Michael Rubin responds to Qubad Talabani.
It is important that Iraqi Kurdistan succeeds. After everything Iraqi Kurds have gone through in their history, they deserve better. Iraqi Kurdistan has an unprecedented opportunity, but it must confront its problems, foremost among which is corruption.
There is a negative phenomenon in Iraqi Kurdistan in which officials say that any criticism is unjust and a sign that the person making the criticism is an enemy. The Kurdish leadership slanders anyone who shares observations that the Kurdish leadership does not like. This, unfortunately, is what Qubad Talabani has done to me.
Being an analyst in the United States is not about making governments or their officials happy. There is a big difference between analysis (writing what I see) and advocacy (writing what I wish I would see). I write without concern to what President Masud Barzani, Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani, or President Jalal Talabani think, let alone younger family members like Qubad. When I see the two parties maintaining separate ministries of interior, finance, and peshmerga, I write that the Kurds are not unified. This is simply the truth; it is not an attack on the Kurdistan Regional Government’s unity.
In November 2005, I went to Qubad Talabani’s office at his request. He told me about Kamal Said Qadir’s case and talked about it as an example of what had gone wrong in Kurdistan, and urged me to write about it. I did in the Middle East Quarterly (http://www.meforum.org/article/922).
Qubad’s attitude has changed. According to several U.S. ambassadors, Jalal Talabani’s visits to the Mayo Clinic have more to do with his heart than his knee. Regardless, Qubad knows that one day soon, he will no longer have his father’s protection. He also realizes that divisions within the PUK raise questions about whether the PUK will survive as a unified party to balance or compete with a stronger, more cohesive KDP. Accordingly, Qubad has decided to become more Barzani than Barzani because he realizes that his future depends on how much Masud and Nechervan Barzani like him.
At any rate, Qubad is now upset with me for three others reasons:
(1) Former students’ families—refugees from Saddam’s brutal ethnic cleansing in Kirkuk--received eviction notices from the PUK, which wanted to transfer their land to Nokan. I telephoned Qubad about the issue twice but he did not return the phone calls. Perhaps he was on vacation in Italy. When I wrote about the Nokan issue, Qubad was angry. He said that if the refugees had a case, they could always go to the court. Because Qubad has spent more time in London and Washington than in Sulaymani, he may not realize how deeply political parties interfere in Iraqi Kurdistan’s courts. After Qubad recovers from his anger, he should realize that the new generation of Kurdish leaders must address the independence of the courts.
(2) In March 2007, after visits to Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, I wrote an article in an American magazine warning that the situation between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey was deteriorating, and that it could result in Turkish military action against the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan. Qubad became very angry and sent me an e-mail that was both personally abusive and unprofessional. I was right, though. Had he listened and considered the analysis about just how dangerous the diplomatic situation was, then many Iraqi Kurds might be alive today.
(3) I also wrote and spoke about some of the problems in Halabja that led to rioting there. When I visited Halabja, I found not the anger of the Islamic Movement, but rather ordinary people—including many non-Muslims—who complained that the PUK used Halabja as a symbol but was not willing to invest money in the town’s infrastructure.
Qubad may follow the path of certain Kurdish politicians who surround themselves with advisors who tell them what they want to hear, and are more interested in pensions, office furniture, and salary. This phenomenon is dangerous for Iraqi Kurdistan, because it increases the isolation of Iraqi Kurdistan’s leadership from the problems of ordinary people.
This is also why I find the lawsuit against Hawlati to be so wrong: If there is not free press in Iraqi Kurdistan, then who will discuss the problems facing Iraqi Kurdistan? How will the leaders learn what the people think? How will Iraqi Kurdistan transform itself into a new, but democratic Dubai? Jalal Talabani has long been more tolerant of criticism. Any comparison between Sulaymani and Hawler makes clear that Sulaymani has more freedom and much less to criticize. I was surprised by the lawsuit against Hawlati, but believe that mid-level PUK officials sued Hawlati because they thought doing so would win them favor from Jalal Talabani. It is ironic that Qubad Talabani now debates in the newspaper which he and his father take to court. It is a sign that there may be a positive outcome from this episode.
I am not a Kurd and I do not pretend to be one. I am not an enemy of Kurds nor am I an enemy of the PUK or KDP nor am I an enemy of Talabani or Barzani. When Iraqi Kurdistan was isolated, I chose to come to Iraqi Kurdistan to teach in the universities. Qubad chose parties and Porsches. I make my career based on the quality of my research, not on my family name. We all make our decisions, and I am proud of the decisions I made and make.