Barzani Kurdish Rights Must Be In Iraq

Barzani: Kurdish Rights must be in Iraq Basic Law; Kubba: Washington rejects Loose Federalism

The two most prominent Kurdish leaders are making a full court press for an Iraqi Kurdistan to be enshrined in law before the American civil administration decamps on July 1. Jalal Talabani, head of the Kurdistan Patriotic Union claimed during a meeting with the British special representative in Iraq, Jeremy Greenstock “the right of the Kurdish people to have a region that encompasses all their areas in the framework of a democratic, parliamentary and federal Iraq.” (al-Hayat). There have been recent moves toward a united government in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, has called for a revision of the November 15, 2003, accord between the Interim Governing Council and the United States, saying, “The November 15 accord must be revised and ‘Kurdish rights’ within an Iraqi federation must be mentioned.”

Meanwhile, in the London daily ash-Sharq al-Awsat, Ma`d Fayyad interviews Laith Kubba, head of the Iraqi National Grouping in Washington DC. (Kubba, a Shiite, worked for much of the past decade with the Khoei Foundation in London). Kubba maintained that National Security Advisor Condi Rice is working hard to ensure a transition to a sovereign Iraqi government on June 30. Kubba said while on a trip to London that the first obstacle to this transition is that Washington is reluctant to grant the Kurds the kind of loose federal system they desire, with a large super-province of an ethnic sort. (This statement implies that Washington wants to retain the existing provincial boundaries and to have a strong central government over them.) Kubba said that Barzani’s strategy is to insist that guarantees be given now for loose federalism with a consolidated Kurdish canton, so that the issue is settled before the constitution is written in 2005 and so as to ensure that it is not revisited or revoked. He also said that the members of the Interim Governing Council are still lobbying to have their body retained as a kind of senate even after the new transitional legislature is elected, and that Washington is studying the idea.

Barzani recently penned a call for what looks to me like a Switzerland-style loose federalism in Iraq, on virtually a canton basis, with a consolidated Kurdistan forming one of the “cantons.” This step would involve abolishing three or four existing Iraqi provinces and merging them into a single Kurdistan. The article appeared in Ta’akhi on 21 December. I excerpt below what I think are the key paragraphs.

Barzani said, “The Kurdish issue is not an issue of citizenship to be settled in a democratic atmosphere by representatives of a side or on its behalf. The issue of the Kurds is a political and national issue. After the World War I, their homeland, Kurdistan, was divided against their will between some states. The part which is now called “Iraqi Kurdistan” was, consequently, attached to Iraq. Since then, the successive governments in Baghdad tried to annihilate the Kurds, using the most horrific and savage means . . .

after obtaining reassurances that they [US] would not abandon us in the middle of the road, as had happened in the past, the Kurdistan Democratic Party participated, confidently, in the liberation of Iraq. We offered victims and shed blood to achieve the objective. I would say proudly that the governorates of Mosul and Kirkuk were liberated mainly by the peshmargas [militias] of Kurdistan.

There was a clear and frank agreement on the major outlines regarding the future of Iraq. Therefore, any side, which aims at uniting Iraq, should abide by these outlines of principles, and should safeguard the particular nature of the Kurdistan Region, as territory, a nation, and a people . . . The existing [self-rule] situation of the Kurds is their legitimate rights and it is based on the right to self-determination, which is part of the international law. After 12 years of self-rule, without the control of the Baghdad government, the Kurds will not accept less than their existing situation . . .

Those who are interested in the issue of a united Iraq, should know very well that it would be difficult for them to convince the Kurdish people after all these tragedies, ordeals and displacement policies to remain deprived from their rights in Iraq. This makes it essential that the brother Arabs respect the Kurdish decision and would not be hesitant regarding [the fulfilment of] any right of the Kurdish rights in Iraq. By this I mean that there are now some Iraqi and foreign sides that, to some extent, point to the federalism of governorates [provinces], which is rejected by the Kurds, because the Kurdish people have not been struggling throughout history for separating the Kurdish governorates from each other . . .

The federalism which the Kurdish people demand, and which the Kurdistan parliament endorsed [in 1992], is a political federalism in its geographic and national meanings, where the Kurds would have the right to run their affairs, practise their authority and assume their responsibilities, and guarantee all the rights of the Turkoman and Chaldo-Assyrian brothers, as well as religious freedom . . . If the Kurds claim these areas, particularly Kirkuk, it is not because it is an oil-rich city as some sides claim, but because these towns and townships are an important part of Kurdish history . . . To sum up, we are extremely attached to preserving the Kurdish-Arab brotherhood and would be satisfied to keep the common values between them as a principle objective. The future situation of Iraq necessitates the participation of Kurds and Arabs in it in the form of a voluntary coexistence between them . . .”

I see big problems ahead. Washington, according to Kubba, will tell the Kurds “no.” There have already been riots in Kirkuk by Arabs and Turkmen against the Barzani proposal, and more ethnic violence could follow. The Turkish government has likewise weighed in against the plan (probably one reason that Washington also opposes it). The Shiite al-Da`wa Party stands for a strong central government.

The question is whether the Kurds will take “no” for an answer. Barzani’s reference to the role of the Peshmerga or Kurdish militias in liberating northern Iraq can also be read as a veiled threat to the IGC. The Kurdish areas have been relatively quiet militarily. If Washington quashes the hopes for a new sort of Iraqi Kurdistan, they may get more dangerous quickly.