The importance of unity in crises


“Many people gather around power and very few around country.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Kurdistan’s political entity and the Iraqi Arabs’ entity are very much intertwined, as both of them come from the womb of the Sykes-Picot Treaty. The English and the French are not at all ignorant of this conspiracy. The result was that brother tortured brother, and if they survived the effort to demolish the other, they lived in eternal contention throughout their bitter lives.

After 2003, Iraqi’s hopes for a new democratic country received support throughout their society. They came together to establish a new Constitution that would bring the country together once and for all. The Kurdish leadership played an important role in writing the new Constitution and the people of Kurdistan voted overwhelmingly in favor of it. The implementation of the new Constitution is another story. While the Federal Government of Iraq grew stronger, they gradually began to depart from the spirit of the Constitution. This became clear as they shied away from implementing Article 140 of the Constitution which pertained to the disputed areas. Article 140 was the key to resolving the different claims of the disputed territories by the Central Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The people of Kurdistan should have known then that the ideal of power-sharing in these areas would not work and should have withdrawn from the Iraqi Parliament and the government at that time. But, they erred by staying and accepting the status-quo in which the power-sharing policy virtually vanished by 2014, before the Islamic State (IS) attacked Iraq.

Nonetheless, the Peshmerga forces joined the Iraqi forces and their international allies to fight against IS’ intrusion into Iraq and Syria. Together they achieved great victories against IS until September 2017. During the attacks by the extremist group in 2014, the Iraqi forces fled from most of the areas in the north. The Peshmerga forces, who seemed to have a lot more at stake, intervened and took control of most of these areas, especially the Kirkuk governorate and most of the disputed areas referred to in the Iraqi Constitution. The Kurdish forces fought heroically against IS, while defending and protecting all parts of Iraq from terrorism.

It became clear to the leadership in the Kurdistan Region as well as the leadership in the Iraqi government that they were at a crossroads, not just in terms of controlling the disputed areas, but, more importantly, the obvious differences that emerged in the mentality of the leaders in Baghdad toward the people of Kurdistan. This difference in mindset led the leadership of the Kurdistan Region to conduct the constitutional referendum on Sep. 25, 2017, to determine the future of the disputed territories. Indeed, the people of Kurdistan did hold the lawful referendum throughout the Region and the disputed territories. A total of 72.3 percent of the total population of the Kurdistan Region and disputed territories voted, and of this, 92.7 percent chose independence. The events of Oct. 16 reveal they were quite correct and fully vindicated in calling for the plebiscite. History will judge the call for a referendum to have been overdue and highly necessary to see what all were dealing with in Iraq.

After the Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) defeated IS in the last area in the north, Hawija, they continued to use their American weapons, but this time directed against the people of Kurdistan—all under the watchful eyes of the US-led anti-IS coalition. On Oct. 16, these forces carried out a major offensive against the Peshmerga forces with inside help. They almost managed to control all the areas that were under Peshmerga control after 2014.

After Oct. 16, the Kurdistan Region faced internal and external crises that demanded urgent attention to prevent the people of Kurdistan from sinking into chaos. The Kurdistan parliament extended the term of Parliament and the government for another eight months— until the next election. This was necessary to achieve unity, to keep from falling into utter disarray, and to keep leaders from tearing each other apart. If the people of Kurdistan are to avoid a disastrous chaotic dissolution, the following steps must be attended to concerning the Kurdistan Region Presidency and Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government:

1. Kurdistan Region Presidency:

On Oct. 29, 2017, the President of the Kurdistan Region asked the Kurdistan Parliament to allocate its powers between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of authority. President Masoud Barzani asked Parliament not to manipulate the presidential law until the next election which is scheduled to take place in 2018 (eight months from now).

The question to be considered is this: Should the law of the Presidential office remain in force, or should it be repealed by Parliament? If the law were cancelled, then the debate would cease and be discontinued. If the law is not repealed, then the discussion will be to define the authorities of the President of the Kurdistan Region. If the Parliament agrees on authorities of the President, then the President will beholden to answer directly to the Parliament, the debate then will center on whether the President should be elected directly by the people, or elected by the Parliament. The position of the Presidency should not be ceremonial, like the Presidency office in Iraq.

2. Separation and reforms of the executive branches (judicial, legislative, and executive) to be done as follows:

The Judicial Branch of the Kurdistan Government:

In order to build trust between the people of Kurdistan and the government, the Judicial system must be revamped to become completely independent. No one should have power over the judicial authorities. Unless this important step is taken immediately and sincerely, then the citizenry of Kurdistan has no right to believe their rights are safe. They will feel that their human and civil rights will continue to be violated. This state of affairs would put us back to “square one,” a situation of mistrust and suspicion between the people and the judicial authority.

The Legislative Branch of the Kurdistan Government:

Elected by the people of Kurdistan, the people must be able to trust the Parliament to be impartial as it enforces the democratic process as well as the Rule of Law. Parliament must work as one body to establish the necessary legal framework to ensure fair elections. If the people do not back the Parliament and trust this body to oversee a fair and impartial election process, we will not be united as a people and our society will continue to write in controversy. In this respect, the importance of Parliament’s ability to act responsibly, honestly, and efficiently as it earns the trust of the populace at large cannot be overestimated. Needless to say, all political parties must be united and stand behind Parliament as it makes bold decisions to prepare for the challenges it will face within the coming eight months.  

The Kurdistan Regional Government:

Some are calling for a “transitional government” to help resolve the KRG’s current political and economic crises. This will be difficult to achieve during such a period of chaos and political instability. To reform this government, we must all work together to support the government in this period of transition. The government’s greatest challenge laying ahead is to elect a new committee to lead us through the next eight months as well as to represent the citizens of the Kurdistan Region in its negotiations with the Iraqi government relating to all disputes between them. To achieve these goals the government must do the following as a road map out of this crisis:

A new committee of intellectuals and academicians to serve as advisors from outside the government and political parties, this committee should include jurists in the Constitution. This body of advisors will assist the government and the Parliament in this critical stage. The current advisors were responsible for our failure in many sectors inside and outside of the Region. They should be dismissed so a new crop of fresh advisors who are not bound to old patterns can assist the government and the Parliamentary leaders to a new phase of accountability, transparency, and responsibility.

1. The government and Parliament must create a new committee with responsibilities to lead during this current period of crisis. Regulated by law for a specific period of time, until the next election, the committee will be called the crisis and peace committee or any other name they agree on.

2. Led by the Prime Minister and his Deputy, the new committee will be tasked to participate in all negotiations involving the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Region. They will also be engaged in all regional and international discussions related to all aspects of the government and the rights of the People of Kurdistan. This committee will be effective for eight months until the new election.

3. The government must work closely with the Parliament to implement any new laws.

4. As mentioned, the government must work hard to reform the Judiciary system to gain the support of the people. An independent judiciary system able to freely implement the law of the land enables the government to be on the right path toward building a solid democratic state that ensures equality for all under the Rule of Law. This core reform will allow us to start a nation-building process that will result in a democratic system of government where no one will be above the law.

5. The most important and key element to enable trust-building between the government and the people is to have full transparency, accountability, and responsibility. To achieve this goal, the government must publish accurate incomes and expenses so the people can see for first time what the government is doing with all the money that comes into their coffers. This way, the government will slowly begin to build up the people’s trust once again. These reports must be audited and approved by an international auditing body as well as the Parliament. Eliminating corruption and mishandling of the public trust should be severely punished.

6. The modernization and professionalization of the Peshmerga forces is a must. Under the supervision of military advisors and technicians from America, France, and Germany, professionalism will be installed and partisanship eliminated. The military forces must be consolidated and removed from the control and loyalty or ownership of their parties. As the military becomes professionalized and modernized, unqualified officers should be either retired or retrained regardless of their military rank or their loyalty to any political party. Impartiality must be adopted as a ruling ethic if the military establishment is to be respected and entrusted to protect the populace.

7. Foreign affairs: At the international level, the representation of the regional government abroad should be reviewed, and qualified people should be appointed to represent the regional government according to their competencies, not on the basis of nepotism or party loyalty. This is to form a strong lobby that can build resilient relations with the countries in which they work, and benefit from the experiences of Kurdish intellectuals in these countries as well.

8. An independent committee must be commissioned to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the effects of the referendum and the events of Oct. 16. It is necessary to determine the nature, causes, and consequences of the referendum and ways to deal with them, to get rid of the effects, to study in detail, and to come out with a realistic analytical vision of the crisis, internal, and external factors. A detailed report must be submitted to the government, Parliament, and Kurdistan political parties to study them and avoid their recurrence in the future.

Political Leaderships Council

This council replaced the referendum committee with no legal authority as of yet because it has not been regulated or established by any law or authority. It is unclear what the Council’s authority consists of, or what they represent. However, this Council can be an important forum for political parties to discuss the national issues related to the future of the people of Kurdistan. The Council can operate as a consultancy body to the government at this stage. The importance of this Council is to back up and support the Parliament and the government through their contributions on the crucial issues of the people of Kurdistan.

Negotiations with the Iraqi Government

Negotiations with the Iraqi government should be conducted only in the presence of a neutral body such as the United Nations, America, France, or Germany because there are radical differences in the interpretation of the Iraqi Constitution between the central government and the KRG.

One thing is certain: our hope for independence will never die.

Dr. Saman Shali, Ph.D., former President of Kurdish National Congress of North America (KNCNA).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.


Editing by Karzan Sulaivany