Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Separatism and Sectarianism in the Barzani Speech

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 17:15

So, finally, Masud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), has delivered his much-anticipated speech on the occasion of the Nowroz festival that marks the beginning of a new year in the extended Persian cultural sphere stretching from Kurdistan to Afghanistan.

Much of the content of the speech was predictable simply because it involved reiteration of previously stated positions, if perhaps in somewhat more pitched variants than before. This included strictures on the concentration of power by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (including numerous erroneous descriptions such as saying Maliki “is” the defence minister etc.) as well as not-so-veiled threats about Kurdish secession if the problems persist (“we will turn to our people”). As usual, there are numerous problems in the way the Kurdish leadership appeal to the Iraqi constitution whenever they are in conflict with Maliki, including the contradictive statement  “the Iraqi constitution is constantly violated and the Erbil agreement, which was the basis upon which the current government was formed, has been completely ignored.” With its creation of extra-constitutional institutions and its attempts to change the Iraqi state structure by fiat when in fact referendums are constitutionally required, the Arbil agreement is itself a veritable violation of the Iraqi constitution!

Whether Barzani will make any progress with these threats remains unclear. As regards an actual move to unseat the government by withdrawing confidence in Maliki, the numbers are more or less as they were in the summer of 2010, when Barzani similarly talked tough but ended up supporting Maliki for PM anyway. The Kurds and Iraqiyya alone do not add up to reach the critical mark of 163 deputies needed to withdraw confidence in the government. Conceivably, there may be a slight gain in that some Badrists have defected to ISCI during their latest split (ISCI being the most pro-Kurdish Shiite party); conversely, though, we should not forget that fractures in Iraqiyya come prominently on display each time someone in the alliance talks about taking drastic action against Maliki. In that perspective, it is hard to see any difference between this threat from Barzani and his previous ones.

However on another and arguably deeper level, Barzani is scoring some successes. Specifically, this relates to the contest of defining the parameters of Iraqi politics.  What Barzani always does in his speeches is to portray Iraq as a triad of Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds. In his commentary on the Hashemi case, Barzani has complained about how the Kurds are being dragged into a conflict supposedly being fought between Sunnis (pro-Hashemi) and Shiites (anti-Shiite) – entirely disregarding the fact that the head of the Iraqiyya party to which Hashemi belongs is in fact a Shiite! This theme was also present in yesterday’s talk, in which Iraqi politics was once more reduced to a struggle between sects.

Importantly, Barzani is winning not only the definitional battle over Iraqi politics. He is also transforming the character of the once-secular Iraqiyya party. Increasingly, whether voluntarily or not, Iraqiyya comes across as a pro-federal, Sunni party more than a secular and nationalist  movement. Recently, in attempts to address the so-called “balance” problem in government – another Kurdish invention – Iraqiyya leaders have been counting Sunnis and Shiites in ways they themselves described as unthinkable just a few years ago. For his part, if he feels sufficiently threatened by Barzani et al., Maliki will probably turn to the Sadrists as his option of choice, something which again would underline sectarian polarisation.

In a way, Barzani and the Kurds are honest. They often articulate their independence dreams. Similarly, that a Shiite party like ISCI sometimes talks like this is perhaps not so suprising either, since its sectarianism is often expressed very clearly. The more remarkable aspect in all of this is the constant fraternization by an avowedly secular and Iraqi nationalist party – Iraqiyya – with these basically separatist forces.

25 Responses to “Separatism and Sectarianism in the Barzani Speech”

  1. Santana said


    I think Barzani’s comments is a game changer this time around- and this is what I informed you about last week. The change I see is that the Kurds are finally fed up with Maliki’s lies and deception and this is not an attempt by the Kurds to get more concessions from Maliki- even if he does they will not believe him……Barzani is coming to Washington next month and he is gonna make some waves here.The administration is not happy with his speech cuz they view it as problematic to their darling Maliki during an election year. Iran is springing into action now and will make every attempt to get Talabani to reign in the Kurds and keep the strategic alliance between the Kurds and the Shiites alive and well.That alliance was based on their struggle against the dictator Saddam… the new strategic alliance will be Iraqiya and Kurds against the new dictator Maliki….and nationalist shiites are welcome to join….163 + is acheivable but only if if Iran is told to go to hell when it tries to keep shiites from joining the new alliance.

  2. Salah said

    What Barzani always does in his speeches is to portray Iraq as a triad of Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds.

    Reidar Visser,

    Your statement about Brazani (above) him is not the only one. In fact it was US and most if not all western media doing this to portray Iraq from 2003 and on.

    I did post here many times and arguing about this, there is not such relation between sect and ethnic that to portray Iraq as they did. The first two terms are religious sec. but Kurd its ethnicity they also consisting of two sec if not more in matter of religion.

    In fact Kurds are more restricts in their practice than others inside Iraq.

    Finally whatever Brazani said in his speech reflect at most the reality inside Iraq for the last 8 years, looks he is more honest and bravely enough by stating it in public speech although yes he might use this for his (Kurds) dream of creating Kurdistan which Iraq one part of it,the other parts will follow as the region not just Iraq looks more moving toward disintegrations.

    For complet Barazani speech here

  3. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, if by those Iraqi nationalist Shiites you mean Sadrists, I have my doubts. Without them it is 88 from Iraqiyya plus 57 Kurds. You would need all 20 ISCI/Badr to pass 165, or alternatively rely on minorities, Sadrists or breakaway elements from State of Law.

    Importantly, the prospect of Iraqiyya defections to Maliki is not included in the above calculus.

    I agree it is looking a bit epic with both the US and Iran apparently wanting Maliki to stay! Sometimes, though, I wonder whether the Iranians might really prefer Jaafari.

  4. Santana said

    Honestly Reidar- I do not mean the Sadrists, it was a very general comment…..I mean ANY Shiites that care for Iraq and are fed up with 7 years of nothing under Maliki.

  5. bks said

    I can shed no light on the meaning of Barzani’s speech, but to emphasize a point of Santana’s, it is true that there is leverage to be had with the Obama administration that will disappear in November, whether Obama wins or loses.


  6. Mohammed said

    Dear All:

    1) Since Barzani and Allawi are so adamant about the Irbil agreement, can anybody clue me in as to why it has never even been published (especially you folks who know Allawi)? I would imagine that if Maliki’s signature is on there and it states that he agrees to all the points Allawi has been nagging him about, it would at least make Maliki look bad in public.

    2) With respect to leverage with the Obama administration, wouldn’t Maliki have the most right now? If I was Obama, my goal would be to make sure Iraq looks as stable as possible until the elections. Maliki holds most of the cards. If Iraqiya was playing a game of brinksmanship right now with the threat of making Iraq look very unstable and give the republicans an opening, wouldn’t Obama + Maliki naturally try to break up Iraqiya and get a faction that is willing to play ball with Maliki? Maliki doesn’t need all of Iraqiya, maybe just 20 or so (including white Iraqiya). The rest of Iraqiya could then formally become an opposition block. The coalition government of today is a sham and was a bad idea to start with.


  7. Santana said


    We have a copy of the agreement….I haven’t looked at it in a while but I think it was Sunaid that signed it on behalf of SOL….anyway- Reidar has it and if not – I can send it to him and he can then forward to you.

    Maliki’s leverage has been strong up until Barzani’s speech – now the State dept is under pressure cuz it is no longer just Iraqiya and SOL fighting- the Kurds joining in and stating displeasure with Maliki is warranting a new look within the USG.

    The Kurds have the second most powerful lobby in DC after AIPAC (and a close relation with them as well !) ….in a recent discussion I had with an “Official” I was asked how Iraqiya is planning to reach 163 + without the Sadrists ?? I said “Maybe there will be Sadrists or at least some of them in the makeup”…..his jaw dropped open and he said ‘You gotta be kidding ! please NO Sadrists ! I said ” why in the hell is it ok for your darling Maliki to have the Sadrists with him but NOT ok if we have the Sadrists with us !!??? He said…umm..uh…well….we had no control of the Sadrists being in the current set-up !! I said ‘PRECISELY !! It was Iran that brought em all together…this is an admission by you guys that Iran DOES have sway in Maliki’s government while you guys ALWAYS denied it !………Anyway guys- for what it’s worth I doubt that Iran will allow the Sadrists to join a Iraqiya -Kurdish-ISCI -independents type formation….but I wanted to gage the reaction to the Sadrists joining just for fun.

  8. Salah said

    This is coming from insider do tell me its smoking or hot air or new propaganda let read:

    لفت عثمان الى ان اعمال العنف التي شهدها العراق مؤخرا خضعت لسيناريو مبرمج ، مؤكدا تورط قادة سياسيين وامنيين بهذه الاعمال. وقال عثمان من الملاحظ قبل شهر هناك 23 تفجير واول امس كان هناك ايضا 17 تفجير وضحايا كثيرة وتفجيرين اتو بعد يوم من اجتماع القادة الامنيين فهذا سيناريو مبرمج ، اي ان المالكي يجتمع بالقادة الامنيين ويعلن ان الاجواء الامنية جيدة وفي اليوم التالي تحصل مثل هكذا تفجيرات.واضاف الاختراقات تصل الى مستوى القيادات ليس القادة الامنيين فقط وانما القادة السياسيين ، لذالك يجب ان يكون هناك مراجعة امنية ومراجعة واضحة على كل المستويات والانتهاء من الخلافات السياسية.كما اكد عثمان ان تصريحات رئيس اقليم كردستان مسعود البرزاني خلال اعياد نوروز ستؤثر سلبا على الوضع السياسي في العراق.واوضح تصريحات السيد مسعود برزاني سوف تؤثر سلبا على العملية السياسية لكنها جاءت بسبب وجود ازمة ومشاكل غير محلولة وتراكمات ، واعتقد ان على الاطراف الاجتماع قبل القمة العربية وان لا تترك الامور على هذا النحو.

  9. Salah said


    Do you have any information from insider this have some thruth:
    لمعلومات التي حصلت عليها وكالة السفير الإخبارية (السفير نيوز) من مصادر سياسية عراقية واسعة الإطلاع، تؤكد أن البارزاني تلقى قبل إلقاء خطاب البشرى تحذيرات شديد اللهجة من الأمريكان، تضمن تخلي واشنطن الكامل عن الإقليم ورفع يدها عنه في حال الإعلان عن “تقرير المصير” وإعلان “الدولة الكردية”.
    وبحسب المصادر السياسية ذاتها فإن رسالة عاجلة وصلت مكتب مسعود البارزاني من مكتب “الحزب الديمقراطي الكردستاني” في واشنطن، تضمنت ان الخارجية الأمريكية أبلغتهم (ممثلية الحزب الديمقراطي في واشنطن) عدم موافقتها على أية خطوة يتخذها البارزاني لإعلان تقرير المصير في كردستان وان الولايات المتحدة لا تتحمل تبعات هذا الإعلان، وما يسببه من مخاطر.
    كما تلقى البارزاني اتصالا هاتفيا من السفير الأمريكي في العاصمة بغداد جيمس جيفري، وعقدت لقاءات عاجلة بين المستشارين الأمريكان في لإقليم كردستان وقيادات الحزب الديمقراطي، دارت جميعها في الاعتراض على خطوة تقرير المصير الكردي في هذه الفترة، والتهديد المبطن من الجانب الأمريكي عن سحب واشنطن يدها من حماية كردستان.
    وتحدثت المصادر السياسية ذاتها عن تلقي البارزاني رسالة من رئيس الجمهورية جلال الطالباني أكد فيها اعتراضه على أي إعلان يوحي بإعلان “الاستقلال” وتشكيل “دولة كردستان”، مؤكدا له أن مثل هذا الإعلان سيضع الإقليم في دائرة الخطر وخسارة كل الانجازات التي تحققت حتى الآن والتي تشكل جوهر منجزات إعلان تقرير المصير وإعلان دولة كردستان، دون ان تثير الرأي العام العراقي ودول الجوار”.
    كل هذه الأمور دفعت البارزاني لتغيير وجهة خطابه من بشرى “إعلان الدولة” إلى “هجوم شامل” ضد المالكي، متهما إياه بصناعة ديكتاتورية جديدة ومعربا عن رغبته بإقالة المالكي وحسين الشهرستاني نائب رئيس الوزراء لشؤون الطاقة، من مناصبهما وعدم رغبته الشديدة بالتعامل معهما.

  10. Mohammed said

    Santana, and Reidar:

    Regarding an actual copy of the Arbil agreement, I have never seen it. I recall Reidar several times asking the question if it actually exists. Reidar have you seen a signed copy of the Arbil agreement?

    Santana, regarding your chats with folks in DC, I am intrigued by your statement about the power of the Kurdish lobby in DC. I am no politician, but your comparison to AIPAC really shocks me. Having lived in the USA for quite some time, my understanding regarding AIPAC’s power is that it stems from having powerful jews and pro-israel christians in influential positions throughout this country who are very committed to Israel (banking/finance, media, academia, hollywood) and superb organization. The Kurds dont strike me as having any where near that power. If the Kurds are against a politician, that will not cost him/her an election. There just aren’t that many powerful kurds in this country. They may have some money, but so do indian lobbies, greek lobbies, italian lobbies, auto worker lobbies, cuban lobbies, etc…

    I remain sceptical of the 163 plan (iraqiya + ISCI + Kurds). If I was Obama, I would just tell you guys to simmer down, elections are in 2014 and then you can form your coalitions going in to the elections and duke it out. Even if you managed to get to your 163 now, it would probably take 2 years before early elections are organized and another govt is formed (taking you to 2014 anyways!)….the supreme court would side with Maliki and allow him to stay until the new elections were held. Reidar what does the constitution say about this?


  11. jason said

    Iraq has completely fallen off the globe ad far as AMericans are concerned. I check back here occasionally to see if it still exists.

  12. Santana said


    You are correct about the comparison between AIPAC and the Kurdish lobby- the Kurdish lobby is no where near in size and strength as Aipac but it still ranks as #2 in Washington as far as political lobbying goes…there is a big gap between Aipac and the rest….AIPAC spends over 200 million/year while the Kurds spend maybe 12 million …but 12 million is still significant – see we are not talking about the lobbying that the Oil and Gas industry spends or the Tobacco companies or pharmaceuticals…that is corporate America lobbying and more business related than politics…..- I am talking about FARA registered type lobbying (representing foreign countries or governments or foreign political parties…..just so we are clear.

    As far as reaching 163 – I think it can be done (it won’t be easy) and there is no need to wait two years to implement as you said…..I think if Iraqiya and the Kurds along with others are able to pull it off then the next problem will be getting Maliki to relinquish power….he will oppose it under some pretense and declare martial law if he has to.

    Corrupted Daawa guys have hundreds of millions of dollars flowing in and they are not gonna give it up that easily- most is being laundered in Beirut with a cut going to Hezbollah.

    Hang tight on the Erbil agreement- it’s being sent to me this weekend.

  13. Mohammed said

    Dear All:


    interesting post from Kenneth Pollack hot off the press!

    here is an interesting excerpt: ” As a Shia Arab, he seems to have considerable affinity for the Shiite Arab regime of the Assads in Damascus. Moreover, although Maliki distrusts and dislikes the Iranians, he is in no position to cross them, and the Iranians have been backing the Assads to the hilt. ”

    I don’t think Maliki likes the regime in syria as much as he fears the alternative.
    WIth respect to Iran, this is the first time I have seen Pollack concede that Maliki actually dislikes Iran (I don’t know if Pollack’s views are reflective of the rest of the think-tank community), but surely such a point is at odds with Allawi’s recent Washington Times interview (where he proposes regime change for Iran too!)…


  14. Reidar Visser said

    Pollack’s previous piece was very focused on an alleged US attempt to break up Iraqiyya, and came with the usual strictures on Maliki. This one seems more attuned to the idea that Maliki can go in different directions depending on the regional environment and the way his relations with other Arab states are shaping up.

  15. Khalid Salam said


    When Masoud Barazani (MB) said “we will turn to our people” he meant general elections, as he was talking about “Iraq” and “Iraqis”. At no point did MB EVER talk about independence or separatism in his speech. Also there is NOTHING in the Erbil agreement that violates the constitution and Iraqiyya IS a nationalist secular party, but they (and all others outside Dawa, including Sadr and ISCI) are simply sick and tired of Maliki/ Dawa’s lies and failures to abide by any promises.

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Would be great if he meant just that, though many Kurds apparently think “our people” meant the Kurds.

    Arbil is a separate subject, but suffice to mention that the strategic policy council would take away powers from the executive power which would require constitutional change and confirmation in a popular referendum. Ditto the reported scheme to give the presidency veto powers once more (pending the formation of a senate).

    These would have to be legislated with a two-thirds majority in parliament (or under the batch of one-off changes in article 142) and then presented to the people for a referendum. Any attempt at making these changes by the leadership alone would be unconstitutional.

  17. Bridget Kendall said


    I’m intrigued by your statement:

    “Corrupted Daawa guys have hundreds of millions of dollars flowing in and they are not gonna give it up that easily- most is being laundered in Beirut with a cut going to Hezbollah.”

    I’ve looked thoroughly into this matter and can’t find anything. Several opponents of Maliki make this claim but when I have asked for evidence they seem to have none. It’s getting quite frustrating. Do you have any evidence you can share?

  18. Salah said

    At no point did MB EVER talk about independence or separatism in his speech.?

    وكما ترون اليوم، شبيبتنا الأعزاء وحضورنا الكرام، أن العالم في تحول وتغير متسارع، وبالاخص منطقة الشرق الأوسط، والأمر هكذا فان علينا، نحن ككورد وكأمة وكوردستانيين، أن نستعد لمواجهة كل الاحتمالات فأنا أعتبر هذا المؤتمر خطوة مقدسة ومباركة وعلينا أن ندرك ومعنا العالم أجمع أن حق تقرير المصير هو حق طبيعي وقانوني وحق الهي منحنا إياه رب العالمين، فأنا لست إطلاقاً مع إدعاء أو
    تطلع أن يأتي طرف ما ويمنحنا حقوقنا فهي منحة من الله ولو كانت لدينا مشكلة في الحقوق فهي مهضومة ومحتلة، وليس لأحد أن يمنحنا إياها بل بأمكانه أن يقربها ويعترف بها..

    anyone can tell us what MB telling his nation and what Kurd rights he talking about more than other ethnic/ sec groups or inside Iraq and one land and one flag?
    Anyone have any idea what MB meant in his word above to convince the commentator Khalid Salam.

  19. Khalid Salam said


    What “Kurds” is you referring to? Obviously in Kurdistan it would be the Kurds voting in a general election, but elsehwere in Iraq Arabs and others. The words referendum or independence were never even used by Masoud – please check the original Kurdish, or at least the Arabic translation. And as for the Erbil agreement, as a policy coordination/ advisory function between the executive (CoM/ Presidency) and the legislative (CoR), the NCHP would NOT require any constitutional amendment. As for Presidential veto, I don’t know where you are getting that from – it’s nowhere in the Erbil Agreement. In any case Maliki’s government is based on the agreement’s terms, which he accepted, so if he can’t follow through on them he must step down as his premiership exists under entirely false pretenses (apart from being a manifest failure of course).

  20. Reidar Visser said

    If it advisory, yes. But Iraqiya is not interested in the strategic council if it is purely advisory. The continued presidential veto was part of the Kurdish demands and some say it is also part of the Arbil agreement.

    At any rate, Maliki’s government is based on the constitution not the Arbil agreement. If anyone is unhappy with that, the constitutional mechanism for getting rid of him is perfectly clear. Just collect 163 deputies and oust him. If you can.

  21. Khalid Salam said

    “If it advisory, yes. But Iraqiya is not interested in the strategic council if it is purely advisory. Says who? Why would Iraqiyya want executive responsibility for Maliki’s failures when Maliki is PM? The continued presidential veto was part of the Kurdish demands and some say it is also part of the Arbil agreement. “Some say”?? Please be more accurate sir – the Erbil agreement was a written document, and Presidential veto or powers is NOWHERE in it at all!
    At any rate, Maliki’s government is based on the constitution not the Arbil agreement. If anyone is unhappy with that, the constitutional mechanism for getting rid of him is perfectly clear. Just collect 163 deputies and oust him. If you can.

    Constitutions alone don’t create governments – the votes of the parties do, and they were based on the Erbil agreement, and promises to Sadrists and others, ALL of which have been broken and unfilfilled. The process you have described has begun – Maliki’ days are numbered.

  22. Reidar Visser said

    Iraqiya has had a major quarrel with State of Law about executive powers for the council. This is not exactly controversial.

    If you have the Arbil agreement, please upload it. I have previously suggested it was just a very brief and general signed document to which all sorts of additional demands have been rhetorically appended in the public discussion, including the Kurdish list of demands (where the presidential veto first came up).

  23. Santana said

    HI Bridget-

    I am happy that you are “intrigued’ by my statement…I can offer the evidence and details you are searching for but am only willing to offer to the US State dept or NSC ….I don’t know who you are….you could be Maliki’s long lost sister …LOL…

    I just don’t want to compromise my sources .

  24. faisalkadri said

    Bridget Kendall could be the BBC correspondent.

    There are numerous sensitivities regarding that subject, I don’t think Santana is exaggerating.

  25. Salah said

    If Bridget Kendall could be the BBC correspondent as Faisalkadri things, so when she visit London next time she should goes to the place were Jaafary and other Da’awa guys were living on social befits and check the now what they have with their family members bought all around London we not talking about other places in Bahrain,. Emirates or Beirut
    She my thinks that from their salaries I hope she can do same as they done from her salaries in 8 years.

    Or may Bridget Kendall have to hire private investigator to find the hard truth that she can find by herself may be due lake of investigating skills.

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