Kurdistan Will Be A Success

By Manish Rai:

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is all set to carry out a referendum on Kurdistan independence, thus closing a circle which was opened 56 years earlier in the “September revolution” against the Iraqi central government, headed by Abd al-Karim Qassim. The feeling of attaining full independence is getting stronger by each passing day in Kurdish areas. Cities are rising where the Kurdish flag flutters and the road signs, the street and store names and the media are in Kurdish, the official government language. It could take visitors to Erbil the Kurdish capital, several days to realise that they are in Iraq. By adopting the method of referendum, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will join many other states and political entities to have employed this standard procedure. Usually a declaration of independence needs to be preceded by a referendum. Without establishing the will of the people of Kurdistan on the issue, KRG leaders can hardly claim a popular mandate for such a move. Most recently independent states, such as South Sudan, held referendums first. But many Iraqi politicians and groups are declaring this referendum unconstitutional. As the experience in Yugoslavia showed, when ethnic or religious cleavages explode, the most effective path to peace may well be separation. And a Kurdish state has a real chance of thriving. An independent Kurdistan could manage to combine natural-resource wealth with a tradition of stable and pragmatic governance, thereby creating a sustainable democracy. This would amount to a win for pro-Western liberal forces in the Middle East. Let’s have a look at the factors which can make independent Kurdistan a success story in the region.

Strong Security Apparatus: The Peshmerga armed forces of the KRG are a very effective and well-trained Kurdish military force that defends Kurdistan very well. When the Iraqi military melted away after putting up only minimal resistance to ISIS in 2014, it was this Peshmerga only which stopped the expansion of ISIS and even rolled it back. The Peshmerga have decades of experience warring against powerful opponents such as the once very strong elite force of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards. The Peshmerga is very much capable of defending the sovereignty of an independent Kurdistan.

Vibrant Economy: The KRG now exports 600,000 barrels of oil per day, with up to a million per day on the horizon with existing and pending deals with large multinational oil companies. The KRG’s budget deficit has thus shrunk 99%, “from $4 billion in 2013 to just $63 million in 2016.” Together with efforts to boost agriculture (Kurdistan is nearly self-sufficient for food now), manufacturing and the private sector in general, the future prospects of the region look better than that of many states.

Unity of Political Parties on Independence: All leading parties of Kurdistan — the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Gorran Party — support wholeheartedily the independence of Kurdistan. Gorran and the Komal Islamic Group support the referendum and independence but only have some reservations about its timing and mechanism.

Weak Baghdad: The Iraqi government in Baghdad will not be able to stop the Kurds as it lacks the required military strength. The Iraqi army has deep structural problems including large-scale desertions, widespread corruption and low morale. In this case Baghdad can’t afford to start any military campaign against the Kurds. Even the chances of outside military intervention are slim with Syria being weak and Iran and Turkey otherwise occupied on other fronts.

In the past Kurds were considered a destabilizing element in the Middle East but now the world has come to realize their important contribution to stabilizing the region and in fighting radical Islamists. The Kurds tried to make Iraq work after 2003 on the condition of federalism and a binational Iraq of equals with minority rights, but that hope has faded. Kurds are entitled to seek independence to enhance their secular and more progressive society as well as better relations with all neighbours. Given how Kurds have been treated in the countries in which they live, it’s no surprise that they have demanded the right to govern themselves and are willing to fight. So, it’s the high time that the international community caught up with Kurdish desires and helped Kurds build stable, democratic institutions, instead of taking the side of those who want to rule over the Kurds. The West should respect the yearning of disenfranchised and oppressed peoples, beginning with the Kurds, for freedom, democracy, and competent governance which remains vital for a durable Western imprint on the region’s future. The time has come for the first redrawing of the Middle East map since the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement which sliced up the Ottoman empire possessions into nation states. But it has still to be seen how Kurdistan will choose to separate from Iraq. Will Kurds separate from Iraq by declaring independence in one bold stroke, or do it through negotiations with the central government in Baghdad for amicable separation? It will be in interest of both of them that separation happens though negotiations: in this scenario both can have key and official linkages like a shared defence and foreign policies, and hydrocarbons production which benefits both.

Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle-East and Af-Pak regions and Editor of the geo-political news agency Views Around. He can be reached at manishraiva@gmail.com

One Response to Kurdistan Will Be A Success
  1. drake koefoed
    August 27, 2017 | 21:47

    I would like to be able to download the paper weekly or so, or get as a file attach. My internet was down friday and it would have been great to have articles for the last few months on my system to study. I can’t afford a newspaper so I get what I can online.

    Regarding the ‘unconstitutional’ claim, the Kurds have been in the area for maybe a thousand years, Iraq was created by the powers in 1916, and I suppose the constitution post dates the fall of Saddam. So how could that constitution be binding on the Kurds?!

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