Monday, 30 April 2012, 07:44 GMT
Enjoy your natural right to statehood or prolong agony with an unrepentant Baghdad?

Kurdish President Massoud Barzani has been an outspoken critic of Nouri Maliki's policies./ GLOBE PHOTO/Safin Hamed

The Kurdish Globe
By Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel

The centralist tenancies of al-Maliki are not new; this was a frequent criticism of his first term in charge.

The current crisis in Iraq is anything but new. The past nine years have been shrouded in sectarianism, civil war, political bickering, shaky unity governments, animosity, distrust and agreements that were not worth the paper they were written on.

The United States helped mask some of the realities by acting as the crutches to support an Iraq that was broken and could not stand on its own two feet.

On the other hand, the Kurds chose to rejoin the new Iraq after years of isolation on the premise of a partnership based on a voluntary union.

The Kurdish leadership on many occasions was the key intermediary in a bitter cycle of violence between the newly empowered Shiites and disenfranchised Sunnis. Key negotiations, initiatives and interventions from the Kurds often resulted in pivotal breakthroughs, notwithstanding the important role that Kurdish security forces paid in restoring stability in the south.

The Kurds, owed to their kingmaker role, were the beneficiaries of a number of concessions and countless promises from Baghdad.

Here is the problem: What good is a comprehensive constitution, democratic frameworks, concessions and promises if the end product is failed implementation, by-passed legislature, half-hearted unity and empty gestures?

The Kurds find themselves in a position of deep mistrust with a Baghdad that continues policies that are detriment to the development of Kurdistan, of reconciliation and brotherhood.

The centralist tenancies of al-Maliki are not new; this was a frequent criticism of his first term in charge.

Despite reservations and widespread mistrust of his party, somewhat regrettably al-Maliki was given a lifeline and a brittle coalition with al-Iraqiya and the Kurds broke a world record for the formation of a government.

Ironically, as al-Maliki has come under more pressure from Sunnis and Kurds, he has conversely grown in power. He has successfully monopolised power, combined several powerful posts under the disguise of temporary cover and all but broken the coalition beyond repair.

Barzani's ultimatum

The Kurds, after playing the patient game and seeing a lack of change in Baghdad, are now at a critical juncture were they dare not stay idle.

Do the Kurds continue to exhaust energy in the new Iraq, when clearly the basis for a new Iraq is non-existent? After nine years of effort and perseverance, the Kurds cannot continue to ignore the writing on the wall. Iraq is not united; it's not democratic, constitutional articles are no binding, and parties such as Maliki's clearly do not believe in a true partnership with the Kurds.

Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani has made a number of bold remarks around the plight of Iraq and the critical political crisis, and has warned that the Kurds will not tolerate a return to centralisation or dictatorship.

He repeated his stance in an interview with AP, where he warned that if a positive breakthrough was not achieved by local elections in September then he would turn to the Kurdish people for a decision and thus a referendum on independence.

Barzani has been critical of al-Maliki and Baghdad in the past, but simultaneous events have pushed the Kurdish leadership well beyond the limits of passive observation or tolerance.

Barzani's visit to Turkey in recent weeks followed a keynote visit to Washington where met with U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. No doubt at the top of the agenda was Barzani's growing worry over the consolidation of power in Baghda,d and his message to his counterparts in Turkey and the U.S. was that the Kurds had reached breaking point and were serious about threats to secede if the foundations that were a proviso for rejoining the new Iraq were continually disregarded.

Some critics viewed Barzani's remarks as a mere ploy to extract concession from al-Maliki rather than any real threat to secede. Such views are narrow-minded and lack conjecture.

The Kurds have already received countless concessions and have already had many promises around power-sharing, resolution of disputed territories and hydrocarbon laws. More concessions alone are in fact just the tonic that the Kurds should avoid.

Empty promises are worthless as are positive agreements that are no adopted. What the Kurds must demand of al-Maliki and Baghdad in the key weeks and months ahead is real action, practical steps and tangible outcomes.

The visit of influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to Erbil and growing disillusionment of some Shiite factions on top of an already marginalised and bitter Sunni population shows that the current crisis is more deep-rooted than ever before.

Rewriting the wrongs of history

Kurdistan has a fundamental and unmolested right to two clear options: either a truly democratic, federal and balanced Iraq, or outright independence.

As the largest ethnic group in the world without a state, subject to a cruel and selfish partition of their lands and decades of repression, if any nation had a right to determine its destiny it would be the Kurds.

While other countries, some with populations numbering in the thousands and others gripped with immense poverty and a lack of infrastructure, dot the global horizon, the Kurds are warned to tread carefully or that their time has not come.

After the end of the First World War, the concept of self-determination was the overriding principle of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson that he imposed on the League of Nations and the Middle East.

For imperial interests at the time, Kurdistan was the only major nation not to be granted statehood.

Self-determination is one of the key international charters and by which repression, imperialism and subjugation is eradicated and free will is attained.

Some claim that Kurdistan does not have the infrastructure or conditions for statehood, but just how much infrastructure does Palestine or Kosovo have compared to the Kurds?

Kurdistan is washed with immense amounts of oil, with a booming economy, a vibrant population and all the trappings of any state. It is a key strategic hub of the Middle East and with the influence and standing to play a key part in the evolution of the Middle East.

However, double standards are something that the Kurds can no longer accept. Kosovo was granted independence as a special case where foreign powers had ruled that Serbia had forfeited the right of sovereignty due to their treatment of the Kosovars.

If anyone has forfeited the right to have any say on Kurdistan, it is is Arabs and Iraq. After decades of brutal Arabisation, destruction and systematic repression, the Kurds deserve to be applauded for single-handedly standing up to one of the most powerful dictators of recent times.

Have the Kurds spilled countless blood, tears and tragedy to now return to centralist rule in Iraq or to have terms dictated upon them by other groups?

No Turk, Persian or Arab can intimidate the Kurds any longer. In reality, even Turkey has accepted that Kurdish statehood is not only a natural and inevitable reality, but that Turkey itself may benefit from such a development.

The Middle East is in turmoil as governments jostle for power and influence. Turkey's rapid decline of relations with Syria, Iran and ever increasingly Iraq, puts the Kurds in a strong position to be at forefront of shaping the Middle East socially, politically and economically.

At the first seismic shifting of the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were sidelined and had to painfully endure decades of suffering for their chance to rewrite the wrongs of history. They can ill-afford to be passengers as the evolutionary trains darts past this time around.

Way ahead in Iraq

Barzani has warned Maliki before, but it was the first time that a real timetable was set for action.

If Maliki is sincere about power-sharing and partnership with the Kurds, then he doesn't need weeks to show his intentions.

However, even if Maliki does change his tune, it will be temporary at best. Arab nationalists such as Maliki will never want what's best for Kurdistan, only what is best for himself and their party.

There is no threat of Iraq's disintegration when it has already happened. A crisis between Kurdistan and Baghdad is just tip of the iceberg. Deadly bombings serve as a daily reminder that bloody sectarianism is not a thing of the past, with Sunnis digging their heels in and ready to battle for their slice of the cake, it begs the question of just what part of the new Iraq would any Kurd want?

Regional powers have continually served their interests at the expense of Kurdistan. It is time for Kurdistan to be selfish and solely focus on motions that exclusively serve their national interests.