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Baghdad Government Doesn’t Solve Kurds’ Core Issues

By Sarkawt Shamsulddin

The formation of the new Iraqi government is unlikely to address the root of the problems that have plagued Iraq for nearly a decade.



The Sunnis are in a better position than they have been in the past. They have managed to win over the international community in their effort to amend government policies targeting Sunni areas and have their grievances addressed.


The Kurds, on the other hand, have been playing the same old game with the rulers in Baghdad. The demands have remained the same since British colonization nearly eight decades ago. Despite this, Kurds are in a better — and stronger — position both economically and militarily.


The British annexed the Kurdistan Region to what is known as modern-day Iraq in 1921. The Kurds revolted against the Brits and despite the British opposition, proclaimed themselves as independent with a state founded in Sulaimania by Sheikh Mahmood.


The Kurds revolted against the Brits because their demands — land, sovereignty and wealth — were dismissed. Kurdish officials in Baghdad are still making these demands, albeit on different terms.


In the 1920s, the Kurds were not united. Compared with what the Kurds have forged for themselves today, a century ago they did not have a strong economy, diplomacy or even effective armed forces.


In fact, Kurdish tribes in Erbil or the Behdinan area did not support the Sheikh Mahmood revolution. Regardless, he sought absolute sovereignty and a defined border.


The Kurds have made several demands from Baghdad, and their acceptance of Iraq’s new government is contingent upon these demands being met.


Kurdish officials have given Baghdad three months to accept their conditions; otherwise, they will push ahead with a referendum for independence.


The demands include Baghdad’s recognition of Kurdish economic independence; the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) share of the annual budget; implementing Article 140 of the constitution, which lays out steps to resolve the status of disputed areas; and arming of Kurdish armed forces (known as Peshmerga.)


Regardless of who rules Baghdad — Shiite or Sunni, liberals or monarchists, Islamists and secularists — the view and treatment of Kurds remains unchanged. One can argue that even if Sunnis and Shiites disagree on everything in Iraq’s polarized, sectarian orientated society, their perception of Kurds is a shared view — particularly when it comes to implementing Article 140.


The Kurds have seized every possible opportunity to form a coalition with marginalized sects and groups in an attempt to weaken Baghdad. The Kurds have been betrayed each time but remain hopeful that they can persuade marginalized sects to act in their favor.


The KRG has supported the Sunnis, who have been a largely marginalized by Shiite-dominated governments. The support has not been reciprocated because the Sunnis’ stance on Kurdish demands remains unchanged. The Sunnis are opposed to the implementation of Article 140 at any cost, and they are also against the Kurdish armed forces operating in disputed areas.


In a press conference in August, then-Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari revealed that Kurdish negotiators have reached a deadlock with the Shiite National Alliance.


He said the Kurds are seeking an international guarantee that would force Baghdad to be held to its promises. However, it’s unlikely that inviting an international mediator to the negotiation table would solve domestic issues.


International mediators could help the Kurds if they’re a separate entity from Iraq. Nonetheless, the Kurds have a bitter experience with the United Nations playing a mediating role, as evidenced when Stephan De Mistura, UN Commissioner to Iraq, engaged in mediating disputes over Kirkuk.


The Kurds have abandoned their engagement with Baghdad by focusing on strengthening their diplomacy and economic independence, despite being bound to Baghdad constitutionally. The Kurdish negotiation tactic is missing a key strategy, however, which is to evolve towards independence.


Some Kurdish political analysts believe the current crisis in Iraq is not in favor of Kurds because the international community is fixated on defeating the Islamic State (IS/formerly ISIS).


However, it is worth noting that US analysts don’t agree with this stance. They believe the Kurds are faced with two options — to have a longstanding position in Baghdad’s political affairs or break away. It appears that Kurdish leaders don’t have the desire for the former, or the courage for the latter.


Sarkawt Shamsulddin is a co-founder of Kurdish Policy Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on the Kurdistan Regional Government’s internal policies.




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