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The Kurds and the Constitutional Crisis in Iraq

Question: The future of Iraq is related to the success of the political process and national reconciliation among Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis. To avoid dictatorship of the majority, consensus democracy has been pursued in Iraq. What is your opinion as how this process will succeed and how these three main components of Iraq may unite?

Answer: The fundamental reference is to the present-day constitution of Iraq. The political relations among Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis are governed by this document, even if it is has not been fully implemented. What is necessary is that each of the three components of the population of Iraq should not to propagate the image that any of the other components is an enemy. Only this basis makes confidence-building consensus possible. Because there are only three components of population the country and they are relatively concentrated in different regions, and also due to the high level of education and civilization throughout the population, Iraq has better chances than some other countries to make the hard work of consensus a success.

Question: Iraq has pursued a form of government based upon federalism or decentralism, and this is embodied in its constitutions. How grave a threat to the future of Iraq is the failure fully to implement this constitution? Why has this federalist constitution not been fully implemented over the past four years? Could this lead Kurds to think of other solutions to their problems? According to the article 140 of Iraqi constitution, a referendum should be held in areas of the Kurdish region where, for example, Saddam Hussein implemented a policy of Arabization in disputed regions, but the Iraqi government is not ready to take this step and implement this article of Iraqi constitution. Yet Iraq will not be stabilized unless the Kurdish question is resolved. How far is the international community prepared to assist in the resolution of the Kurdish issue so as to provide stability for Iraq? The only guarantee for Iraq to remain unified is either the implementation of Iraqi constitution, or amendment of the constitution. But the Iraqi government neither amends it nor implements it. Does this not invite disaster?

Answer: Clearly, the present situation leads Kurds to think of other resolutions. But are these practical? Any attempt to increase the autonomy of the Kurdish region in a manner that is not in accordance with the constitution of Iraq risks being seen as a demonstration of bad faith. Even if there is a feeling that the central government in Iraq has shown bad faith to the Kurdish region, to reciprocate the appearance of bad faith would only confirm negative preconceptions held by the other party.

For example, if the Kurdish region demands the implementation of federalism in Iraq, it cannot reasonably deny to the Kirkukis a voice in determining the future status of Kirkuk. Also, such claims are easily interpreted by unfriendly elements in neighbors of Iraq as threats to the territorial integrity of their own states, therefore harmful to Kurdish populations outside Iraq.

To claim that Kirkuk is an integral part of the Kurdish region, for example, only provides Baghdad with a justification to turn from federalism to centralism. Any declaration from Kurdish region that even seems to point the way to a unilateral declaration of independence would surprise and disappointment friends of Kurds outside Iraq. It is the road to national tragedy, especially since it would also put Kurds in countries neighboring Iraq in a most difficult situation. At the same time, an attempt to transform the transnational demographic of the Kurdish people into an explicitly political community would run into opposition from all sides.

It is a very difficult situation, but any practical resolution besides remaining part of Iraq and trying to make the federal situation really work could also lead international energy companies to stay out of the Kurdish region of Iraq because of political risk. After all other possibilities have been considered, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the current situation of the Iraqi constitution (as difficult as it is) is the least bad. In order to repair its problems, it is most necessary to keep the long perspective in mind so that present-day frustrations do not erupt into choices that work against the goals to be realized. The United Nations report seems to be animated by this method, which is the only viable approach to preserve the political and economic gains already won by the Kurdish region.

Question: Up to the toppling the former regime, The Kurdish problem in Iraq was a problem of the lack of democracy or respect for human rights. The Kurdish people thought this was resolved and would not recur, but now there is a sense that democratic rights of the Kurds are severely infringed. How far will the international community support the Kurdish people to resolve their issues within Iraq?

Answer: Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that the international community at large will give practical support to the resolution of the Kurdish issues within Iraq beyond the expertise and facilitation of the process that it has already provided and continues to provide. Concretely: if one speaks of the international community of states, then it will be observed that the Kurdish federal territory within Iraq is not a subject of international law, so states will not believe that they have authority for acting; they will delegate to the United Nations, which represents the authoritative voice of official world public opinion. On the other hand, if one speaks of the world community of citizens, then one is obliged to witness an absence of decisive means in their hands, notwithstanding the voluntary associations of friends of Kurds outside Iraq and the diaspora of Kurds throughout the world.

Question: The Kurds have proved through action that they are willing to distribute revenue of natural resources equally. However, the Iraqi government has been unable to approve an Iraqi gas and oil law. Why is that?

Answer: It is impossible to overemphasize how important it is, that imperfections in the present situation inside Iraq should not obstruct the ability to execute contractual undertakings on energy development for export to world markets. The more revenue that there is to divide among the center and regions, the easier it will be to divide this revenue; and the easier it is to divide increasing revenue, the easier it will be to resolve acute political issues. Indeed, cooperation over successfully resolving the practical energy issues, one by one, will be one of the best confidence-building measures possible, and it will help to counter any tendencies to see other federal partners as conflict-seeking. At all costs, it must be avoided that perceptions take root, which anticipate that other partners are fundamentally hostile: for if they not corrected, such perceptions threaten dangerously to become tragic self-fulfilling prophecy. This applies to all federal partners and federal instances, including the Kurdish region.

Copyright © Robert M. Cutler unless otherwise noted.
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URL:  http://www.robertcutler.org/blog/2009/07/the_kurds_and_the_constitution.html
English original of Kurdish translation published in Gulan (Irbil), no. 731 (31 July 2009).

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