Kurdish Anger Rising
Update: Although the New York Times alleged Thursday morning that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had tried to defuse the crisis with the Kurds by committing his government to the TAL or interim constitution, all was still not well in Kurdish-Shiite relations. Deputy PM Barham Saleh got in a snit and went home to Kurdistan in protest over the lack of definition of his official duties. The Kurds say they are tired of being given token posts in Iraq with no real power, a pattern they maintain has been consistent since the formation of modern Iraq in the early 1920s. The rest of the press does not, by the way, seem to be taking Allawi’s statement as seriously as NYT did, suggesting that most reporters do not think it has resolved the crisis.
The Associated Press reports substantial Kurdish anger in Iraq over the failure of the UN Security Council resolution on Iraq’s caretaker government to provide any guarantees of protection of the minority rights of the Kurds. A senior UN official said off the record that he hoped “it will not develop into anything ugly.” Key quotes from Kurdish leaders:
‘ Barham Salih, 44, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and an American favorite, announced he would not accept the post of deputy prime minister for national security unless the powers were spelled out “appropriate to the position, sacrifice and important role of the Kurdish people,” the PUK’s KurdSat television reported.
‘ “We do not accept that the Shiites would have the lion’s share of any Iraqi government because any Iraqi government should be composed of the representatives of all Iraqi people,” Mulaha Bekhtiyar of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said Wednesday. ‘
‘ Now our future is ambiguous,” said Nesreen Berwari, a Kurd who serves as minister of public works. “The interim constitution would have been the clear and bright road map to all the components of the Iraqi people.” Berwari said she would resign from the government if asked to do so by the Kurdish leadership. ‘
Karbalanews.net quotes Barwari as saying that for the UN not to endorse the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) or interim constitution (which recognizes Kurdish claims explicitly) is a “usurpation of democracy.” She added that the UN resolution, in failing to mention the TAL, “ensures that all the sacrifices of the Kurdish people have been in vain.”
According to ash-Sharq al-Awsat, Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said that he would announce the Kurdish position after studying the contents of the resolution. He implied that it was possible that he would ask the Kurdish ministers in the caretaker government to resign in protest (Barwari has already indicated her willingnes to do so). In a letter to President Bush, Barzan and Jalal Talabani, the other paramount Kurdish leader, threatened to boycott the forthcoming Iraqi elections and perhaps even declare an independent state if they feel their demands are being ignored.
Mahmud Uthman (Osman), an independent Kurdish politician who served on the Interim Governing Council, told the newspaper that he thought it unlikely that the Kurdish ministers would withdraw from the new government. He said that the Kurds have now noticed that the final draft of the UNSC resolution affirmed the “federal” character of the Iraqi state, and that this phraseology might be enough to hang their hopes on. The Kurds want a decentralized Iraqi government with substantial “states rights.”
Sistani spokesman in Europe, Murtada al-Kashmiri, said that the Kurds had threatened to withdraw in the past, and that they should “consider what is best for all Iraqis.”
Songul Chapouk, the Turkmen woman on the old Interim Governing Council, also expressed impatience with Kurdish threats to withdraw. She said she had opposed the loose federalism implied in the TAL because it was produced by an unelected body. The Turkmen have complained about not being represented in the UN-appointed government and are rivals of the Kurds in northern regions.
My remarks on the Lehrer News Hour on Tuesday concerning the UN Security Council Resolution on Iraq are now online.
I said in part: “the Kurds very much wanted the resolution to endorse the interim constitution that was hammered out last February between the interim governing council and the coalition provisional authority. It did not do so. That interim constitution recognizes the status quo of semi-autonomy for the Kurdish regions, gives them a veto over the permanent constitution that is to be drafted next year this time. Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani on the other hand wrote a letter to Kofi Annan warning the United Nations against endorsing that document which Sistani does not like. He fears that it contains the seeds of a break-up of Iraq. He wants more central authority. He doesn’t think it’s fair for the rule of the majority to be overruled by a minority of Kurds. So these two political forces in civil society came out differently. Sistani won basically. The Kurds lost and they’re very upset about it.”