Iraq: If Federalism Fails Kurds Pin Their Hopes on Self-determination

Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani’s call for the right to self-determination for Iraqi Kurds, which has irked many Arab countries, was a result of the Kurdish fear that Iraq might not embrace a federal democracy and could turn into a centralized state, said a senior leader of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Barzani’s call for self-determination came last week in a speech he made at the KDP’s 13th convention, which was attended by top Iraqi Arab leaders, including Prime Minister Nuri Maliki, Parliament Speaker Osama Nujaifi and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Although Barzani did not specify whether the right to self-determination meant full independence, Ja’afar Eminky, a newly-elected member of the KDP’s Leadership Council, said that his party’s aim would be self-determination if federalism failed in Iraq.

“We have fears about federalism [in Iraq],” said Eminky, referring to the attitude of some Iraqi Arab political parties – mainly Sunni – that have described federal Iraq as a “weak” country.

“The right to self-determination has now become a principle of the KDP,” added Eminky. “If federalism fails, we will follow that principle.”

The Kurds have been Iraqi kingmakers since the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, preferring to give their decisive backing for the forming of a government not to Sunni leaders, but to the Shiites, who represent the majority of Iraqi Arabs.

After nine months of political deadlock since the national elections, Nuri Maliki, a Shiite leader, once again secured his position as prime minister of Iraq on Tuesday, after winning the support of the Kurds, who constitute 17 percent of Iraq’s population with approximately four million people.

There are a number of contentious issues which remain unaddressed between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central government in Baghdad, including those of the disputed regions that determine Kurdistan’s actual border, and the recognition of the Kurdish peshmerga forces as part of Iraq’s Ministry of Defense.

Another serious dispute between the KRG and Baghdad is over the nearly 40 oil contracts that the former has signed with foreign oil and gas companies, all of which the Iraqi government considers “illegal.”

However, in return for the Kurd’s backing of Maliki, the prime minister has promised to deal with most of these problems, with the reported signing of a 19-point list of demands from the Kurds.

The newly formed Iraqi government is the most inclusive government in Iraq’s history and includes all of Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups.



December 23, 2010


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