By Azad Aslan
Salih was the deputy Prime Minister of the Iraqi central government and resigned from his post prior to the parliamentary election in Kurdistan Region last July. Salih is a known political figure and has good popularity among the people. He will replace the outgoing Kurdish premier, Nechirvan Barzani.
Salih and the next Kurdish government have serious and challenging tasks to face both in Kurdistan and Iraq. The next two years are particularly very crucial as there are serious political changes that must happen and thus vital calculations are necessary for Salih to lead a successful and fruitful government.
The next government has to deal with burning internal and external issues, and Salih--due to his unique position--must be cautious, courageous and a visionary in order to be successful.
Salih is one of the leading members of the PUK, and he is the first from the PUK to lead a united government in Kurdistan following the unification of two separate administrations in the post-Saddam era. Previously there were two administrations in Kurdistan, one was in Erbil and the other was in Suleymania. Following the fall of the Baath Regime in Iraq, the two separate administrations were unified in Erbil and led until now by Nechirvan Barzani. The PUK's traditional stronghold was Suleymania, and in the last election it lost major votes to Goran List and thus the PUK no longer possesses tangible authority in Kurdistan. It is imperative for Salih to lead a successful government both for the sake of people in Kurdistan and to invigorate the weakened position of the PUK amongst the people and particularly in Suleymania.
Local administration in Suleymania must be reformed without delay by the next government, and a more effective and efficient mechanism must be established in order to deliver proper services to the people. One of the main reasons behind the popular switch to Goran is the lack of proper and efficient services alongside with nepotism and corruption in Suleymania. This must be eradicated for the PUK to regain its strength and credibility among the people.
This is true in fact for the rest of Kurdistan. The next government's No. 1 internal priority is to deal sincerely with the issues of strategic importance; to get rid of corruption; to establish a better and accountable mechanism of governing; to deliver better and efficient services to people; to eradicate nepotism; and to establish a constitutional institutions and rule of law and equality to all. These all must be tackled without any delay within the proper framework of democracy. In short, reformation and democratization of the political establishment in Kurdistan is the most crucial area that a Salih-led KRG must strive for.
Internal issues are not the only challenges that await Salh's government; there are also vital external issues remaining to be resolved with Baghdad. Relations with Baghdad and resolving outstanding pending issues are also vital for Kurdistan Region.
There is a general election in Iraq next January. A new government and Parliament will be formed. The position of the Kurds in this new formation must be firm and strong in order not to allow Baghdad to evolve into centralist tendencies. So far, one of the main reasons behind the unresolved issues between Erbil and Baghdad is due to Baghdad's slackness in recognizing the KRG as an equal partner and sharing power with it. Baghdad is reluctant to recognize sovereign rights of the Kurdish nation and its political institutions. It is up to the KRG and Kurdish political actors and their policies to force Baghdad to recognize general sovereign rights of the Kurdish nation. For the Kurds to realize this, they must be represented in Baghdad with one voice and representation.
The timetable for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq is another serious challenge that the next KRG must consider. By the end of 2011, the U.S. will pull its forces out of Iraq per the SOFA agreement between Iraq and the U.S. Without any proper mechanism and bounding international agreements, Baghdad can easily move toward authoritarianism and slack off in resolving issues with Erbil without the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq.
It is, therefore, crucial for the next KRG to embark upon a new policy to resolve some of the most crucial issues with Baghdad prior to the U.S. withdrawal. The implementation of Article 140 of disputed areas, particularly that of Kirkuk, the agreement on the Carbon Law, a power-sharing agreement, and the status of Peshmerga forces are the strategic issues to be negotiated, resolved, and signed between Erbil and Baghdad, and these agreements must be endorsed by international bodies, particularly by that of the UN. The next KRG must also draw alternative policies in the case Baghdad fails to resolve these issues. The alternative policy is necessary for the people to be prepared and ready to take new courses should Iraq fail to be a country ruled by a Constitution.
The next KRG must also address its relation with its neighbors, particularly with Turkey and Iran, as Kurdistan Region's borders with these two countries are problematic due to both internal issues of those countries' Kurdish question and the presence of military wings of the PKK and PJAK in Kurdistan Region being active in those countries. For the KRG to have its legitimacy and sovereignty, then there should not be any other military force on the soil of Kurdistan apart from a Peshmerga force that is under the control of Kurdistan Parliament. These two organizations must stop having armed groups in Kurdistan as this jeopardizes the sovereignty of the KRG. Equally important, small Turkish military detachments in Kurdistan must also leave the area.
The KRG should continue the policy of the outgoing KRG led by Nechirvan Barzani to develop neighborly and good relations with its neighbors based on mutual interests and respect. Barham Salih has a good reputation in Turkey and Iran, and this opportunity must be used to its fullest extent to develop further economic, cultural, and political relations. These relations, however, should not have any implications or jeopardize the Kurdish national question in these two countries.
The new Kurdistan Parliament is more colorful than ever before. There is now a serious opposition group in it to check the action and policies of the next KRG. The opposition must play a constructive critical role in developing and reforming Kurdistan not to play a negative and destructive role. The opposition groups should be aware that opposition within is a sign of health, but division abroad is a sign of weakness. At this critical juncture, Kurds need unity on national policies abroad as much as opposition within. Despite all the differences and internal wrangling, all the political actors in Kurdistan must participate in the upcoming election on a common list and be represented in Iraqi Parliament as one voice.