The Iraqi constitution was drafted and ratified in 2005 under the strong influence of Iraqi Kurdish parties who make up the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Kurdish members of constitution drafting committee. Their influence in writing the constitution resulted in their three provinces voting with the highest rate of approval in the nationwide referendum to ratify the Iraqi constitution. Despite all its shortcomings, the Iraqi constitution makes it clear about preserving the national integrity of the federal state and the exclusive powers the federal government in Baghdad holds. Article 110 in the constitution states the following:
The federal government shall have exclusive authorities in the following matters:
First: Formulating foreign policy and diplomatic representation; negotiating,
signing, and ratifying international treaties and agreements; negotiating, signing,
and ratifying debt policies and formulating foreign sovereign economic and trade
The simple and clear language in the constitution lists the exclusive powers reserved for the federal government in Baghdad. Ironically, long-time Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) member, Hoshyar Zebari, headed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from July 2003 to July 2014. Zebari is also the uncle of the President of the KDP and KRG, Masoud Barzani who is currently serving the tenth year of his eight year presidency. The KDP took advantage of the quota system adopted by Iraq’s consecutive inclusive governments and utilised this ministry to expand the interests of the KRG, and more specifically, the KDP’s interests under the official name of the Republic of Iraq. In addition to possessing authority over Iraq’s foreign relations, the KRG have unconstitutional diplomatic offices in some forty countries with their largest offices in Washington, D.C. and London. These offices operate independently of the Iraqi embassies and significantly undermine embassies not under a Kurdish ambassador from a Kurdish political party.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry is no longer under the helm of the KDP’s Zebari after the formation of the new cabinet in 2014 under Prime Minister al-Abadi. However the international offices of the KRG continue to operate in full force, undermining the work of Iraq’s foreign policy. KRG offices function like a party office for the KDP pursuing their interests with the assistance of multiple lobbyists the KRG hire. For example, the Embassy of Iraq in Washington, D.C. has one lobby firm; they have to compete with the KRG office and its four lobby firms. Bear in mind the KRG offices and lobbyists are funded through the KRG budget which is a percentage of the annual federal Iraqi budget. The KRG office in London, which was under the leadership of Bayan Sami Rahman, the daughter of the late Vice President of the KDP, was recently handed to a rival PUK member, Karwan Jamal Tahir after Ms. Rahman was appointed the head of the KRG office in Washington, D.C. After a few weeks of settling in Mr. Tahir has already started putting out the work expected of a KRG representative with his publication in the Guardian on July 23, 2015.
Mr. Tahir begins his piece by linking the recent terrorist attacks witnessed around the world by stating the victims and the number of casualties.
30 British sunbathers, Shias at prayer, and 200 Kurdish men, women, and children sleeping in their beds.
Yet he fails to mention the number of Shia killed. Could he not have been bothered to state the figure? Was it deliberate in order to not take away from maximising the victimisation of Kurds? Or has there been so many Shia killed by ISIS he could not count them all? Although the reason is unknown, Mr. Tahir falsely claims the KRG to be at the forefront of the fight against ISIS.
At the forefront is the Kurdistan region, a sworn enemy of Isis, with which we now share a 650-mile border.
Most attacks by ISIS have been against Sunni Arab heartland & the Shia south. The KRG is relatively safe and does not confront ISIS. It engages ISIS only when securing its illegally extended border.
Although having security, the KRG fails on multiple issues Mr. Tahir claims the Kurdistan region promotes such as Women’s rights and multi-ethnic coexistence.
Kurdistan promotes women’s rights and seeks to root its patriotism in a pluralist definition of tolerance.
There is generally a lot of anti-Arab, anti-Turkmen, and anti-Assyrian sentiment and rhetoric. It has also become impossible for non-Kurdish Iraqis outside the KRG to obtain residency within – the opposite of promoting coexistence.
While self-evaluation clearly lacking in Mr. Tahir’s piece, false accusations against Baghdad continue when he claims Sunnis and Kurds are treated as second-class citizens. It is unclear whether Mr. Tahir has stepped foot in Baghdad or anywhere else in Iraq outside the Kurdistan Region to give such criticism. The fact of the matter remains, he does not need to obtain a visa to visit and evaluate the situation first-hand, if need be. Not to mention the Kurds have had the best treatment in all of Iraq since 1991 due to the Western-imposed northern no-fly zone. Sunni Arabs on the other hand, despite their claims of grievances, sponsored terrorism immediately after the fall of the Ba’athist regime and before Iraq had a government that could supposedly marginalise them. This was evident during Ayad Allawi’s premiership, who was the best candidate for Sunnis and still had to grapple with the terrorism issue. The answer Mr. Tahir presents to fix his inaccurate accusations of the federal government is implementing a democratic and federal constitution. Poignantly, the federal government is pushing for everyone to abide by the democratically adopted and federal constitution but political factions including the Kurdish parties do not want to abide by it. This is the same constitution his predecessor Ms. Rahman praises, as she is quoted at Chatham House in late September 2014 saying, “If you read the constitution, it is a fantastic document but nobody abides by it.” In truth, many in the federal government do abide by it including the Kurds. However, the KRG abide by it only with the parts that give them the maximum amount of benefits and simply ignore the rest.
Iraq must be a binational Arab-Kurdish state that is decentralised and democratic.
To be a true binational state as Mr. Tahir suggests Iraq must be to move forward, it requires the Kurds to commit to an Arab-Kurdish state, not a separate state within a state which is currently how the KRG is structured. There is no benefit to funding a self-governed Kurdish region with a separate foreign policy that conflicts with Baghdad’s nor is there benefit to offering increased autonomy to Sunnis while ISIS lingers, as that will only solidify ISIS’s base. Sunni Arab issues are not related to autonomy, like the Kurds, and not believing in the post-2003 change. Sunni Arabs have an issue with change in Baghdad, not with what is happening in Ramadi, Fallujah, etc. While Mr. Jamal understands the Sunni Arab conflict with the federal government incorrectly the solution he suggest is similar to that of the 2007 Sunni Awakening which is also wrong. The 2007 Sunni Awakening was not a deal between Baghdad and Sunnis but Americans paying Sunnis to stop fighting them. This is the very same tactic the British used in Basra in buying off the Mehdi Army. Both experiences have proven to be band-aid solutions and only lead to greater conflict shortly after. These are not only temporary solutions but simply the wrong incentive having to pay fellow countrymen to join you to fight terrorists in their part of the country.
There was one instance where Mr. Tahir was being truthful when he stated the Kurds were “starved for resources”. This was not because of the federal government’s doing; it was because his regional government’s unilateral oil sales are illegal under Iraq’s constitution and international law. This resulted in oil companies not willing to purchase KRG oil, which led to former Prime Minister al-Maliki to withhold Kurdistan Region’s share of the budget. There was reconciliation under Prime Minister al-Abadi but even he is now accused of giving only a fraction of the KRG’s share. This is in complete disregard to the fact that the KRG has only transferred part of the oil which the KRG agreed to do so to Baghdad which equals a fraction of the share. Oil has to be handed over to Baghdad’s State Organization of Marketing of Oil (SOMO) and sold in order for Baghdad to send the KRG funds for that oil. This would explain the unemployment in the Kurdistan region, not to mention the mismanagement by the KDP due to its corruption under Masoud Barzani and his Minister for Natural Resources, Ashti Hawrami.
Our once-booming economy is in a tailspin with increasing poverty and unemployment. Hundreds of investment projects have stalled.
I must make it clear that the rest of Iraq has also suffered tremendously during the war against ISIS and since the fall of oil prices but these are not the reasons behind investment projects stalling in the Kurdistan region as Mr. Tahir wants readers to believe. The reason is simply because international companies do not want to deal with a corrupt region that does not cooperate with its own federal government nor has decided to properly pursue independence.
Our population has grown by a third because of the influx of 1.6 million Arab Muslim and Christian refugees, and it is massively straining our finances and services.
Population growth due to IDPs is a cause for concern but it is a time of war. This happens in war and frankly Iraq is neck-deep in war with ISIS. As apart of Iraq, the KRG is obliged to help with the IDPs and obliged to help militarily. To say only western service personnel have fought and saved Kurdish homeland is insulting to Iraqis as they have given their lives by the hundreds for all of Iraq including Kurdish inhabited areas. Peshmerga fled areas as well that led to the death and enslavement of thousands of people including the minority Yezidis.
On the military side, western service personnel have protected our homeland and are helping the Iraqi army to recover from its awful defeat last year when it lost one-third of Iraq.
Although military abandonment has occurred with both the Iraqi Security Forces and Peshmerga, humility has failed to reach KRG leadership as Mr. Tahir talks about Peshmerga as the most effective fighting force to take back areas when it is the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Units and divisions of federal police and army that has liberated Samarra, Tikrit, Jurf al Sakhar, Dhuluiya, Garma, etc. These victories have resulted in Sunnis encouragingly working with Iraqi government forces to take back other ISIS-occupied areas. Blatantly calling for foreign groups to intervene in Iraq when it is not necessary, is misdirection on behalf of the KRG.
Selling the Peshmerga as the best fighting force to win back land is also contradicting Chancellor of Kurdish Security, Masrour Barzani, son of Masoud Barzani. He openly stated the Peshmerga do not take an offensive position. Both Masrour and Mr. Tahir claim lack of Peshmerga offensive is because of the lack of heavy weapons from Baghdad’s failure to supply Peshmerga in Kurdistan. Americans who are the biggest weapons suppliers to all of Iraq have revealed that Baghdad passes all arms designated for the KRG to the KRG within hours of receiving it. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter have both reiterated this point. There is simply no debate on whether Baghdad arms the Kurds or not, leaving the only question to be, what have the Kurds done with the weaponry received? Dr. Rubin’s testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs stated that there are no offensive operations for the Peshmerga. Only weapons stockpiling. Therefore the Peshmerga are on equal footing to fight ISIS and being a part of the Iraqi Security Forces under the constitution and paid for by the federal government in Baghdad under the military share of the federal budget, separate to the KRG’s share, it is about time they joined the offensive.
The White House has provided all the evidence to disprove the lack of Kurdish support not for the sake of Baghdad but for its own sake of ensuring acknowledgement for the foreign assistance the Kurds receive from the U.S. and its allies. However, the West has acquired a warped understanding tailored by the heavy lobbying of Kurds in addition to assistance from vastly rich non-government entities like Foster Friess. Heavy lobbying by Kurds only goes so far when it is stacked against the truth; an example of this is when the U.S. Senate voted against the Ernst amendment and Congressman McCaul visited Baghdad and returned unwilling to support independent arms delivery to the KRG. This is due to the fact that the KRG refuses to meet Prime Ministers of inclusive governments such as Prime Minister al-Abadi halfway with national reconciliation. This has to do with lack of cooperation and nothing to do with independence, as the KRG wants its citizens and everyone else to believe. Due to the stockpiled weapons, the KRG can soon suppress pro-independence movements using violence and/or force a settlement with Baghdad, also using violence. Baghdad is not against independence. The KRG is.
One excuse for not sufficiently arming the peshmerga is that it prevents Kurdistan from seeking independence
I agree with Mr. Tahir on the need to have increased cooperation on security. That does not mean increased cooperation on insecurity as a need to receive increased weaponry to pursue independence. There is an attempt to link weapons to the independence issue. The increased cooperation on security is the same one Prime Minister al-Abadi and Minister of Defence Obeidi have with a joint command centre in Erbil to liberate Mosul. The Iraqi Ministry of Defence can cooperate with the KRG’s Ministry of Peshmerga. Despite all these efforts Mr. Tahir pursues help from the international community because the Peshmerga can only contain ISIS and not defeat it. He has a point here because the rest of Iraq is bleeding heavily to try and re-secure areas while Kurds look on. This is re-emphasised when Masoud Barzani warned the Iraqi government that the Peshmerga will only play a supporting role to Iraqi Security Forces in the liberation of Mosul. These are not the words you expect to hear from the most effective fighting force but that’s because even the Kurdish Peshmerga are divided amongst themselves. While one side (PUK) of the Peshmerga fight ISIS, the KDP’s Peshmerga watch.
This allows me to conclude by pointing out the hypocrisy behind Mr. Tahir’s last point of demanding a united cause by foreign states to rally around the Peshmerga when the Kurds themselves cannot reach unity amongst themselves to defeat ISIS. The consequences for this is a region of Iraq that will continue to live with ISIS as neighbours so long as it benefits them. The West will continue to be hounded for weapons and training, regardless of how much of each they provide. Finally, Baghdad will continue to have to diplomatically battle its own citizens as they continue to undermine it during the war against ISIS.