The Reality the Kurds in Iraq Choose to Ignore for the Sake of Attaining a State

backgroundThere is no doubt that Kurds deserve a state of their own, however, deserving a state and being ready to govern a state are two different matters. YES, Kurds deserve a state, but NO Kurds are not ready to govern a state.

Kurdish-Kurdish disputes are extensive. These disputes span in nature from political, to economic, military, social, lack of institutions, lack of transparency, lack of free press, and corruption, just to name a few. Kurds commonly use the justification that every nation has its domestic disputes, and they will eventually handle all issues when autonomy is finally attained. True, every nation does have domestic disputes, however every nation also has the national interest in mind rather than political party affiliation, or idolizing individuals. Every nation despite their differences would never allow certain individuals to tarnish the will of the people. Simply put, the current state of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is the direct result of poor governance.

First and foremost, to understand the KRG one must realize it is based on party politics and allegiance to select political members rather than government efficiency. As any Kurd is aware, funds are controlled by the ruling families Talabani (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK) and Barzani (Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP). Transparency International states that “corruption challenges are rooted in the strong role that the two established political parties have in the political system, nepotism, a weak bureaucratic governance system and the task to ensure proper use of oil revenues.” The KRG suggests that it is enduring economic hardship due to the rise of ISIS since 2014. KRG heavily relies on oil and gas revenues, hundreds of millions of dollars are produced yet somehow only a minuscule portion of this profit reaches the Kurdish economy. According to a report, since 2008 the KRG has earned $45 billion from oil and gas revenues in addition to the federal budget allocation.

Second, what the KRG receives in aid from the international community, whether military, economic, or humanitarian, directly fulfills the party’s needs while the aid fails to be equally distributed among the people. In 2016, the U.S. allocated $415 million to the Peshmerga, in addition the World Bank provided over $2 billion that same year. Both PUK and KDP have separate Peshmerga forces, meaning that whoever is ruling a future state will likely strengthen its own regime. This will have immeasurable consequences if an independent Kurdish state is achieved. The ruling party/family would then have access to military markets around the world without pleading to the international community for aid – arms can simply be purchased. This would not be a problem if the KRG ensured transparency. Sacrificing democratic means for power is not the way to approach statehood.

Third, individuals in the KRG tend to overlook Kurdish unity in exchange for leverage over rival parties by establishing unprincipled ties with neighboring states. KDPs strong economic ties with Turkey is no secret, especially when this relationship benefits a select few. At times PUK has also profited from its neighbor, Iran. This is a risky affiliation as it puts other Kurds in danger, we have witnessed this in west and north Kurdistan. Are the lives of fellow Kurds worth the cost of weak, short term political gains? The KDP has also implemented an embargo on western Kurdistan, forcing the closure of the border between the two Kurdish regions. The embargo is not a KRG implemented decree but a KDP one, as other Kurdish factions support open borders between Rojava and KRG. This results in the besiegement of Rojava, starving all civilians inside. Besieging is not illegal under international law, however the besieging forces are not allowed to target or starve civilians and relief organizations are authorized to provide aid to populations in need. The KDP therefore is breaking international law at the request of Turkey’s Erdogan.

Fourth, an independent state must have a functioning parliament in order to run efficiently, challenge the work of the government, and to make and change laws. This is not the case in the KRG, the parliament has not been in session since October 2015. The stalemate is due to President Barzani’s expired term, but the KDP has insisted for him to stay in power citing the war against ISIS.  The KDP is once again looking to keep Barzani in power according to recent talks with the PUK. The speaker of parliament, Yusuf Mohammed Sadiq was also barred from entering the capital of KRG, Erbil. With that said, a democratic and viable state would never use the guise of war to expand a president’s term. In addition, if any politician or member of parliament is barred from entering a capital city of a future state, than what sort of democracy is the KDP looking to implement? With all its faults, Kurds can never label Iraq a failed state, after all the country has a functioning parliament, reliable elections, and a working economy, all of which the KRG lacks.

Fifth, the notion of free press and the right to free speech is the foundation for any democratic nation. Sadly, this not the case in the KRG as freedom of speech only favors those who side with the ruling party. Currently, the KRG is overwhelmingly ruled by the KDP, meaning any media agency or journalist questioning the role of the KDP is heavily criticized, questioned, threatened, barred from press events and at times, these individuals end up disappearing, as explained in the US State Department report. It seems as if the KDP is taking a page from Erdogan’s play book. Criticism to individuals and political parties should be embraced – not banned. The strength of a government is based on how well those in power are able to receive backlash from their society. If the KRG is not willing to enhance basic freedoms for its people, then a Kurdish state would fail before it begins.

The United States must pressure those in the KRG to resolve all domestic disputes, put forth a reliable system of government distant from current one in place. The US government should also be wary of who is receiving military and political support, and any aid should be closely monitored. The US government should not give away “free aid” without holding those accountable in the KRG, making sure both the KDP and PUK meet certain conditions including free press, transparency, functioning parliament, free elections, and equal distribution of aid received. Unfortunately, the KRG still adheres to tribal practices and are far from putting forth a modern democratic nation state. Until the KRG decides to invest in domestic success and transparency, it should forgo the push for independence.

Originally published at NRT English on March 11, 2017

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