The ongoing crisis between Erbil and Baghdad radiates mainly around the issue of sovereignty and monopoly of power. The disputes between them are profound and there are no shortcuts for any proper solution. The tension is now even more complicated within the dramatic social and political changes that have been taking place in the Middle East. The regime changes in Yemen, Egypt and Libya, and the bloody conflict in Syria, with a serious possibility of regime change, as well a new turn in Israel-Palestinian conflict as Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas prepares to submit a proposal for independent Palestinian statehood at the U.N., which is combined with the growing conflict between Israel and Turkey, have and will have impact on politics in Iraq as well as the political standoff between Erbil and Baghdad.
The quarrel between Erbil and Baghdad over the disputed territories, over the Oil and Gas Law and on the perception of federalism, primarily related to the exercising sovereign rights and monopoly of power. Accustomed to be a dominant power and single source of authority, the Iraqi Arabs of all spectrums are not ready to recognize the Kurds as their equal partners and share sovereign rights and power. With few exceptions, the Iraqi political actors have a tendency to centralization and are not sincere in supporting the federal structure of Iraq. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki publicly and clearly stands against federalism and pushes for a centrally ruled Iraq. He is not ready and is doubtful whether he will ever be ready to share power with others in a decentralized Iraq.
What is essentially happening in this Kurdish/Arab ongoing fallout is that the Kurds, since the fall of Baath regime in 2003, have been pushed to accept non-sovereign status. The resistance of the Iraqi Arabs to implementing the Iraqi Constitution to resolve the outstanding issues between Baghdad and Erbil leaves no space for any successful agreement between the parties.
It is obvious that Maliki tries to capitalize the regional development for his centralized tendencies and pressure the Kurds to give up on their sovereign rights. The timing that he hurriedly passed the version of Oil and Gas Law without the Kurdish consent through the cabinet, a version that the Kurds opposed from the beginning, coincided with the heavy bombardment of Kurdistan border areas by Iran and Turkey. Maliki got his boldness and unconstitutional behavior from Iran and Turkey?s ambiguous policy towards the KRG and its own Kurdish community. It is also imperative to note that Maliki plays the competition between Iran and Turkey both in Iraq as well as in the Middle East.
The prospect of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011 also adds further fuel to the already complicated situation in Iraq. Without the U.S. troops, particularly in the disputed territories, Maliki considers he has upper hand in his dispute with the Kurds.
Sticking solely with the power games in Iraq, and regional and international diplomacy, to resolve the issue with Baghdad the Kurds have a slim chance. Clinging to the hope that Iraqi political actors in particular, and the Iraqi Arab public at large, may evolve towards a democratic consciousness and the conflict between Erbil and Baghdad being resolved through negotiations and goodwill is an illusion at best.
With its historical background, Iraq has no chance to evolve towards a democratic and plural system. It is a corrupted state with no stomach for public interest, democracy and individual rights and liberties. Iraq, whether we like it or not, is economically corrupt, politically immature and unstable and is a country ridden with sectarianism and lust for power. In such a politically corrupt country, dealing with fundamental problems that related to sovereignty and democratic principles is like going fishing on the moon.
KRG?s relation with Baghdad somehow is closely related to the KRG?s relations with Turkey and Iran. Both countries have interests in Iraq and the way Iraq may develop closely affects the internal politics and economies of these two countries. Iran, through Shiites, and Turkey, through the Kurds and Sunnis, try to extend their influence in Iraq. Both Turkey and Iran are in a larger conflict in the Middle East and Central Asia. Both countries are currently engaged in a proxy war in Kurdistan Region by exploiting Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK) presence in the mountainous area of Kurdistan Region.
While Turkey cut its relations with Syria and supports regime change there, Iran provides all kinds of assistance to Bashar al-Assad's regime to remain. Recently, Turkey signed a NATO project of radar systems as part of a missile defense system for which most analysts rightly argue a defense system to deter Iran?s threat in the Middle East and Israel.
The sharpening of division between Turkey and Iran without doubt will affect Kurdish political movement and the status of KRG in Iraq. To prevent Turkey having leverage in Kurdistan Region, for example, Iran uses its influence in Baghdad to strain any positive development between Erbil and Baghdad. Both Turkey and Iran have a common interest to prevent consolidation of the Kurdish national movement and formation of a solid Kurdish political entity. While checking each other in the wider regional conflicts, both attempt to sideline any Kurdish political entity.
Both Turkey and Iran have never been and never will be true friends of the Kurds. Their relation with KRG is conjectural and temporary. At any opportunity, they will not hesitate to destroy or at least to diminish the political existence of KRG.
The greater political power struggle and hegemony over the Middle East and Asia has so far restricted their maneuvers to implement their Kurdish policy. The political turmoil in the Middle East opened new opportunities as well as new threats for these two states to further their influence in the region. The Kurdish political actors should realize they also face new opportunities and challenges in this chaotic period.
The No. 1 priority for Kurds is to develop a coherent national policy and united stance against the common threats that Kurdistan is currently facing. Kurdish political affairs, however, are chaotic and disunited. Divided Kurds make for prey for international powers.
Returning back to the main issue, it is clear that as long as Maliki remains in the top position, the pending issues between Erbil and Baghdad have no chance of resolution. The Kurdish political actors should seriously consider taking the matter to the nation and letting the nation decide its own future. They should no longer waste energy and time dealing with Baghdad, but let the Kurdistan Parliament make a decision and let its decision be approved by the citizens of Kurdistan Region through a referendum.
Through national determination, the Kurds stand a chance of facing the threats and pressures from regional and international powers. Whatever agreements have been signed between the Kurdish leaders and Baghdad should be released to the public, and the public can make its own decision and to determine its own destiny.