Iraq's nation within a nation takes shape

Posted in Iraq | 08-Mar-05 | Author: Mohammed Amin Abdulqadir| Source: Asia Times

Massoud Barzani (L), leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), shares a moment during a joint press conference with Jalal Talabani (R), general secretary of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), in Salaheddin, 20km north of Arbil city.
ARBIL - Two years and three elections after the fall of the Saddam regime, Kurdistan is taking shape as a nation within a nation.

Kurds voted January 30 for the Iraqi National Assembly - just like the rest of the country - as well as for Kurdish parliament and local government through the governorate councils. That in itself does not add up to independence, but it does amount to independence-like autonomy.

The two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) won 75 seats through a common slate in the 275-member Iraqi National Assembly. The Kurdish parties could be part of a new Iraqi government but will have an influential voice within it in any case.

Kurds elected a Kurdish parliament that has been given authority by the Transitional Administrative Law - passed by the now defunct Iraqi Governing Council with the aim of removing Kurd fears of an Arab dominated government in Baghdad - to rule on the internal affairs of Kurdistan. The Kurdish parliament will rule on all matters except foreign policy and diplomatic representation, security and defense, and fiscal matters including currency.

The governorate councils elected through the third simultaneous election will handle all local matters.

The three together give Kurds jurisdiction on all domestic matters, and a strong say in defense, foreign policy and financial matters.

The KDP and the PUK will have decisive say within the Kurdish parliament given their overwhelming majority, even though both have said they will rule by the "consensus principle" rather than through majority decisions. The Kurdish parliament will have the power to resist any domestic policies coming from Baghdad and central government decisions will apply to Kurdistan only if they are ratified by the Kurdistan parliament.

Many Kurds see this as the beginning of their golden age.

"We have suffered a lot, let's hope everything will get better," said Nariman Assad, 41, a businessman from Sulaimaniya. "This time we have risen to get what we deserve."

Kurds have enjoyed effective autonomy since the first Gulf War in 1991. But that was after they paid a heavy price for rising against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The United Nations Security Council passed resolution 688 in 1991 to establish a safe haven for Kurds under international protection. Kurds strongly supported the US-led invasion of Iraq two years back.

The elections now have formalized their freedom, and new democratic rights are in the air. "Voting is a right because it has to do with the future of every single individual and your country," says university student Mahdi Hassan, 22.

Kurds had voted in May 1992 for a Kurdish parliament. That election brought the two main Kurdish parties to the fore. The new parliament is now legitimized from Baghdad, apart from giving Kurds a voice within Baghdad itself.

The dominance of the Kurdish parliament by the two parties has prompted some criticism that this would lead to a democratic set-up without significant opposition. But supporters of the unified list say the move will help Kurds given the instability in Iraq. It will also give Kurds more strength to face future developments, they say.

"The formation of the unified list is a positive move forward and a pragmatic preference of security over chaotic democracy," a commentator wrote in a local newspaper.

The two parties themselves have called their coming together a historic step. "We must put the strategic interests of Kurdistan people above all party interests," KDP leader Massoud Barzani had said earlier after a meeting with PUK leader Jalal Talabani. "When it comes to decisive issues and moments we will put aside all our differences and work as one team."

Population figures are disputed but by several estimates Kurds number about 3.5 million in an Iraqi population of 26 million. No one can now think of Iraq without thinking also of a Kurdistan within it - and in many ways separate from it.

(Inter Press Service)