regional capital, that this regional entity was often described as “Iraq” in administrative and diplomatic correspondence, and that the local inhabitants often referred to Iraq in a patriotic sense.

    For the contemporary stuff, I am NOT against Kurdish autonomy or self-rule within a federal framework at all. But what they are seeking is far more than “some autonomy” or “regional rights” (your words). Kermanshahi, a Kurd and a frequent contributor to the comments section on this blog, has explained what everyone knows: The goal is independence. In other words, many Iraqis feel their demands are too radical and really a step towards the partition of Iraq. For my part, I simply ask them to choose one of two courses: Either federalism inside Iraq (not confederalism, i.e. there has to be a meaningful role for Baghdad) or full independence. Not both at the same time.

  4. TeTsuo said


    thank you for an excellent reply. I will read your article with .

    I can see your point of view and agree that Kurdish autonomy is just a stepping stone to independence, this is clear. All the regional players would acknowledge this privately, if not openly. I know this in the UK, anyone who studies the issue will also know this. There is no secret here.

    I believe the Kurds have no choice but to play this game. There is not the external support for them to achieve independence at this time, quite the contrary, in particular the reactions from Turkey, Iran and Syria would be very negative due to their own Kurdish issues. There would be no support from the US to achieve this now.

    The Kurds can see clearly that they can only achieve their aims in small increments, to work within the legal framework that already exists, to create strong economic ties with their neighbours (Turkey) and to develop their oil assets so they have the economic power to go it alone. This strikes me as the best approach from them, to hopefully avoid a civil war.

    kind regards, TeTsuo.

  5. Jason said

    Is public opinion playing any role at all in the govt formation? Isn’t it correct that nearly 80% of Iraqis, Sunni and Shia alike, are opposed to greater Kurdish independence? Would the public recoil against a PM that so clearly places personal ambition over preserving the integrity of Iraq as a single, unified nation?

  6. Reidar Visser said

    I for one think there would be a backlash, but I think Maliki has his eyes fixed on a particular path to power now and he may well over-reach in the process…

  7. Jason said

    As an American, I would normally choose the side of self-determination, but this appears to be a stark choice between: a) building a unified, economically and politically viable Iraq where Kurds are afforded a sensible degree of autonomy over local issues, and b) a potential break up leading to a nightmare scenario with a violent conflagration involving the Kurds, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Is that an exaggeration?

  8. Kermanshahi said

    Call their policies destructive and seperatist, but the Kurds never wanted to be part of the Iraqi nation, they were forced to and from the beginning the only thing keeping them in Iraq was hard-hand military occupation. Even in today’s Iraq, when they held a referendum in Kurdistan in 2005, 2 milion people voted for secession, 20 thousand voted to stay in Iraq. If you tell a Kurd he is seperatist or he betrays the Iraqi nation this is not an insult, for 99% (or in referendum results 98.8%) of Kurds don’t view Iraq as their nation. Living in Europe you must know that when you ask a Kurd where he comes from, 9 out of 10 sais Kurdistan. To Ankara’s ruling military junta Kurdistan is a word of terrorists and it does not exist, to most people and governments (including Iran and Iraq) it is a region in the Middle East, yet to most Kurds, particulary in Iraq, it is a nation, a country under occupation. To most Kurds Iraq is merely someone else’s nation, while Kurdistan is their nation and their loyalty is only towards Kurdistan. They don’t want to have cultural rights under someone else’s country, they want to be free inside their own country. Now, decades of opression, discrimination, cultural repression, forced assymilation, ethnic cleansing and a genocide which killed at least 280,000 Kurds in the 70s and 80s hasn’t helped improve the average Kurd’s stance on Iraq.

  9. Kermanshahi said

    Jason & TeTsuo, according to the Turkish constitution Kurds do not exist and neither does Kurdistan, they have been dealing with as much, if not more resistance from the Kurds than Iraq, so that’s why they are very opposed to the creation of a Kurdistan anywhere, or even the recognition of Kurdish language anywhere or it’s use in official documents. Iran and Syria however are a different question, though opposed to Kurdish seperatism in their own territory, both see the benefits in having the Kurds seceed from Iraq. It is not for no reason that Kurdish seperatist leaders have always sought refuge in Syria and why Iran has funded every singe Kurdish rebellion and rebel group in Iraq both under the Shah and the Islamic Regime. The effect of this on Iraq would also bee seen as postive for both countries, since it would increase the percentage of Shi’a (to about 80%) which is exactly what Iran wants and it would make Iraq (which has from Saddam to Maliki) been Syria’s main regional rival, significantly smaller and somewhat weaker + creating a Kurdistan bridge between Iran and Syria, who are regional allies. What they are opposed to is a pro-Western Kurdish state with American bases. If Kurdish leaders break ties with the West, help secure the Iran border and offer allegiance to Iran (and Syria) they will be more than glad to accept the creation of a Kurdish state. Turkey won’t, but they lack both the will and the military capabilities to do anything about it.

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Tonight’s planned meeting between the “NA” and the Kurds was just cancelled…

  11. M said

    Reider, it seems as though you are still fixed on Maliki-Allawi unity government as if it were the panacea to all Iraq’s pains and aches. I am afraid it is not, and now it is increasingly shown unlikely, predictably so.

    I agree, theoretically it makes sense that a fractious Iraq would benefit from a peaceful arrangement between the winners of the two poles of Iraq’s sectarian politics. However, apart from the personalistic fight over the PM position, one can imagine the immense difficulties ahead: how the two men will agree on the distribution of sensitive posts such as energy, security and foreign affairs, reach a united governing vision and policies, and manage the day-to-day operations and interaction among various functions of government, given the so much push-and-pull internal and external dynamic.

    By now, we know enough about Maliki. Do we need to mention any details? say whatever you like-the positives and negatives. We have seen the man in action and we can pretty much predict his governing style for the next four years if he manages to stay, perhaps with some changes depending on how the new structure of government is formed and the effects of many other interacting domestic and external factors.

    The X factor is Allawi- Allawi’s effect or Allawi’s phenomenon if you will. No one exactly knows what this man is all about yet. He carries both positive and negative signs. On the positive, he is viewed by some as a repairing figure, an inclusive force, and a trans-sectarian leader: a secular Shiite liberal who has been able to reach out to Sunnis and Shiites alike-more than any of his rivals, won a plurality but has been robbed of a legitimacy to govern.

    The darker interpretation of the man is that he is a former high-rank Baathist who had helped (used by) Saddam rise to power 1968. And now, once again subtly, used by a returning Iraqi Baathist machine and supported/financed by regional Shiite-phobic Saudis, Emiratees and Egyptian Sunni regimes-under a grand sophisticated scheme aimed at reinstalling the Sunni rule in Iraq. Moreover, his trans-sectarian move symbolized by his few Shiite voters/deputies is undermined by the fact that his Shiite base has more or less come from the remnant of former low-medium rank liberal Shiite Baathist sycophants rather than a genuine representation of a portion of the Shiite mainstream.

    For the prospect of Maliki-Allawi coalition to gain any ground, these claims need to be negated first, and trust between Shiites and Sunnis be establsihed and be socially embeded and conspiracy-free. For this to occur, we need a generational shift that will take years and many electoral cycles. So, it is not only that the men do not like each other or do not talk to each other.

    On the Sunni side, the fear is Iran. Maliki/Sadr new alliance understandably triggers a justifiable degree of fear among Sunni Iraqis of Iranian interferences. But Iraqi Shiites in general are not lovers of Iran either. However, the hint of Baathism and Saudism carried by Allawi has finally driven towards unity against such existential risk. The Kurds are likely to join Maliky/Sadr- not only based on concessions they will extract from negotiating parties but on their Arabophobia or more specifically Baathophobia.

    Regardless of the eventual political design, the “new” governers of Iraq must accommodate the Sunnis politically and economically-not only for peace-keeping purposes but as a democratic principle.

    One last point: let us not force union on Iraq. It is indeed divided along ethnic, geographic, and sectarian lines. These divisions are deep and still fresh. Instead, let us work towards accommodating them politically while designing future policies aimed at blunting them socially first.

  12. observer said

    Reidar, the battle continues. It is far far from over…I said a month ago that we will not see a government until the american elections are over, and maybe we will get to december and it is not over. This is a existential fight.

    Kermenshahi, if the Kurdish leadership is stupid enough to do what you want them to do (stand with Iran and Syria against the west) then they will be done for in a couple of days. Do you really think the US or Israel would allow such a “bridge”. But let us not hijack this thread.

    Reidar, The Kurds got all sorts of assurances from Maliki in 06 and if they can trust him again, they have nobody to blame but themselves. The Kurds are out to get the best deal possible – who blames them?, not I. But they are not stupid. The dynamic that I see is Talabani vs. Barzani. The former has good relations with Iran and would love to have that relation be strengthened via a Maliki PM ship, but he is also smart as a fox and knows that the only way the Kurds will retain “king maker” power is by making sure there is always a Sunni-She3a divide. Barzani does not trust Talabani nor Iran (remember 94/96). He wants to allign with Allawi but he has a problem with some of allawi’s boys and they are not willing to give him ALL he wants (at least they tell him the truth, as opposed to Maliki who promises but does not deliver). So now put yourself in his shoes and try to make a decision. I am betting that they will go with a ISCI/Iraqiyya/Kurds. But why hasn’t it happened yet – ask Talabani why is he stuck to the president’s chair with super glue.

  13. Reidar Visser said

    M, I do not have any strong hopes for an Iraqiyya-State of Law alliance anymore. This piece was more in the frame of an afterthought. I’m just a little surprised that Iraqi voters don’t express greater fury at the particularly ironic way in which things are turning, with the supposed nationalists giving in to all sorts of centrifugal forces just because they cannot talk to each other.

    As for your carricature of Allawi as some kind of “trans-sectarian” oddity, I have to disagree. He managed to win some 10 deputies south of Baghdad and has backing from Basra to Mosul. Your whole idea of “Sunni sides” and “Shiite sides” disintegrates against the backdrop of Iraq’s empirical realities.

  14. Santana said

    I know the Kurds are are having multiple orgasms over this Kingmaker status but I truly believe that as their demands get bigger along with the chip on their shoulder they need to understand neither Allawi nor Maliki alone can make the signing off or approval of their rediculous demands stick forever with the Arab majority….it may get them the PM position BUT it will have a serious backlash that will end up hurting the Kurds AND the Iraqi leaders that signed off on it ….ALL….will be held accountable….NO one should ever be allowed to change the map of Iraq !

  15. Kermanshahi said

    Observer, on the contrary, for Kurds to alienate themselfes by associating with the West while being in the Middle of an Islamic region would be suicidal. American power in the Middle East is fading and they are under pressure from all sides and once they abandon the Kurds, either cause the lose influence or because they just lose interest and abandon them like they abandoned so many allies in the past, they’ll be done for. Kurdistan should not and cannot become another Israel (for Israel is not landlocked and no-one will ever be able to get the kind of American support they recieve, least of all a Muslim people like the Kurds), instead if they allign with Iran and Syria there is really nothing the Americans can do about it. They backed off on the “disarming the Peshmerga issue” cause they simply cannot offord an armed conflict with the Kurds, specially now since they’ve got their hands tied up in Afghanistan. And there is no-one which would help them invade or anything like that, either.

    As the saying goes “no friends but the mountians” and Kurds have never followed anyone else’s agenda (though they’ve been accused of this by many), they strive for their own goals, don’t allign with anyone, but accept any foreign help. There is no loyalty towards America and Kurdis leaders would easily sell them out for support of neighbouring states when possible. Now in the Kurdish mindset bravery is valued far above reasoning and logical thinking, they will take on any unwinnable battle if they feel they need to, that’s why I warned they’ll go to war with Iraq if an Iraqiyya-State of Law government is formed and Saleh al-Mutlaq and the Nujayfi brothers violate their rights (no matter how “democratic” and “constitutional” this supposedly is), so if you think they will back down out of fear for America than you do not know the Kurds.

  16. Kermanshahi said

    Reidar, in some possibly breaking news (if true) I have read that al-Maliki said he is willing 18 out of 19 Kurdish demands. The only demand he will not accept is that his government has to resign of Kurds leave.

    Looking at this possitively it sort of confirms what many have been saying, that al-Maliki is so power hungry he is willing to sell out to anybody (Sadr, Kurds, Iran, America) in order to get power, explaining why he is willing to make any concessions but unwilling to risk his government falling.

    But looking at this more sceptical this could mean he is planning on backstabbing all of his allies, again and that’s why he is willing to lie now to both Sadr and the Kurds about concessions until he actually becomes PM and than abondon them, exactly like he did during his last term and only use them for his own power hungry ambitions. Which would be the reason why he doesn’t want to accept that 1 demand, because if he did, it would put the Kurds in a position of power which would force him to do everything he promised but is not planning to do.
    See during the last al-Maliki term there were a lot of lies and false promises made, meanwhile al-Maliki nothing for he Kurds, while Fadhila, Allawi, Tawafuq Sadr all stood against him he used the Kurds counting on their support to do what he wanted, meanwhile in a double-faced way he made them into a public enemy for his Kurd-bashing media campaign (while he was in a government with them) to gain sympathy from Sunnis and Ba’ath sympathisers and now he’s backstabbed them, he wants to lie to the Kurds again to get an alliance.

  17. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, thanks, I saw that yesterday on PUK Media I think, but then came news that the meeting with Maliki was cancelled and today Adib is saying there is no deal. So I would wait for independent verification, as they say.

  18. Xenophon said

    Observer: “The dynamic that I see is Talabani vs. Barzani.”

    Observer, If this is a major dynamic, does it, in your view, threaten to generate an open political rupture, splitting the KA? It’s difficult for me to see what would make Talabani accede to the idea of the KA entering into an Allawi-led government. I take your point about Talabani playing off Sunni and Shia Arabs against each other, but how would this really work in practice in the matter of government formation? Can he really have his cake and eat it too?

    Jason: “As an American, I would normally choose the side of self-determination, but this appears to be a stark choice between: a) building a unified, economically and politically viable Iraq where Kurds are afforded a sensible degree of autonomy over local issues, and b) a potential break up leading to a nightmare scenario with a violent conflagration involving the Kurds, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria.”

    I’ve unearthed a fascinating historical document that indirectly supports your view on the political unity of Iraq. See below:

    Memo from: Thomas Jefferson
    To Whom It May Concern

    As an American, I would normally choose the side of self-determination, but this appears to be a stark choice between: a) building a unified, economically and globally viable British Commonwealth where Americans are afforded a sensible degree of autonomy over local issues, and b) a potential break up leading to a nightmare scenario with a violent conflagration involving the subjects of the 13 colonies, Great Britain, the French and Spanish Empires, the Indian nations of North America and ultimately, the free states of the north and slave states of the south. Therefore, with the agreement of Mr. Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, we rescind our ill-conceived Declaration of Independence. God Save the King!

  19. M said

    Reider, there is no true “nationalism” in Iraq. That is the problem with outside observers/analysts’ skewed view of Iraq realities. Iraq will be an accommodated arrangement for peace-keeping and violence prevention. Maliki attempted to move to the center away from Iran and more towards Arabs but he was shut down by both Arab neighbours and insider Arab Sunnis except “Hajim”. Then, he defaulted back to his Shiite base-including Sadrist.

    The final outcome as I see it is not a nationalist united Iraq under a former Baathist and Saudi money again (Saddam played exactly the same game initially)-If that happens I promise you will see the voters’ fury. I think a Shiites-Kurds dominant government with Sunni accommodation is quite a satisfactory outcome for the stage we are in the transitional Iraqi politics. Sunnis and former liberal Batthist (the 10 deputies you mentioned)should be accommodated as a minorty like in many other democracies.

    This is a good question to ask? who really voted for Allawi among the Shiites? who are those 10 deputies that helped labeled Allawi a trans-sectarian?

  20. IMARK said

    Kermanshahi said: ” Now in the Kurdish mindset bravery is valued far above reasoning and logical thinking, they will take on any unwinnable battle if they feel they need to, that’s why I warned they’ll go to war with Iraq if an Iraqiyya-State of Law government is formed and Saleh al-Mutlaq and the Nujayfi brothers violate their rights (no matter how “democratic” and “constitutional” this supposedly is), so if you think they will back down out of fear for America than you do not know the Kurds.”
    God help us if the majority of Kurds think this way, but I am sure this is not the case. The ordinary Kurd or Arab cannot be deceived any more by corrupt leaders advocating outdated ideology like nationalism, religion or sectarianism. What the citizen wants is bread, education and services.
    Isolationism is dead and impossible. I have many Kurdish friends who share this opinion.
    Those of us who believe in the Iraqi nation, base their belief on liberal principles where the interest of the citizen is the only holy goal.

  21. Reidar Visser said

    M, the identities of the Iraqiyya deputies from south of Baghdad are not a big secret, see below for 11 of them (and I am sure there are Shiites from Baghdad, too.)

    عبد الخضر مهدي جوير
    عزيز شريف خضير
    حسين علي شعلان
    جمال عبد المهدي بطيخ
    محمد خضير عبيس
    قصي جمعه عبادي
    إسماعيل غازي عودة
    وداد عبد الصمد
    اسكندر وتوت
    ثامر عبد الحمزة محمد
    لبنى رحيم كريم

    There are reports tonight that the Kurds are collectively affirming the candidacy of Talabani for the presidency, which I guess could mean the trend is blowing somewhat in the direction of Maliki as far as they are concerned?

  22. Kermanshahi said

    IMARK, the majority of Kurds do think like this and an extremely large majority of Kurds support seperation from Iraq completely. The reason Kurdish leaders follow the policies they do is because they are under pressure from the people, it is the people themselfes which are seperatists, it is the people themselfes who put such major importance to the liberation of Kurdish capital Kerkuk under KRG, if it wasn’t for that corrupt leaders would have already long accepted the money Arab leaders offered them to try pacify them. Among Kurds, support for the Iraqi state is virtually unexistant (as the referendum where in 98.8% people of Kurdistan voted for independence, only 20 thousand (1.2%) voted to stay in Iraq and most were probably minorities), the current situation is merely seen as tolerable but what many Arabs want (by electing people like al-Mutlaq, al-Nujayfi and al-Hashemi) is a strongly anti-Kurdish government which will create a scenario which will force Kurds into war, once again.

  23. Jason said

    Xenophon, fair enough, but if the Kurds are planning on starting a Revolution, they should be aware that Americans are extremely war-weary at this time and unlikely to lend their support. We’ve got our hands full, right now, and would not be happy about being dragged into another four-alarm fire.

  24. IMARK said

    Kermanshahi: It is a fact that Iraq Kurdistan was and remains to be governed and oppressed by the tyranny of Barazan tribal clan and the opportunistic Talbany. Every body knows that they shed much Kurdish blood in their fight for power and blunder not so long time ago. Every body also knows the facts (because not enough time has passed to forget), when Barazan was in danger of loosing battle with Talabany, how he ran seeking help from the most abominable dictator and arch enemy of the Kurds, Saddam, who obliged and saved him.
    These leaders remained in power and please don’t tell me that they turned to become democratic over night. And also please don’t talk of referendum with 98.8% results because it reminds me of the 99% approval of Saddam according to his referendums.

  25. Santana said

    For what it’s worth and in response to “M” and others that think Hachem Al-Hassani is a Sunni….he is not…he is a shiite from the Turkmen Shiite minority accrding to Turkmens related to him ……but he passes himself on as a Sunni cuz it serves Maliki that he is.

  26. Santana said

    Kermenshahi- Why do you keep bringing up the Kurdish desire to use force? Seems like this Kurdish threat always comes up whenever justice or democracy does not serve Kurdish ambitions….intimidation will not work-at least not with Iraqis especially since most Iraqi Arabs view your precious pesh murga ala timmen as a ragtag group that is about as scary to Iraqis as a bunch of girl scouts taking on the 101st Airborne Division.

    I will take Mutlaq, Hashimi or Nujaifi as Presidents of Iraq anyday over your Iranian rear-end kisser that cares NOTHING for Iraq….at least these guys are true patriots.

    Thomas Paine Quote –

    “When I contemplate the natural dignity of man; when I feel … for the honor and happiness of its character, I become irritated at the attempt to govern mankind by force and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools, and can scarcely avoid disgust at those who are thus imposed upon.”

  27. Kermanshahi said

    IMARK, Saddam’s referendums had him as only candidate in the most dictatorial state in the Middle East at the time. As for Kurdistan, anyone will agree it’s 100% great, they’re not as democratic as Europe, but it is without a doubt the freeest and most democratic place in the entire Middle East (because all other countires, including the South of Iraq, are worst). Now Barzani has done wrong and so has Talabani, both are critisized for it and many don’t like them but the fact is Barzani’s party is still by far the msot popular in Kurdistan (with around 45% support) and he won the Presidential race with ease (because the only candidate which can beat him is Talabani) and both the Kurdistan elections as the referendum were free and fair with no major irregularities and recognised as such by international observers.

    If you want to go and shout “conspiracy, conspiracy!” and “everything is rigged” than that’s fine with me but than I’m not going to waste my time talking to you either. Some people like to dismiss any results they don’t like as rigged, it just makes you unreasonable and one of those reality-detached Ba’athists, like Santana, who cannot be spoken to seriously.

    Jason, there is no need for a “revolution,” Kurds are already in control, all they need is a formal declaration of independence and American military support is neither expected, nor needed, since the Iraqi Army is week and divided, lacking the kind of fire-power they had in the passed and tied up fighting their own Arab insurgency. Meanwhile the Kurds, unlike in th past, have their own standing army, which is both in quality and in quantity superior to that of the central government and has been prepared for a much longer time to repell an Iraqi invasion and is more than capable of standing it’s ground on it’s own turft even against a much more formidable enemy like the Turkish army, if needed.

  28. Zaid said

    Kermanshahi, the Kurdish “referendum” was not a referendum. Everyone knows that. It was an opinion poll that was organised by an interested party. The organisers of the poll wanted the question of Kurdish independence to be part of the ballot on the day of the elections in 2005, but the international community refused and the electoral commission insisted that anyone working to carry out the opinion poll on referendum stand outside and a certain distance from the official polling stations so that no one make the mistake of thinking that the opinion poll was in any way official or sanctions by the commission.

    No international observers noticed any irregularities with the “referendum” because no one observed it. As you know, it was not an official process. I am not denying that a large majority of Kurds prefer independence – but let’s try to be precise and accurate in the terms that we use. The event that you keep referring to was not a referendum and the process that was used is open to question because there was no one monitoring the process.

  29. Zaid said

    Sorry – typing very fast. That should read: “the opinion poll on independence” and not “the opinion poll on referendum”.

  30. Kermanshahi,
    In your passionate defence of Kurdish independence there is a political factor you keep ignoring: Separation is like devorse, you have to negotiate your way out, you keep ignoring that the Kurds will have to negotiate with Iraq: What will Kurdistan offer Iraq in return for independence? There are many Iraqis who believe in Kurdish independence but the decision from Iraq must secure Iraq’s interest. As you said, Kurdistan is landlocked; nothing can make up for geographical disadvantage in the long run, not even the U.S. If Kurdistan will be independent, it will have to negotiate with either the Syria-Iran axes or with the Iraq-Turkey-US axes. If it is the latter then the terms of independence must meet Turkey and Iraq’s interests, forget about threats of war, realistically Kurdistan does not have that option.

  31. observer said

    Xenophon. The only way to keep the sunni/she3a divide going is for the kurds to side with the NA and sideline Iraqiyya, which menas that in the next elections, the chance of Iraqiyya will be downgraded and the Sunni iraqis going back to support Sunni Islamists as they got nothing from supporting a list with secular and non-sectarian ambitions. This is why (in my opinion) Talabani keeps on pushing towards Maliki and pushign Hakim to rejoin the NN, and get on with the program.

    Kermenshahi, I was going to respond, but Faisal pretty much said what I was going to state. The leadership of Kurdistan is a lot wiser than you are willing to give them credit for. In the end, Kurdistan will choose to be part of a DEMOCRATIC Iraq, where the rights of Kurds are not more sacrosanct (or less sacrosanct) than any other Iraqi. It is about economy in the end. Ehen the Kurds find out the terms of the deal under which the it is being smuggled through Iran, they will realize that 100% of the oil of Kirkuk, after exportation tax by “friendly” neighbors (trust me when I say it is more than 50%), is less than 1/10th of the value of the oil of Iraq (latest ‘secrete’ report I have indicates something like 230 to even 300 billion barrels), then the Kurds will all vote for staying in a Democratic, FEDERAL, Iraq, with Kirkuk as its federal capital. (read that last sentence twice)

  32. Mohammed said


    Are you suggesting that Kirkuk becomes the capital of Iraq? Or will Kirkuk become part of Kurdistan, with Kurdistan remaining a part of a federal Iraq?

  33. Observer said

    if the oil issue is resolved, tensions on whose city Kirkuk is seizes to be an issue. To prevent face loss to any and all of the protagonists, We resolve the problem by declaring the city of Kirkuk the Federal Capital of Iraq, hence it is not Kurdish, nor is it Turkman, nor Arab, nor Sunni, nor She3s – it is Iraqi. This solution will not be accepted until we reach a point of conflagration (again). If the ARab and Kurdish leaders are wise, they will see that this solution is better than anything else.

  34. Mohammed said


    An interesting idea (and goes along with your thinking outside the box), but practically and symbolically, I think you are opening up a can of worms that creates a whole set of other problems. By moving the capital so far north, you risk alienating the south. Kirkuk is a great city, but it is not representative of the ethnic make-up of Iraq. In your attempt to heal the kurd-arab conflict (and I am not entirely convinced that it would even solve that problem), you are likely to inflame the sunni-shia problem. The beauty of baghdad is that it is probably the most representative city of all of Iraq given its ethnic mix. Perhaps I am getting this all wrong (since I live outside of Iraq but lived in Baghdad as a child), and you may have encountered a different reaction among iraqis living there today.

    Why not make Kirkuk its own federal region, like, but separate from the Kurdish region. That will allow the Kurds of kirkuk some autonomy from the rest of Iraq, empowerment to rule themselves, and given that arabs are about 50% of its population, guarantee that the arabs would not become a very small minority within the greater Kurdish region with fears of being dominated by kurds. The Iraqi constitution as it is currently written is quite foolish to allow a mere simple majority to agree to form a region with another territory. Those types of decisions should require 2/3 or more vote for such a change. The Iraqi constitution should be ammended to not allow this. Thus, let Kirkuk hold a referendum, but only to decide on being its own federal region (not join with the KRG).

    Observer, your economic arguments about keeping the Kurds part of iraq (in reference to them becoming land-locked and subjected to 50% oil export taxes from iran or syria) make sense. But ultimately, as much as I disagree with Kermenshahi about other matters, I respect and believe him that Kurds do not want to be part of Iraq. The beauty of america is that america is a place where ethnicity is repsected but ultimately, America does not try to label itself as representative of 1 ethnic group. If we arabs insist that Iraq is part of the arab ummah, then Kurds will never feel part of Iraq. Why not demonstrate to the kurds that we want them part of a federal Iraq without forcing them to be arabs in a more symbolic way?

    I would rather that Iraq withdraws from the arab league altogether (what good has it ever done for Iraq?) and get away from ethnic identity altogether, and think more about regional partnerships (perhaps join the gulf cooperation council). It will be a strong symbolic move telling the kurds: “Hey, we recongize our diversity, and we will not force you to being arabs.” I always thought jalal talibani or zebari giving speeches at the arab league was comical. I know that other arab countries will have multiple uncontrolled bowel movements if Iraq’s government withdrew from the arab league, but perhaps asking to join the GCC will offset those fears (we do have a small portion of our country that includes a gulf coastline afterall). On the other hand, I imagine that israel, iran, turkey, and the USA would be happy with such a move. However, the sunni arabs of Iraq are likely not to like this proposal, but I think people will come to understand that practically, whether Iraq is part of the arab league or not, it doesnt impact the average iraqi one iota, but it would make kurds feel more welcome.

    Would appreciate your thoughts.

  35. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, I liked the summer capital idea better. Moving the capital out of Baghdad is too radical, I think, given its centrality in Iraqi history. It reminds me too much of the whole Kanan Makiyya business with a “non-Arab Iraq” with a blue or yellow flag or whatever it was.

    But Kirkuk as summer capital would be great – even if the climate difference compared with Baghdad is probably less than some might have hoped for!

  36. observer said

    muhammad and Reidar,
    I really do not want to get into a protracted debate about the merits of this or that idea. It is an idea as equal to others intended to get through the impass.
    Please do not misunderstand. I am a believer in the right of the Kurds to have their own nation as they are different than the rest of Iraq. But I also love the Kurds enough to worry about the long-term health of their nation. However, I submit to you that in an era of globalization, the issue of nationhood looses its appeal compared to economic well being. I recall listening to Barham Salih telling the audience that he is Kurdish to the bone, but he also understands that the kurdish interests are better served with the success of a federated, democratic Iraq.

    Here is another, outside the box idea. In the future (and I am talking 50 to 100 years from now) there will not be an Iraq, Iran, syria, or Jordan, there will be trading blocks (look at the EU). Those who do not belong to trading blocks are destined to be the poor of the next century. So instead of the GCC, how about creating a trading block comprised of Iran, Turkey, iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, and Israel (YES ISRAEL). That will require much work – i know, but if there is peace between Israel and Palestinians, and we somehow got the mulla’s grab on the reign of power in Iran loosened, we have a chance. In sense, this would be like the old Baghdad Axis treaty, but modified to fit the needs of the region. Turkey and Iraq can be the bread basket (sort of like France in the EU). The Kurds of Turkey and Iraq and Iran and Syria can have their own cooperation scheme. We can distribute the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates equitably in a future that has less and less water resources. Iraq would provide energy and labor and land, Turkey provides labor and water and land (and hydroelectric power), etc, etc, etc. It is a simple idea, that requires much work, and like the EU, will have to be done in stages. First a common market, then financial integration, then political integration…. But first we have to have a peaceful, successful, democratic Iraq.

  37. Mohammed said


    I like your vision of 50 years from now. I am sold.

  38. May I criticize everybody!
    I don’t care where we will end, I care how we are getting there. Imagine any of your scenarios happening now, what will the chance of it lasting for a long time? Not much. We have a stalled democratic process, held hostage by outside powers. Our focus should be the independence of the will of Iraq, wherever it will take us.

  39. bb said

    Observer says: “In the future (and I am talking 50 to 100 years from now) there will not be an Iraq, Iran, syria, or Jordan, there will be trading blocks (look at the EU). ”

    Very similar, of not identical, to the vision of the region Shimon Peres had in the early 90s when he was persuading Rabin to negotiate with and eventually recognise the PLO.

    Peres’ chance of succeeding Rabin was destroyed by Islamic extremeism (Hamas) but he is presently the president of Israel. So your vision of Israel joining such a regional trading bloc is in the zeitgeist.

    I am certain you are right, and thay this is the future.

  40. Observe said

    I had no idea that Peres entertained such ideas and that far back. If memory servers me right, Rabin was assassinated in 1995. So that thinking was around then! Wow..

    Well, I will have to say that no idea comes out of a vacuum. We build on other ideas al the time. Though for this particular idea to come about into reality we have to build democracies across the region and marginalized extremists which means that the silent majority must come out of it’s hibernation and reclaim Islam (and judaism) from the hands of the extremists.

    Education, I am convinced, is the tool along with free market economies……

  41. Oberver and Bb,
    I think the idea of peaceful integration of Israel into a grand Middle East is probably due to Prof. Johan Galtung.

  42. bb said

    Observer: He wrote about it in some detail in his autobiography which I read many many years ago. He understood what the outcome of economic globalisation was going to be, very clearly. And this was only a short time after the collapse of state communism. I think Bill Clinton understood it too, and Tony Blair today.

    As for the extreme Islamists – in the sweep of history, rage, rage raging against the dying of the night, in my view!

    Galtung: well, the Norwegians facilitated Oslo. They have a record of being in the groove.

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