The events that took place inside the Iraqi parliament on July 22 - the day of the vote on the provincial election law – have shown yet again the challenges that confront Iraq as it seeks to implement a democratic model.
The anger of The Kurdistan Alliance bloc regarding the passage of article 24 on Kirkuk, which provides for equal sharing of administrative positions between three ethnicities, has demonstrated yet again that direct democracy in the form of direct votes remains a weak model.
Power sharing among the different ethnicities in Kirkuk has long been opposed by the Kurds and the bloc decided to boycott the vote. Secret voting meanwhile gave parliament members the freedom to express their desire without the pressures of political forces. And when votes were counted, the results were not as the Kurds wanted, with 127 deputies out of total 140 - after the withdrawal of the Kurdish bloc - voting in favor of the article. The result has, for the first time ever, illustrated the reality that Arab forces, once regarded by Kurds as allies, have turned into opponents. This will no doubt oblige the Kurds to rethink the way they play the political game.
Kurds felt disappointed and that they had been stabbed in the back. Yet the reaction would have been stronger if the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani was not the republic’s president with the power to veto the election bill. Otherwise, a real crisis would have been created threatening the entire democratic process and a political conflict would have escalated to a degree not seen since the fall of the Baathist regime.
This is not mere speculation. Following the vote, Kurds went to streets demonstrating and denouncing the results and a bomb exploded. Some say an explosive device was planted in the street and others say a terrorist carrying an explosive belt blew up himself among the crowd. The result was 25 deaths and 191 people injured. The blast prompted Kurdish demonstrators to attack the nearby office of the Turkmen Front and, in response, the office guards fired their guns into the air to stop the attack. This act was interpreted as an assault on demonstrators and Kurds returned fire on the Turkmen Front offices and demonstrators entered and destroyed them.
It is clear then that the democratic vote has created a tense situation in Kirkuk, pushing the city towards the verge of a civil war so feared by Iraqis.
The nature of this unresolved conflict cannot be settled by democratic means; it can only be resolved through consensus among the different parties. All other issues have been resolved through concessions made between major Iraqi components. Democratic formulas should be disregarded and replaced with formulas that could best serve the current situation. This can be illustrated by the Sunni Arabs participation in the first government of Ibrahim al-Ja’fari. While Sunni Arabs had not participated in the election, the Shiite coalition invited them to join the government and gave them key cabinet ministries for political reasons; notably to mobilize popular and media support for the “national unity” government and to weaken those Sunni factions opposing the political process. Why then is Kirkuk treated in a different manner? Why was secret voting used to pass this article? These two questions are of concern to Kurds.
The Kirkuk crisis is among the most complex in Iraq. Resolving it requires that a broad political consensus be reached among the different political factions. It cannot be resolved through article 140 of the constitution as demanded by the Kurds. Despite its legality, article 140 remains unimplemented because there is no consensus among Iraqis. In the same constitution, article 142 indicates the possibility of amending the constitution in the future, but any future amendment will also require consensus.
When Iraqis speak of a pluralistic, democracy - a majority and a minority in the parliament – they are proud of an honor that has yet to be fully tested. But this should not undermine Iraqi politics. The culture of democracy has not yet been adequately entrenched in Iraqi society, and the diverse nature of its components necessitates a logic of consensus and mutual concessions. Furthermore, until now there is no mechanism that enables Iraqi citizens to choose their representatives away from religious and sectarian allegiances and only when this occurs will one be able to speak of a pluralistic democracy.
In this case, the veto of the law came from President Talabani and his deputy Adel Abdel Mahdi, a member of the Shiite Supreme Islamic Council, the only Arab bloc that has taken the side of Kurds. The other major blocs started negotiating and discussing, without reaching a result as of yet. Repeated visits by politicians to Kirkuk are still taking place. The Kurds have learnt the lesson and will rethink their alliance map and will eventually concede in return for similar concessions and an agreement. They, as well as their opponents, still have many cards to use in the game of power.
No one yet knows the outcome of these concessions or what issues they will tackle; presumably oil and the sharing of wealth, the Peshmerga, other disputed areas in Mosul and Diyala, as well as regional files and others issues related to U.S. presence in Iraq.
The only reality created after 22 July is that political concessions and not direct voting is the only way to overcome conflicts and reach a stable political life.