Kurds seek advantage in their disputes
By Rania El Gamal - Reuters
Iraqi Kurds manoeuvre in political minefield. Sunni
vice president given sanctuary in Kurdistan. Kurds
fear Maliki is concentrating too much power.
December 30, 2011
Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Iraqi Kurds, at odds with
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki over oil and power,
have thrown down another challenge to the Shi'ite-led
central government by giving refuge to Iraq's Sunni
Muslim vice-president, despite a Baghdad warrant for
The Kurds, whose kingmaking role in Iraqi electoral
politics has been eroded by Maliki's assertion of
his own authority, will try to use Vice-President
Tareq al-Hashemi's plight to gain leverage in their
own disputes with Baghdad, analysts say.
They, like Maliki and other Iraqi politicians, are
playing for high stakes in a potentially
destabilising game following the U.S. withdrawal
from a nation whose ethnic and sectarian struggles
may be affected by the uprising in Syria next door.
Shi'ite factions which emerged as winners from the
U.S. invasion of Iraq fret that a Sunni government
may replace Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an
ally of Shi'ite Iran, and embolden Iraqi Sunnis
whose heartlands border Syria.
"The fact that the Kurds have ended up in the middle
of this crisis - and are likely being lobbied by the
U.S. to resolve the crisis rather than exacerbate it
- means that they are returning to their kingmaker
role once again," said Gala Riani, an analyst at IHS
"It is likely that the Kurds will lay low, not
inflame the situation and try to mediate whilst at
the same time strengthen their hands vis-a-vis the
federal government to try to resolve some
The Kurds are disgruntled over Maliki's failure to
keep promises to solve long-standing disputes over
oil contracts, land and constitutional rights that
the Shi'ite leader made when he formed his
power-sharing government last year
They also fear Maliki is consolidating power in his
own hands and sidelining old Sunni rivals such as
Hashemi and his own deputy Saleh al-Mutlaq. Maliki
asked parliament to fire Mutlaq for comparing him
with deposed leader Saddam Hussein.
Baghdad ordered Hashemi's arrest this month over
accusations that he was running death squads, a
charge he denies.
Maliki has asked the regional government in
semi-autonomous Kurdistan to hand Hashemi over, but
it seems unlikely to comply.
Kurdish sources said the decision to protect Hashemi
was not taken lightly, given its potential to
exacerbate tensions between Arbil and Baghdad.
Handing him back would be far worse, not only for
relations between Shi'ites and Sunnis,www.ekurd.net
but also between Kurds and Sunnis, they said.
Parts of Kirkuk, Nineveh and Diyala provinces,
neighbouring the three provinces that make up Iraqi
Kurdistan, are territories disputed between Kurds
and Sunni Arabs.
"Maliki wants to marginalise the Sunnis and doesn't
want to meet the Kurdish demands and this is not
acceptable," said Salahaddin Babaker, spokesman for
the Kurdistan Islamic Union.
Maliki's State of Law bloc is in power thanks to the
Kurds, who supported him in return for written
pledges to resolve issues such as a long-awaited oil
and gas law, the disputed territories and pay for
the Kurdish peshmerga security forces.
The Sunni-supported Iraqiya bloc won the most seats
in a March 2010 parliamentary election, but could
not forge a ruling coalition. It won some key posts
in an eventual power-sharing deal. Hashemi and
Mutlaq are prominent leaders in Iraqiya.
"Iraqiya and State of Law blocs want Kurdish
support," Babaker said. "It is natural to sympathise
with Iraqiya and their leaders, but we can use this
(the Hashemi dispute) as a way to pressure Maliki to
meet the Kurdish demands."
The Kurds are seeking a better hand in talks with
Maliki's government over the disputed territories
and Kurdish oil deals with U.S. oil major Exxon
Mobil, which Baghdad says are illegal.
Since Iraq's sectarian carnage in 2006-07, the
central government in Baghdad has grown stronger,
violence has fallen and political coalitions have
become more cross-sectarian, trends that recent
power struggles may call into question.
DREAMS OF STATEHOOD
The Kurds have much to lose in their northern
Brutally suppressed under Saddam, they became one of
the nation's most cohesive political forces after
the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, strengthened by U.S.
support and by maintaining their own unity, forged
after an intra-Kurdish civil war in the 1990s.
After the 1991 Gulf War, Western powers and Turkey
created a safe haven in northern Iraq for Kurds, who
since the 2003 invasion have sought to use their
natural resources to start building a modern
quasi-state within a federal Iraq.
Iraqi Kurdistan, dubbed "the other Iraq", has its
own ministries, parliament and security forces. Red,
white, and green Kurdish flags flutter over
buildings in Arbil, the Kurdish capital and seat of
the regional government.
Arbil is packed with new high-rise buildings and
shopping malls. Newly built ring roads and
overpasses teem with shiny Korean and Japanese cars
and the occasional high-end off-roader.
Kurdistan has attracted foreign investment and given
its residents better security and living standards
than in the rest of Iraq, where bombs and power cuts
are part of everyday life.
Kurds have long dreamt of independence, but the
northern region, surrounded by Syria, Turkey and
Iran, still depends largely on Iraq, making
nationhood unrealistic for now.
Kurdistan faces shelling and air strikes from
neighbouring Turkey and Iran aimed at camps run by
Kurdish rebel groups, the PKK and PJAK, hiding out
in Iraq's mountain borderlands.
And despite foreign investment in real estate and
tourism, Kurdistan depends on its 17 percent share
of the federal budget, based on its population.
About 95 percent of that budget comes from Iraq's
nearly 2.2 million barrels per day of oil exports.
Nevertheless, its relative success has made the
Kurdish north a model eyed by other regions seeking
Complaining of political wrangling in Baghdad and
rivalry among Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish parties,
provinces such as the mainly Shi'ite southern oil
hub of Basra and the mainly Sunni Salahuddin and
Diyala in the centre and west of Iraq have been
calling for regional autonomy.
The constitution supports autonomy, but Maliki's
government has tried to quieten the movement, partly
out of concern that sub-dividing Iraq further could
lead to instability after the U.S. withdrawal. Kurds
beg to differ.
"Iraq geographically and politically has proven to
everyone that it is divided into three parts,
Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish parts," said Shawan
Mohammed Taha, a Kurdish lawmaker in the Iraqi
parliament. "We in Kurdistan support establishing
new regions according to the constitutional
He argued that creating new regions did not imply
the division of Iraq, but a way of staying together.
"Either we are able to co-exist in a good way or we
will end up in bloodshed."
Copyright ©, respective
author or news agency,
does not take credit for and is not responsible for the
content of news information on this page