Is Masud Barzani really a nationalist?

Michael Rubin

By Michael Rubin:

Nationalist rhetoric is a staple of Iraqi Kurdish president Masud Barzani’s speeches and declarations. In 2006, he told an American journalist, “Having an independent state is the natural legitimate right of our people.” In January 2012, he told the BBC, “What I really wish is to see an independent Kurdistan.” Against the backdrop of a political crisis with Baghdad, Barzani suggested a declaration of Kurdish independence could be imminent. “Power-sharing and partnership between Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, and others is now completely non-existent and has become meaningless,” Barzani said during his Nowruz address last March. “It is time to say enough is enough,” he continued. “I call on all Iraqi political leaders to urgently try and find a solution otherwise we will return to our people and will decide on whatever course of action that our people deem appropriate.” Implicit in Barzani’s statement is the fact that, when polled, Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly favor independence.

The Kurdish people may embrace Kurdish nationalism but, despite his rhetoric, it is doubtful Masud Barzani does. Following his Nowruz address, Barzani traveled to Washington. Rather than show himself as president of Iraqi Kurdistan, he chose to bring his son and nephew into meetings, thereby showing himself to be concerned more with family. After the White House rebuffed his position on Kurdish claims to Iraq’s disputed territories, Barzani spent the rest of his trip promoting personal business.

Barzani’s behavior is the rule rather than the exception. However he might depict himself in Kurdistan, Masud Barzani is not known in Washington for nationalism. Just one year ago, on October 28, 2011, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified the U.S. Congress of an impending sale to Turkey of three AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters. The notification kicked in a 15-day period in which Congressional objections could block the transfer of the military equipment to Turkey. Rather than speak up, Barzani remained silent. Neither he nor the Kurdistan Regional Government representatives in Washington asked the White House or Congress to block the sale. Two months later, the Turks slaughtered at least 34 unarmed Kurds in the Roboski Massacre.

While Barzani is silent in the face of Turkish arms purchases, he has criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s efforts to purchase advanced aircraft from the United States and, more recently, weaponry from Russia and the Czech Republic. Once again, however, Barzani’s rhetoric rings hollow. After all, Hoshyar Zebari, Barzani’s uncle and Iraq’s Foreign Minister, traveled with Maliki to Moscow and helped negotiate the agreement. So too did Khairallah Hassan Babaker, Iraq’s Minister of Trade and a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Kurds may want a state, but Barzani’s actions suggest he does not. Barzani has yet to demand Turkish forces end their occupation of Amadia, Kani Masi, and other towns in Iraqi Kurdistan. Perhaps Barzani’s silence is understandable; to speak up might make his attendance at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party conference awkward. Antagonizing Erdoğan might also complicate efforts to strike deals with Çalik Holdings, the Turkish firm whose chief executive officer is Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law.

Both during my recent visit to Iraqi Kurdistan and in the United States, Kurds often ask whether the United States would ever support Kurdish independence. That question is premature. After all, why would the U.S. government support Kurdish independence when Masud Barzani’s actions show he does not?

Copyright © 2012

7 Responses to Is Masud Barzani really a nationalist?
  1. kuvan
    October 22, 2012 | 22:08

    I would say Kurdish people are patriotic like English poeple or poeple of any other nations ,rather than fascist nationalist.The position of Kurdish people is clear and there is no doubt that every single Kurdish person wants independence for kurdistan ,living side by side with their neighbors ,peacefully and based on mutual respect and interests .But the question is would the world agree with the independence of Kurdish nation? If you agree with the independence of Kurds than announce is officially and publicly and if you don’t agree than explain to the world why not ?

  2. sato
    October 22, 2012 | 23:05

    What dr Rubin says is that the Kurdish leaders deceived The Kurdish people about the future of the Arab occupied provinces of Kirkuk, Khankin and Mosul for the a past 9 years. The replaced Kurds of these areas still are in refugee camps. The newly deployed Iraqi army divisions in Kirkuk, Khankin and Mosul forces more Kurdish families to leave this areas for Arabs from the south. Iran has stopped water from Khankin in Collaboration with Maliki Regime to force the Kurdish population of the area.
    If Dr. Rubin know and well aware of the US collaboration with Maliki to expel the Kurdish population from the so called disputed areas by Masoud and Jalal , Then he should be frankly write about it.
    The two Kurdish Leaders do not care about Kirkuk as much as they care about oil deals kickbacks and the 17% budget to the two Cities Erbil and Sulimania .

  3. Suleiman
    October 23, 2012 | 04:45

    And while you, Michael Rubin, claim to be a Kurdish friend, you are nothing but a media puppet whose only intention is to serve Israel. We are sick of your Turkish rhetorics as well.

  4. K.I.M.
    October 23, 2012 | 08:36

    It’s not relating nationalism but rather strong leadership lacking in Kurdistan. We must concede that we have lost numerous leeways in the past. According to the memoirs of Colin Luther Powell, the renowned American statesman and a retired four-star general, had Kurds insistently prodded for independence, it was an option that could have been taken into account earnestly. Numerous academics and intellectuals have also inferred that Kurdistan has the all the trappings of statehood and all it requires is the right person for the right mission.
    Kurdish leaders do use independence slogans to merely upsurge their popularity and portray themselves more nationalist than one another, especially around the election times.
    Given the current PUK-Gorran-Islamists alliance with Iran and KDP’s with Turkey, the emergence of this reality seems even more prolonged and complicated. Independence is feasible when all political parties overlook a part of their partisan interests and truly work on the nations ends.


  5. Butan Amedi
    October 24, 2012 | 02:35

    Before even considering the idea of independence, Iraqi Kurdistan must unite its two governments.

  6. Citizen of Kurdistan
    October 27, 2012 | 19:24

    I think any attempts to support the independancy for Kurdistan should be welcomed. However I would not encourage my Kurdish people to give up their dream for independency because our politicians have failed in creating one throughout decades as the writer suggests. I also do not believe that USA does not support a Kurdish State in the region because the Kurdish leaders are not serious in pursuing a case for independency. We should not forget US has its own interest in the Middle East and has a strategy in place which only serves what is best for the national interest of the US not the Kurds! So If the US had been serious in supportting the Kurdish State, we would have seen a change in the call for Kurdish independency by the powerful states on international stage at least as we saw they did for palastine but surely they did not want that for the Kurds! On the other hand Having an independant state for Kurdistan should not be minimized as its a demand of a Forty milion nation and I believe it should be looked at seriously by the UN in the meantime. If there is no case to be put forward in support of a Kurdish State by the Kurdish leaders today! I assure you this will not continure forever as Kurdish people will not tolerate corruption any longer. We need new politicians who are real reformers to sort out our issues inside and then bring unity to all parts of Kurdistan inside on state. I believe this will come true if we keep the momentum and spirit high in our objective as one nation.

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