Comments on Michael Rubin’s “Is Iraqi Kurdistan a good ally?” (1)
By: Bilind Amedi
The situation in Iraqi Kurdistan has always been a relative matter. With Saddam Hussein in power, Iraqi Kurdistan was always thriving relative to Baghdad despite the internal Kurdish strife between KDP and PUK. Shortly after the liberation of Iraq in April 9th 2003, many reports surfaced about the poor administrative situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. With the emergences of the Sunni insurgency and the destabilization of the security situation in central Iraq soon after the liberation, the reports were sinking and Iraqi Kurdistan became the success story of the liberation of Iraq. In the light of relative improvement in the security situation in Iraq, reports about corruption and chaos in Iraqi Kurdistan are beginning to appear again on international media outlets.
Targeted without distinction, the Kurds have suffered many genocidal campaigns for ethnic reasons in the hands of the Iraqi government. Therefore, it is not surprising to see Kurds blindly following their leaders and even rejecting constructive criticism when targeted at their leadership. They envision the return of Anfals and chemical attacks as alternatives to their leadership, a fact that encourages the same leadership to maintain the status quo and dismiss reforms calls.
When reading Mr. Rubin’s “Is Iraqi Kurdistan a good ally?” it is not overly difficult to note Mr. Rubin’s bias toward the Turkish military establishment. Yet, we can not afford to ignore the report because of Mr. Rubin’s bias, for the report contains many inconvenient facts which can not be denied but effectively handled.
Mr. Rubin questions the integrity of the elections in Iraqi Kurdistan and suggests that Massoud Barzani would be winning the majority of the votes regardless of anti-fraud measures, as it is the case with the final results of elections in Syria and Egypt. In the regional elections of 1992, Massoud Barzani won only 47% of the total votes and failed to win the 51% majority to become regional president in Kurdistan.
However, what was backfiring about the Kurdish elections is the closed list voting system. Each party slated into their list the maximum number of candidates based on the seats of the parliament. For example, if the parliament contained 100 seats, each party presented a list composed of 100 candidates. The parliamentarians were chosen from party lists in proportion to the number of votes each party won in the elections, and the remaining candidates of each list were slated into reserve lists. If a parliamentarian did not follow their party agenda, they would be expelled and replaced by a candidate on the reserve list. The system of voting followed in the Kurdish elections was emptied of its democratic content and was very backstabbing to the democratization of the region. In such a system, parliamentarians do not need to ensure the needs of their constituents and gain popularity to run in the elections again. They merely need to learn the art of adulation to advertise their allegiance to their party leader to gain their parliamentary seats in the following term or to be awarded a higher position.
It is understandable to adopt the closed-list system when there exists democratic institutions within parties and party leaders are bound to limited authority. However, the president of a political party in the Middle East is the ultimate decision maker of the party. His authority is boundless and can change the platform at his whim, even if the new platform contradicts the fundamental principals of the party. Unless their lives come to an end through death or assassination, party presidents retain their post and do not resign. This is a fact typical to the majority of the powerful political parties in the Middle East, whether in power or oppositional, modern or traditional, rightist or leftist. Thus, parliamentarians solely represent their party leaders. Unfortunately, the same voting system was adopted in the Iraqi elections after the liberation in 2003. In stead of pressuring Iraqi political parties to adopt a direct voting system, the United States praised the Iraqi elections. I fail to understand how could Iraq be a model for the new Middle East while adopting such system of voting?
Contrary to what Mr. Rubin suggests, it is in Iraqi Kurdistan’s interest for Turkey to have friendly relations with the United States. What concerns us is when their relations are limited to only the US government and Turkish military establishment. In this case, both Kurds and Turks will fall as victim of this limitation. In stead, we would like US-Turkey relations to take root within the Turkish society, a move that would enable the Turkish society to adopt similar values of the American culture. Further, we hope that all the nations in the world press for friendly relations with the United States based on shared beliefs in modern values of the western civilization, such as: human rights, democracy, freedom of religion…etc.
In a referendum held in Puerto Rico in 1998 to decide the political status of the Island in relations to the United States. Since the United States is a modern and democratic nation, the majority voted against statehood and succession from the United States but preferred to maintain the commonwealth status of the Island. I wish to see the Turkish society adopting the values of the American culture and western civilization, and the Turkish government allows similar referendum for the Kurds, where Kurds would reject statehood and prefer living within a truly democratic Turkey where minority rights are guaranteed.
Instigated by neighboring governments, the presence of PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan has always been a source of instability in the region, a safe-haven guarded by the United States. Mr. Rubin suggests that Masoud Barzani, “encourages PKK to continue their attacks,” on Turkey, as if Masoud Barzani leads the military wing of PKK. In fact, KDP has waged bloody wars against the presence of PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan and cost KDP the lives of many of its militants. Masoud Barzani does not prefer to repeat the same scenario but perhaps wishes to have enough force to prevent the PKK presence in Iraqi Kurdistan because PKK is a major Kurdish party and a potential alternative to both KDP and PUK in the region despite the arrest of its leader Ocalan. Its danger as an alternative to KDP and PUK will fade should PKK decides to disarm itself and resorts to political struggle within Turkey. Such a move could benefit the Kurdish and Turkish people because the Turkish military establishment has been a major beneficiary of PKK’s armed struggle and used it t tarnish the image of Kurds and their legitimate national demands globally.
But if Turkey, with its entire military might, has failed to eliminate PKK for over two decades, how could Masoud Barzani eliminate PKK by his “militias?”
Mr. Rubin suggest that “Barzani wants American forces stationed in his territory for the same reason Hamas and Fatah demand European monitors along Gaza's frontier with Israel...” Firstly, Turkey isn’t as democratic as Israel, so its retaliation would only target militants as it is the case with an Israeli retaliation. Secondly, while Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel, all the Kurdish parties in Iraqi Kurdistan recognize Turkey and its current borders but reject Turkish interference in Iraqi affairs. The Kurds want a U.S. military base in their region because it will further security and stability in their region and prevent the genocidal wars and chemical attacks against them. It will also revitalize the economy and encourage foreign investments in the region.
Corruption in Kurdistan:
I refuse to deny the existence of rampant corruption in Iraqi Kurdistan because it exceeds mankind recognition, and the leadership of KDP and PUK are solely responsible for this dilemma. I will return to this subject in the next account, but Mr. Rubin suggests that, “both Barzani and Talabani have amassed fortunes in excess of $2 billion and $400 million, respectively.” Mr. Rubin has rightfully citied this information from "The Middle East's Real Bane: Corruption," Daily Star (Beirut), November 15, 2005,” itself an article by Mr. Rubin. When revewing the article in the Daily Star, Mr. Rubin never provided any reference to this misappropriational figures. We hope that Mr. Rubin can provide to us a concrete source for this information.