Kurds Threaten Boycott
The distribution of posts in the caretaker government disappointed the religious Shiites and the Kurds, both of whom felt stiffed. The Kurds only got one vice presidency and the foreign ministry, along with a couple of other lower-profile positions (Nasrin Barwari stayed on as Minister of Public Works, which is actually potentially an important position). They wanted the presidency or vice presidency, and consider their share of government posts disproportionately small, marking them as second class citizens. The Kurdish leaders are clearly afraid that Iyad Allawi, the new prime minister, will attempt to recentralize the country under Baghdad’s direct rule, and that the Americans will back him in it. They are threatening to boycott the January elections if any such moves toward centralization are taken (i.e. if the interim constitution’s compromises are broken). The Kurds are also upset that the interim constitution is not mentioned in the UN resolution. As we saw above, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani forbade its mention. The interim constitution guarantees the Kurds that the status quo will not change until a new constitution is approved by an elected parliament, and further gives them a veto over the new constitution. The letter is worth reading:
“Letter from Barzani and Talabani to President Bush
04 June 2004
June 1, 2004
His Excellency President George W. Bush
President of the United States of America
The White House
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing this letter to your Excellency to present our views and concerns on the new Iraqi Interim Government, the Kurdish position and the future of the country.
America has no better friend than the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. A year ago, our peshmerga forces fought side by side with the American forces for the liberation of Iraq, taking more casualties than any other US ally. Today, Kurdistan remains the only secure and stable part of Iraq. We note that, in contrast to the Arab areas of Iraq, no coalition soldier has been killed in the area controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The people of Kurdistan continue to embrace American values, to welcome US troops, and to support your program for the liberation of Iraq. Our Kurdistan Regional Government has given up many of its current freedoms in the interest of helping your administering authorities reach compromises with other Iraqis. We were therefore bitterly disappointed when your special representative advised us that a Kurd could be neither Prime Minister nor President of Iraq. We were told that these positions must go to a Shiite Arab and Sunni Arab respectively.
Iraq is a country of two main nationalities, Arabs and Kurds. It seems reasonable that the Arabs might get one of the top jobs (of their choice) but then the other should go to a Kurd.
We also believe the decision to use sectarian quotas for the top two jobs directly contradicts the Coalition’s repeatedly stated position that democratic Iraq’s government should not be based on ethnic or religious criteria, a position the US wrote into the Transitional Administrative Law.
The people of Kurdistan will no longer accept second-class citizenship in Iraq. In Saddam’s time and before, Kurds were frequently given the Vice President or deputy positions, which were window dressing without power. We had hoped the new Iraq would be different for the Kurdish people.
Ever since liberation, we have detected a bias against Kurdistan from the American authorities for reasons that we cannot comprehend. At the outset of the occupation, the coalition seized the oil-for-food revenues that had been specifically earmarked for Kurdistan and redistributed them to the rest of Iraq–in spite of the fact that Kurdistan received far less of these revenues per capita than other Iraqis and notwithstanding the fact that our region was the one most destroyed by Saddam Hussein. CPA actively discouraged the equality of the Kurdish and Arabic languages, and repeatedly tried to “derecognize’ the Kurdistan Regional Government (Iraq’s only elected government ever) in favor of a system based on Saddam’s 18 governorates. US officials have demeaned the peshmerga, calling this disciplined military force that was America’s battlefield comrade in arms, “militia”. In official statements, it is rare for the US government or the CPA even to refer to Kurdistan or the Kurdish people.
We will be loyal friends to America even if our support is not always reciprocated. Our fate is too closely linked to your fortunes in Iraq. If the forces of [un?]freedom prevail elsewhere in Iraq, we know that, because of our alliance with the United States, we will be marked for vengeance. We do ask for some specific reassurance for this transitional period so as to enable us to participate more fully in the interim government. Specifically, we ask that:
The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) be incorporated into the new UN Security Council Resolution or otherwise recognized as law binding on the transitional government, both before and after elections. If the TAL is abrogated, the Kurdistan Regional Government will have no choice but to refrain from participating in the central government and its institutions, not to take part in the national elections, and to bar representatives of the central Government from Kurdistan.
The United States commit to protect the people and government of Kurdistan in the event insurrection and disorder lead to a withdrawal from the rest of Iraq.
The Coalition carry through on commitments to reverse the Arabization of Kurdish lands and move forward to settle the status of Kirkuk in accordance with the wishes of its people, excluding settlers but including those ethnically cleansed by Saddam Hussein.
The oil-for-food revenues unfairly taken from Kurdistan last year be restored in the entirety, and that Kurdistan receive its per capita share of the $19 billion in reconstruction assistance appropriated by the Congress.
The United States support our plans to own and manage Kurdistan’s natural resources, and in particular our efforts to develop new petroleum resources in the Kurdistan Region, where the previous regime sought to block all exploration and development that might benefit the Kurdistan people.
The United States open a consulate in Irbil, and that it encourage other coalition partners to the same. For the people of Kurdistan, it is vital that we maintain our direct links to the outside world and not solely dependant on a Baghdad where we are not considered fully equal citizens.
The United States and the United Nations state clearly that the use of ethnic and confessional criteria for the selections of the interim government does not set a precedent for a future Iraqi government, and that Kurds are eligible for the posts of Prime Minister and President.
If ethnic criteria are to be used to exclude Kurds from the top two positions in the interim government, we think it fair that Kurdistan be compensated with a disproportionate share of relevant ministries in the interim government.
Mr. President, we know that these are difficult days for all of us who believe the cause of Iraq’s freedom was worth fighting for. The Kurdish people continue to admire your confident leadership, your vision of a free Iraq, and your personal courage. We are certain that you will agree that Kurdistan should not be penalized for its friendship and support for the United States.
Kurdistan Democratic Party
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan”