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Kurdish Kingmakers?

Qassim Khidhir Hamad
Kurdish leaders believe they will be kingmakers in the new government and that they will ally themselves with the party with the most faith in Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution and who will best make them a…
25.03.2010  |  Erbil

With 95 percent of votes now counted, neither the State of Law coalition nor the Iraqiya Alliance finds itself able to form a government without allying with other groups.

“Any Iraqi government without Kurds will be a government only for a part of Iraq, not the whole Iraq,” says Fuad Hussein, chief of staff of the Kurdistan Region’s President, Massoud Barzani.

“Kurds are a very important part of Iraq. We are the second nation here. We have our own region in a very important geographic location,” he added.

Hussein believes it is better the next government coalition be formed by three groups to represent the whole Iraq. Arab leaders from the main political entities have started visiting Kurdistan to discuss with local politicians, as well as US and UN representatives, formation of the next government.

In just ten days, Eyad Allawi, head of the Iraqiya alliance, twice visited the Kurdistan Region and met the region’s president, Massoud Barzani and Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, also a Kurd.

Kurdish officials described the meetings as ‘consultative’. they say no decision has yet been made over which side to ally with in the formation of the new government.

“Kurds have two conditions for its post-election coalition partner. First, the partner should have faith in article 140 of the constitution relating to the disputed areas and second, Kurds should be the main partner in the next government.”

Since 2003, Kurds have had bitter experience with government partners, especially the two men vying for the job of Prime Minister, Maliki and Allawi.

During Allawi’s rule as Prime Minister from 2004-5 Kurds accused him making no effort to implement Article 140. Since 2005, Osama Nujaifi, a prominent member of Allawi’s coalition, has made numerous statements attacking Kurds and their right to control disputed areas.

Kurds also have enmity with Osama’s brother, Atheel, the governor of Ninewa province. In January 2010, after Nujaifi tried to visit areas of the province that boycott his administration, fighting nearly broke out between Kurdish Peshmerga and Nujaifi’s al-Hadba militia.

Allawi’s coalition depends heavily on Sunni Arab support, meaning it is unlikely he will be able to find a compromise with the Kurds over his future handling of the disputed province of Kirkuk or Kurdistan’s interest in Ninewa and Diyala.

Tensions between the Kurds and Maliki, however, have also run high in the recent past. In open letter Maliki, written in December 2008, the KRG accused Maliki of funding Arab tribal councils opposed to Kurdish autonomy, as well as Kurdish groups who once collaborated with the Saddam regime.

Kurds believe Maliki has failed to fulfill his promises of action on matters most important to the Kurds, such as resolving a dispute over ownership of Kirkuk province and the funding of Kurdish forces known as the Peshmerga.

Until now Kurds remained Maliki's strongest ally in government, but Maliki never let Kurds to have any role in decisions, which the KRG describes as a violation of the country's constitution. They are also angry over Maliki’s labeling of oil contracts concluded by the KRG as illegal and preventing the regional government from exporting oil.

Maliki and the Kurds are also at odds over the constitution. Maliki believes centralisation is key to solving Iraq’s problems. Iraq’s history, though, proves that centralisation is dangerous. It resulted in the control of th country resting with a select group and eventually by a single party and single individual in the shape of the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein.

“Before forming any alliance, we will demand guarantees and an agreement must be signed,” said Fazil Mirani, the head of the KDP’s politburo.

Another KDP member, anonymous because he is not authorised to speak to the media, went further in his description of the choice facing the Kurds.

“We are between two fires, we have to choose between bad and worse,” he said, continuing: “Maliki is bad and Allawi is worse. We are more close to Maliki than Allawi because inside Allawi's alliance, there are some chauvinists who are completely against Kurdish rights.”

It is a tough choice that lies ahead for the Kurds. Whichever route they end up going, however, their decision is likely to have a large impact on the future of the next Iraqi government.