Politics in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan are in gridlock. Nine meetings between the various political parties involved in the conflict have been held. But none of the meetings have resulted in any kind of solution to the region's biggest problem, the Iraqi Kurdish Presidency. And now external forces are getting involved too, in order to try and undo the deadlock.
In fact this is the first time since 2003 that other Iraqi political parties have tried to get involved and resolve conflicts in the Iraqi Kurdish region. Held together by their ethnic concerns and their status as a minority, albeit a powerful one, in Iraq, the Kurdish political parties have usually always presented a unified front to the rest of the nation, and to the world. In fact, it has more often been the Kurdish politicians who have been involved in trying to mediate between Arab politicians.
On November 19, the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Salim al-Jibouri, sent a message to the different political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan involved in the conflict. These are the three largest parties – in order of popularity with voters, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, the Change movement, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK – and two smaller Islamic-oriented parties. The Islamic parties and the Change movement were previously sharing power with the other two political parties but recent problems around the Presidency saw the broad-based, power sharing coalition dissolve.
Al-Jibouri's message called upon the different parties to go back to the negotiating table. “Our message comes from out of our commitment to protect Iraqi Kurdistan and its people, who are a part of Iraq,” his message said. “Additionally the security of Iraqi Kurdistan has a big impact on the rest of Iraq, and vice versa.”
The Iraqi Kurdish political parties haven't responded to al-Jibouri, who had actually been up north to meet with representatives of the Change movement and the KDP. These two political parties are at opposite ends of the argument about who should be the President of the region, which has its own borders, military and Parliament.
“Al-Jibouri's message played an important role in renewing negotiations in a fresh atmosphere,” says Raad al-Dahlaki, another Sunni Muslim MP, who is close to al-Jibouri. According to al-Dahlaki, a new plan for resolving the problems between the parties is about to be announced but it cannot be announced until al-Jibouri hears back from the Iraqi Kurdish.
This is not the first visit by Iraqi politicians intent on curing Kurdish woes. Ammar al-Hakim, who leads the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, has also been to the region to hold a series of meetings.
There is ongoing contact between al-Hakim and the Iraqi Kurdish parties, an MP for the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Salim Shawki, told NIQASH. “Through his contacts and via communications with the different parties, al-Hakim is paving the way to announce a new initiative,” Shawki says. “Creating new problems for Iraq will not help the country. We are the Kurds' strategic partners and we have a common history.”
Nobody knows what either of the plans contain although they do exist. Shawki says that al-Hakim's mediation meant that the media campaigns the different parties in Iraqi Kurdistan had launched against one another died down and that the parties would prepare to go back to negotiations.
Members of the Change movement have expressed optimism about al-Jibouri and al-Hakim's apparent desire to help. Their conditions for negotiation include allowing the ministers of the power-sharing government that were banned by the KDP, back into Parliament.
“We welcome the initiatives launched by the various parties and the fact that they want to help preserve the Iraqi Kurdish region,” Shorsh Haji, a leading member of the Change movement, told NIQASH. “We are hoping for good results.”
Interestingly enough the Change party's main opponent in this race is opposed to outside interference. Ahmed Kani, a senior member of the KDP, told NIQASH that his party was grateful for the offers of help but he also said he thinks the Kurds should solve their own problems.
Of course, as with most political situations, there are also other motivations for all the players in this diplomatic game. Both of the major sects in Iraq have an interest in resolving these issues, says Ahmed al-Haj Rashid, an Iraqi Kurdish MP in Baghdad who represents Islamic Kurdish parties there. “The Islamic Supreme Council is close to Iran,” he notes; in Iraqi Kurdistan, Iran also has close connections to the PUK and thereby, more distantly, the Change movement many of whose members were PUK too before the party broke away. “And the Sunnis are worried about the two million displaced Sunni Arabs who are currently living in the Kurdish region.”
Having said that, Rashid still thinks it is a bad idea if Arabs interfere in Kurdish political business like this. “In Baghdad each of the Iraqi Kurdish parties is now presenting different arguments, rather than the united front they used to have,” Rashid says. “Any interference by Arab parties in this conflict will only weaken the Kurdish position in Baghdad further and will result in further embarrassment,” he concluded.
In the recent past foreigners have also tried to help the Iraqi Kurdish solve their issues. For example in August, on the last official day of Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani's term in power, a meeting was held, attended by representatives from both the British and US embassies.
“It's clear that there's a deadlock,” Ihsan al-Shammari, a politics professor at Baghdad University and head of a local think tank, The Iraqi Centre for Political Thought, told NIQASH. “Iraqi parties – especially the Shiites, strategic allies of the Kurds – are very interested in trying to solve Iraqi Kurdistan's problems. Although they themselves have many of their own problems to deal with, they also know that if Iraqi Kurdistan isn't secure, it will impact on them. In fact,” al-Shammari continues, “many countries have interests in Iraqi Kurdistan and they know that any deterioration in security here will compromise their own interests. That's why everybody is getting involved.”