American Scholar says Kurdish leverage
declines in Iraq
By Wladimir van Wilgenburg
May 25, 2010
— In a conference organized by the Gulf Research
unit in Oslo, Dr. Denise Natalie spoke about the
influence of Kurds in Iraq, arguing that Kurds have
lost their position of kingmakers and that their
recent agreement for unity in Baghdad is very weak.
Denise Natalie is the Academic Dean of Students and
Research Centers Director at the American University
of Iraq-Sulaimaniyah. She has lived, worked and
conducted independent researches in the Kurdish
regions of Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria for nearly
twenty years, and is the author of numerous
publications on Kurdish nationalism, politics,
economy, and identity.
Dr. Natalie emphasized that the Kurds have limited
objectives and opportunities to form coalitions with
Arab parties. In addition it is difficult for them
to maintain a unified bloc in Baghdad.
Denise Natali is the Academic
Dean of Students and Research Centers Director at
the American University of Iraq-Sulaimaniyah,
KDP-PUK Agreement Finished
The professor said the strategic agreement of the
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Kurdistan
President Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union
of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Iraqi President Jalal
Talabani, has come to a "dead end because of the
loss of power of the PUK to the new opposition
movement, Gorran, meaning Change in Kurdish.
“The PUK has become a burden to the KDP and all high
positions are run by the KDP,” she said.
She said the Kurdish media talks about a shadow
government of Nechirvan Barzani despite the fact
that Barham Salih, a politician of the PUK, is now
Apart from that there is great Arab representation
(of the Sunnis), less Kurdish seats and the future
Iraqi president will not have veto power.
“Kurds have a much weakened position compared to
2005," she said.
Roadmap for Kurdish Unity
Dr. Natalie said the new United Kurdistan Alliance,
Itilafi Kurdistani, forged by the main four Kurdish
parties replaced the two-party strategic agreement.
While the KDP remains to be powerful in Dohuk,www.ekurd.netMosul
and Erbil, the PUK is strong in Kirkuk and
Sulaimaniyah has become stronghold of Gorran.
However, the parties work together in Baghdad.
According to the Strategic Agreement, KDP and PUK
agreed that Massoud Barzani will be the president of
Kurdistan and Jalal Talabani the president of Iraq.
But Natalie claims the agreement has been weakened
by the emergence of Gorran, an opposition party
which has its own conditions on oil and other
“Gorran is trying to press KDP and PUK to become
clean, transparent and accountable. I don’t know how
much leverage Gorran has to make these claims," she
Eventually these internal issues will result in
problems in dealing with Arab coalitions.
"Gorran doesn’t get a part of the budget, so why
would they care about the hydrocarbon oil law.”
She says Gorran sees the oil companies similar to
the central government in Baghdad, just like they
want the Peshmerga forces to be unified and under
"We regard the oil companies as colonizers," she
Gorran thinks the current Kurdish contracts made by
oil minister Hawrami are too generous for oil
companies and want these contracts to be under
The number one priority of the KDP is the
hydrocarbons law, and not Kirkuk, despite statements
made by the KDP about Kirkuk, she said adding that
the Kurds do not agree on Kirkuk stance.
"PUK people won Kirkuk with seven seats. This
somehow disfranchised the KDP who some say no longer
see Kirkuk as theirs. Compromise has to be made if
Kurds want to export oil out of the country.
Negiatie with Baghdad and Kirkuk is the most likely
area to be negotiated."
But PUK only wants to talk when they get Kirkuk from
Baghdad, while KDP's priority is the oil contracts.
But still the KDP will have a stronger hand.
PUK's Last Straw
Apart from that, Natali says Gorran will not vote
for Talabani as a president.
"The PUK is standing on a half leg right now," Dr.
Still Gorran is happy with the KDP playing off
PUK-Gorran, pressuring the PUK to give jobs back to
fired Gorran supporters and allowing Gorran to
"They give us more power than what we thought,"
Gorran thinks according to Dr. Natalie. But she
thinks that the Strategic Agreement could result in
the 'Obama effect' and a loss of support for Gorran,
due to the increasing control of KDP.
The Gorran supporters will say: "You promised us to
be different from the parties and now you go to
Baghdad and negiatiate with them." Apart from that,
Gorran could fall in the same pattern as KDP and PUK
and become corrupt, if they get money from the
budget, she said.
The expert suggests that the PUK is very weak, and
as a result KDP has family members in high
positions. Despite this, the PUK will not go away
yet, but they do not have anybody to replace Jalal
Talabani if he dies. Qubad Talabani does not have a
basis in Kurdistan because he is an 'outsider who is
never in Kurdistan', Barham Salih is seen as too
weak compared to Nechirvan Barzani and Kosrat Rasul
has a disagreement with Jalal Talabani, she added.
Not Positive About Kurdish
Dr. Natalie is worried about the increasing control
of the 'Barzani family' of Kurdistan after the
weakening of the PUK. She says Barzani is not
amendable to compromises and this will make a
political solution about outstanding issues like
oil, article 140 and others difficult.
"I am very skeptical concerning Kirkuk and oil," she
She concluded by saying she does not see a positive
future for the Kurds due to their own differences
and declining leverage inside Iraq. The least the
Iraqi Kurds can get is minimal authority. If the
Kurds keep on having maximalist positions and do not
compromise, there is no room for Arab-Kurdish
Dr. Denise Natali is an honorary research fellow
at the Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies,
Exeter University and currently is the Academic Dean
of Students and Research Centers Director at the
American University of Iraq-Sulaimaniyah. Over the
past fourteen years she has conducted independent
field research in the Kurdistan regions of Iraq,
Turkey, Iran, and Syria and is the author of
numerous publications on Kurdish nationalism,
politics, and identity, including, The Kurds and the
State: Evolving National Identity in Iraq, Turkey,
and Iran (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press,
2005), and The Kurdish Quasi State: development and
dependency in post-Gulf War Iraq (Syracuse: Syracuse
University Press, forthcoming). Her current
research, supported by a fellowship from The
American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARI),
focuses on the political economy of Iraq and the
Kurdistan region since 1991, and the role of
external aid in shaping transition patterns in
conflict-prone and post-conflict societies.
In addition to her expertise on the Kurds and
Kurdistan, Dr. Natali has worked in the field of
disaster relief and humanitarian affairs. She has
held posts as information officer for the U.S.
Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) in
Iraqi Kurdistan, the American Red Cross
International Disaster Relief Services, the Center
for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and
cross-border director for a healthcare NGO in
Peshawar, Pakistan, where she also served as a
liaison to the Afghan Interim Government’s Ministry
of Public Health.
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