Indecisive Maliki v. decisive Barzani

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s statements and the central government’s “action plan” targeting the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are rife with uncertainty.
But the Kurds, the targets of this indecisive policy, appear to be more unyielding and adamant with respect to the matters disputed between them and the central government.

When the central government deployed the Tigris Operation Units to the settlements controlled by peshmerga forces, particularly including Kirkuk, the Kurds of northern Iraq reacted harshly. Led by Massoud Barzani’s brother and son, peshmerga forces were sent, amid cheering crowds of Kurds, to the crisis regions.

This was a show of resolve appreciated by not only the 5 million Kurds living in the federated area, but also by all Kurds across the region.

Meanwhile, I must note that the Kurdish people’s trust in the Barzanis, a family steeled by struggles spanning over a century, is increasing with each passing day.

It appears that Kurdish nationalism has now surpassed Arab nationalism. Baathist movements and the Syrian experience were the unfortunate adventures that spelled doom for Arab nationalism. On the other hand, Kurdish nationalism and patriotism are alive and thriving and have fresh and strong references as tested by Kurds’ determination to possess Kirkuk at all costs and protect the federal KRG, which was perceived by them as the century’s most important achievement.

As frequently noted, the new century may not be a century of Kurds, but the Kurds of the new century are no longer the previous century’s well-behaved Kurds who were denied everything.

Under Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, a referendum should be held to decide who governs Kirkuk. But this oil-rich city’s demographic composition, which had been tinkered with by Saddam Hussein to ensure the domination of Arabs, is still one of the controversial topics between Arabs and Kurds in post-Hussein Iraq. Having returned to their home, i.e., Kirkuk, after they had been exiled in Hussein’s time, Kurds were joyful because of the end of a nationwide victimization. This being the case in Kirkuk, there are also other imminent problems as there is still uncertainty as to who will govern the Khanaqin and Sinjar regions. In these disputed areas, the Iraqi army and peshmerga forces frequently confront each other.

The date for the Kirkuk referendum has yet to be settled. But the political, economic and social stability that was swiftly established in Kirkuk is emerging as a more alluring model for the people living in the city.

It seems time is in favor of Kurds in these regions.

The areas that are under the control of the local government are more secure and peaceful. On weekends, rich and middle class Arabs from Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul flock to the leading Kurdish cities including Arbil, Salah ad Din and Dohuk. The singers who take to the stage during the evening programs of five-star hotels in Arbil are mostly Arabs. Arabic music has started to reign in these venues. One of the recurring themes of the conferences and symposiums held at these hotels is “democratic pluralism,” which is said to be becoming increasingly popular among Kurds.

This social and political mobility is not seen anywhere in Baghdad or other Arab cities.

Seeing Arabs fail to do all this, Kurds believe Arab politicians and intellectuals unfairly continue to look down on Kurds, Turkmens and Assyrians. Their perceptions are actually not without merit. Two years ago, I visited Arbil to attend the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) congress. Many Arab leaders including Maliki came and delivered speeches. But all of them carefully refrained from using the word “Kurdistan.” I noted that all the congress delegates found this odd and criticized it.

The dispute in Iraq has clearly nothing to do with possessing more oil reserves or earning more money.

Kurds enjoy sovereign rights on the lands they assumed to be their home. This is the main reason for the disagreement between Arabs and Kurds.