Unity in Crises

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

The Kurdistani 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, the hope of the Iraqis for a new democratic country received support throughout Iraqi 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 Central Government 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. The people of Kurdistan should have known then that the ideal of power-sharing in these areas would not work. And they have known to withdraw from the Iraqi Parliament and the Government at that time. But they erred by staying in and accepting the status-quo in which the power-sharing policy virtually vanished by 2014, before ISIS attacked Iraq.

None the less, the Peshmarga forces joined the Iraqi forces and International allies to fight against the ISIS’ intrusion into Iraq and Syria. Together they scored big victories against ISIS until September 2017. During the attacks by ISIS in 2014, the Iraqi forces fled from most of the areas in the north. The Peshmarga forces, that seemed to have a lot more to lose, 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 Peshmarga forces fought heroically against ISIS, while defending and protecting all parts of Iraq and the Iraqis 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 cross road—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 the Kurdistan Region. This difference in mindset led the leadership of the Kurdistan Region to conduct the constitutional referendum on September 25th, 2017 to determine the future of the disputed territories. So the people of Kurdistan did indeed hold the lawful referendum throughout the Kurdistan Region and the disputed territories. A total of 72.3% of the total population of the Kurdistan Region and disputed territories did vote, and of this 92.7% voted in favor of independence. The events of October 16 reveal they were quite correct and fully vindicated in calling for the Referendum. History will judge the call for a referendum to have been overdue and highly necessary to see just what all were dealing with in Iraq.

After the Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) defeated ISIS in the last area in the north (Haweja), 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-ISIS. On October 16, these forces carried out a major offensive against the Peshmarga forces with inside help. They almost managed to control all the areas that were under Peshmarga control after 2014.

After October 16, the Kurdistan Region faced internal and external crises that demanded urgent attention if the people of Kurdistan were not to sink into chaos. The Kurdistan parliament extended the term of Parliament and the Government for another eight months, to last until the next election. This was necessary in order 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 concerning the Kurdistan Region Presidency and Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of Government:

1.  Kurdistan Region Presidency: 

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

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 in the Presidency office in Iraq.

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

A.   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 totally revamped in order 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 have no right to believe that 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 in “square one”, a situation of mistrust and suspicion between the people and the judicial authority.

B.   The Legislative Branch of the Kurdish Government:

Elected by the people of Kurdistan, the people must be able to trust 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, it cannot be overestimated the importance of Parliament’s ability to act responsibly, honestly, and efficiently, as it earns the trust of the populace at large. 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.  

        C.  The Kurdistan Regional Government:

Some they 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 all must work together to support the Government in this period of transition. The Government’s biggest challenge lay ahead is to elect a new committee to lead us through the next 8 months as well as to represent the citizens of the Kurdistan region in its negotiations with the Central Government relating to all the disputes between them. To achieve these goals the Government must do the following as a road map out of this crisis: 

1. 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 advisor 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 Kurdistan Region. They should be let go so that 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.

2. The Government & 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. 

3. Led by the Prime Minister and his Deputy, the new committee will be tasked to participate in all negotiations involving the Central 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 8 months until the new election.

4. The Government must work closely with the parliament to implements any new laws.

5. As mentioned, the Government must work very hard to reform the Judiciary system to gain the support of the people. An independent judiciary system able to freely to 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.

6. 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, expenses, so the people can see for first time what the Government is doing with all the money that comes into their coffers. In 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.

7. 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 respectable and entrusted to protect the populace.

8. 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. 

9. To commission an independent committee to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the effects of the referendum and the events of October 16, in order to determine the nature and causes and consequences of the referendum and ways to deal with them and ways to get rid of the effects, and study in detail to come out with a realistic analytical vision of the crisis, internal and external factors. And submit a detailed report to the government, parliament and Kurdistani political parties to study them to 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. No one knows what the Council’s authority consists of, or what they represent. However, this Council can be 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 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 Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government.

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

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