Kurds and the Iraqi election
Saturday, 27 March 2010
By Azad Amin
On March 7, people in Iraq cast their votes to elect a new Iraqi Parliament and government.
The competition was fierce and extremely close between current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State Law list and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi list. The Kurds who participated in this election on more than one list got an overwhelming majority in Kurdistan Region.
The election and its results indicate once again very clearly that Iraq is divided along ethnic and religious lines--and the list and parties representing these ethnic or religious groups got the votes of people in each of these ethnic or religious groups. In other words, the Kurds voted only for the Kurdish parties and list, the Shiites voted mainly for Shiite groups, and the Sunnis voted for the Sunni groups. The competitive elements of the election were only within the parties that represent a particular group. The only minor exception is the Iraqi list, which is composed mainly of Sunni groups but led by a secular Shiite, Iyad Allawi. This is only an exception insofar as Iyad Allawi is seen by most Iraqi people as not being closely associated with Shiites; rather, he is known as a secular Iraqi politician. Despite this, the Iraqi list only did well mainly in Sunni areas. The real competition in the Shiite region was between Maliki's State list and Ammar al-Hakim's Iraqi National Alliance list.
In Kurdistan, competition was between the Kurdistani list and the Gorran movement. The Kurdistani list managed a landslide majority throughout Kurdistan Region and Kirkuk. Gorran only did well in Suleimaniya city. The election results indicate clearly that the Gorran movement is not a popular national movement throughout Kurdistan, but rather it is limited to the local issues of Suleimaniya province. The fact that the Gorran Movement could not get one single seat from Duhok and Kirkuk region signifies the local character of the movement.
Entering into the election as separate lists as opposed to a single list was a great weakness of the Kurdish national movement. Even more, the character of the election campaign between the competing Kurdish parties--particularly between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and Gorran Movement led by Nawshirwan Mustafa--reduced the national character of the relation between Baghdad and Erbil to a minority-periphery issue. During the election campaign, the center was Baghdad rather than Erbil. This needs to be clarified further.
Throughout the election process, the Gorran Movement--through its media outlets--propagated the failures of the Kurdistan Regional Government in its public services, and showed time and time again ugly pictures and footage of cities in Kurdistan. Gorran's election campaign and its messages had nothing to do with the outstanding problems between the KRG and Baghdad, but mainly became a smear campaign against the KRG. This indicates an implicit understanding of Gorran's political perception that reduced Kurdistan to a periphery and lifted Baghdad as the center of the solution of internal KRG issues. The Gorran Movement confused internal KRG issues with the Kurdish national issue in Iraq. The elected members of Parliament from the Gorran list cannot play an opposition role in Iraqi Parliament at the expense of the Kurdish national issue. In Baghdad, Kurdish parliamentarians-from whichever list they come--must play a singular political role should they aim to improve the political and economic status of Kurdistan. This fact alone makes Gorran's decision to enter the election as a separate list meaningless and counters Kurdish national interests. Thousands of Kurdish votes in Kirkuk province were lost thanks to the division among the Kurdish political parties. Kirkuk is a national issue that overrides all other narrow political interests. All the Kurdish political actors made a historic mistake by failing to go in a single list at least in Kirkuk province. Gorran alone, however, should take the greatest blame in this mistake. This election for the Kurds was a referendum for Kirkuk as an opportunity to show the world once again the majority of Kirkuk is Kurds and they got the majority of seats allocated to the province. Division among Kurdish politics was the prime factor in failing to take this opportunity.
It does not really matter how many seats the Kurds will get in Iraqi Parliament. It is not clear why the Kurdish political actors are so worried about the number of seats they may get. Of course more seats mean more power to enter into any coalition to form the next Iraqi government and earn a strategic position in it. This, however, should not disorient the Kurdish political actors from their real duties and responsibilities. They are responsible to the Kurdish nation and their prime duty, which is to protect and improve the Kurdish nation's political and economic status.
Despite all the gains Kurds earned in the post-Saddam era, they are still far from where they are supposed to be. Kurds still do not have the right to self-determination, and there is still not a real federal system in Iraq. The name of Iraq is federal, but it has nothing to do with federalism. The relation between Baghdad and Erbil is not a real relation between two governments, but rather between periphery and center. The Iraqi government is not a federal government but a national (Arab) government that accommodates Kurds on the basis of the conditions of the time rather than on the basis of voluntary and democratic principles.
Despite the fact that Kurds are recognized as a national entity by the Iraqi Constitution, in reality Kurds are only a minority group in their relation with Baghdad. Right from the beginning, the Kurdish political actors made serious compromises such as giving up on the clause of self-determination in the Constitution and referring the solution of the Kirkuk question to the Iraqi Constitution and the United Nations. These serious compromises strengthened the hands of Iraqi Arab political actors and their regional backers, reduced and forced Kurdish politics into a politics of minority, and stripped the Kurdish politics from its character of politics of nation. The character of the Kurdish election campaigns for the Iraqi election indeed indicated that the majority of Kurdish political actors have already assumed a minority character of Kurdish politics, and thus placed Baghdad at the center and Erbil as a peripheral issue of Iraq. As long as minority politics sustain Kurdistan, the real aspiration of Kurdish nation and KRG's outstanding problems with Baghdad cannot ultimately be resolved.
One final point about the election in Kurdistan is that it puts the Kurdistan Democratic Party as the center party in Kurdistan, as it is the only political force to get seats from all provinces in Kurdistan Region and Kirkuk. The politics of the KDP thus will affect the Kurdish politics more than any other party, and greater responsibility lies on the shoulders of the KDP to carry Kurdish politics into a national line and away from its minority character.