Friday, June 11, 2010

Northern Iraq Observations 1: How Do the Kurds Perceive the Result of the Parlamentary Elections?

The Iraqi Kurds do not perceive the results of the March 7 2010 Iraq Parliamentary Elections as a defeat, however they think that their strength in Baghdad will decrease compared to the previous period. There are two reasons for that. Firstly, the representative proportion of the Kurds in Baghdad has dropped. Kurds have won 54 of the 275 seats in the parliament in the previous period. In the last elections, the seats in the parliament has risen to 325, however the Kurds won only 57 seats. Therefore, looking at the proportions, it can be said that the Kurds’ representative power in the Iraq Parliament has been reduced. Secondly, the Iraqiya’s election victory is another factor that will prove difficult for the Kurds. The rise of the Iraqiya is perceived as a threat to the Kurds for two reasons. First of all, the common ground on which different groups within the Iraqiya is the centralizationist and nationalist approach. The Kurds, which consider a strong central authority as a threat towards their present acquisitions, and defend federalism, are seriously disturbed by the rise of those approaches. Besides, the Kurds are at odds with the Sunni Arabs in Diyala, Kirkuk and Mosul, the areas on which they have claims. Sunni Arabs’ prevalence in those areas shifts the balance against the Kurds. According to Azad Chalak, the editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Rojname, which is close to the Goran Movement, “the election results will negatively affect the position of the Kurds in Mosul and Kirkuk against the Arabs. That is because, at those areas the Kurds share borders with the Sunni Arabs.”

Although the Kurds are aware of the fact that they are weakened as a result of the elections, they also know that they will be an important factor in the government formation process, due to Iraq’s political structure. Piştivan Sadık, KDP Erbil Representative told us that “Kurds’ number in the Center was always low. A gradual movement upwards or downwards will not create a major difference. However, Iraq is a democracy now, which is a regime of consensus. Numbers are not important. The Kurds will be an indispensable power in the new era too.” Despite the weakening of their positions compared to those in 2005, the necessity of consensus and the other groups’ failure at forming a unity will place the Kurds in critical roles. The Kurds’ primary goal is to have a place within the government no matter in what composition it will be. The Kurds will prefer that two Shiite coalitions compromise and include the Kurds in the government. Besides, the Kurds are in a dilemma regarding the composition of the government. The Kurds take a dim view of a coalition headed by the Iraqiya due to problems with the Sunni Arabs and ideological reasons. On the contrary, in a Shiite government, the Sunni Arabs will mostly be excluded. Therefore, the Sunni Arabs, who are excluded from Baghdad despite their victory in the elections, will most likely get radicalized and resort to violence in several areas. The possible wave of violence will especially target the Kurds in Mosul and Kirkuk, since the Kurds have problems with the Sunni Arabs who live in the disputed areas that the Kurds have claims on.

The Kurds believe that the March 7 General Elections was a regional struggle rather than an Iraqi inner struggle. In Hawler Post Editor-in Chief Rabwar Kerim’s words, “the elections were decided by Iraq’s neighbors rather than the Iraqis.” The struggle was between the regional powers including Turkey and the USA. It is commonly viewed that Iran supported the Shiite parties, while the Sunni Arab states supported the Iraqiya. Turkey, consistent with its general approach towards the Middle East, tried to remain at the same distance to each of the parties. However, the Kurdish groups think that Turkey leaned towards the Sunni Arabs and the Iraqiya List. The Kurds think that they are isolated within this regional equation, since no regional power supports them.

Therefore, there are feelings of “exclusion” and “weakness” among the Kurds as a result of the election and post-election process. This situation has two outcomes. Firstly, decentralizationist approaches gain strength among the Kurds. The more they think that they will not get what they want from Baghdad, more powerful the will towards independence becomes. An example might be that Massoud Barzani had brought into the agenda that the project of Joe Biden the US Vice-President in the previous years, that defended Iraq’s disintegration into three. The Kurds, who think that the Sunnis are supported, thus become concerned and play the independence card. Secondly, the Kurds’ need for regional support has grown. The President of the Regional Government Massoud Barzani’s and former Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani’s visits to several regional countries exemplify this. Relations with Turkey constitute the most important step of those efforts.

One of the consequences of the Kurds’ weakness as the outcome of the elections is that now all the Kurdish groups are unified on the grounds of common movement in Baghdad. Before the elections, rivalry between KDP-PUK alliance and Goran caused some violent clashes. Besides, Kurdish Islamic groups joined the elections on separate lists. Such a dispersion of the Kurds is one of the major causes of their failure in the elections. Especially, the results in Kirkuk showed the necessity for the Kurds to work together. However, despite all their problems among each other, the Kurds are sensitive towards not reflecting their problems to outside. Therefore, it is expected that the Kurds will be more careful in working together. In the words of Nevzat Hadi, the Arbil Governor, “there is competition among the Kurdish parties; however it will not be taken to Baghdad”.

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