Thursday, 16 April 2009, 10:26 GMT
Ninewa: digging Iraq's grave

An Iraqi soldier talks to a resident during a joint patrol with U.S. soldiers at a market in Mosul, February 2, 2009. Reuters Pictures

By Azad Aslan
The Kurdish Globe

The growing tension in Ninewa province between the Kurds and Arabs following the local provincial elections this year once again indicate the difficulties of reconciling the two main nations of the country that constitute Iraq.

Since the formation of Iraq after the First World War by British Empire the main conflict has always been the clash between Iraqi Kurds and Arab dominated Iraqi central government. Decades of struggle and war of the Kurds against central governments were to gain their national rights and end oppression and humiliation at the hands of Iraqi central state. This is still true even today despite the fact that the Kurds have taken serious role in setting up a new Iraqi state following the demise of Baathist regime after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In spite of the fact that the Kurds played constructive role in forming a new federal Iraq and a new federal constitution the Iraqi Arabs (both Shiite and Sunni) continue to see the Kurds as a minority to be dominated and not as a main constitutive political element in the so-called new Iraq. Iraqi state slackness in solving outstanding issues such as Kirkuk, sharing sovereignty and carbon law according to the Iraqi constitution and its explicit intention to alter the constitution's federal structure at the expense of the Kurdish rights explains clearly that the mentality of the Iraqi Arabs of all sides, the mentality of being dominant, superior, and unchallengeable, have not changed a bit. It indicates that there is no room for the Kurds in this so-called new federal Iraq to enjoy freedom, national rights and prosperity. The grim reality is that whatever the Kurds have today in Iraq can be secured with the power of force not with the power of constitution and democracy.

The behavior of Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and his Arab nationalist practices in contrast to Iraq's constitution has now been combined with the Arab chauvinism in certain provinces destroy all the possibilities that the Kurds may hope to share sovereignty with that of their Arab partners in Iraq. Iraqi Arabs' political maneuvers and practices make Iraq an exclusive zone of areas for the Kurds. Refusing the Kurds to share power, refusing to accept the Kurds as an equal partner, the Iraqi Arab political actors force the Kurds to opt one of the two directions: either accept to be dominated and ruled or leave Iraq.

The recent developments in Ninewa and the position of the Hadba in Mosul provincial council in that sense are highly explanatory. Iraqis in all but four of the country's 18 provinces went to the polls in last January to elect new provincial councils. In the northern province of Ninewa in provincial elections the Arab Al-Hadba List won 19 of 37 seats in the province, compared to 12 for the Kurdish Brotherhood List. During the new council's first meeting last Sunday, members voted to select five top leaders: a provincial governor, his two deputies, a council speaker and his deputy. Four positions went to al Hadba. An independent Turkoman, Hasen Mahmoud Ali was selected as the governor's second deputy, and there is no position for the Fraternal List, which is the second strong list after al-Hadba. Excluding the Kurds from top position therefore raised the tension and protest of the Kurds. Rightly the Fraternity list members asked the selections cancelled and the Kurds to be represented in high position alongside with Arabs. Al-Hadba campaigned during the election as the voice of Mosul's Arab majority, promising to support a strong Iraqi central government and to oppose the referendum for the disputed areas of northern Ninewa province as part of article 140 of Iraqi constitution.

While the Kurds rightly claimed that they have the second-most seats and thus deserve to occupy some of the executive offices, Hadba reacted by calling the Kurds' demands as unreasonable, especially given the council's makeup. Against Hadba's exclusive nationalist reactions the Kurdish Fraternal List members walked out from the council meetings and this action followed by other Kurdish majority cities of Ninewa to cut their contact with the provincial council until the Fraternal List's demands are met.

The people of Sinjar, constituted mainly by Yazidi Kurds demonstrated last Tuesday in a protest against the exclusion of Kurds from the administration of Ninewa. Dekheel Qasim Hassoun, mayor of Sincar, protested that 'We have decided not to acknowledge or deal with the new governor. What is happening is an injustice and a marginalization and a return to one-party politics. The boycott is a result of popular pressure from the people of the district who have taken to the streets to demand the boycott of the new Ninewa council.'

Sinjar people's mass reaction against exclusive Arab nationalism and their resolution to share power clearly demonstrates the fact that the Kurds despite all the odds will and cannot give up their national rights and are determined to protect at any cost.

From Basra to Baghdad and to Mosul the Shiite and Sunni Arabs are aligning behind Arab nationalist ideology and distancing themselves further from fundamental principles of democratic and federal Iraq which is the only proper foundation where the Kurds and Arabs and other ethnic groups can live in peace and unity.

The behavior of Arab nationalist in Ninewa province also indicates the hypocrisy of Arab nationalist actors. While on the one hand they are trying to exclude the Kurds from representative position in Ninewa by using their majority position on the other hand they are asking equal representation in Kirkuk province as the Kurds constitute majority in that city. This is a double standard and should not be tolerated. Should al-Hadba continue to insist in its policy not to share power with the Kurds then the Kurds should respond not to share power in Kirkuk province with that of Arabs. Brotherhood list of Kirkuk which constitutes the majority seats at the Kirkuk council openly expressed it that it is ready to share power with Kirkuk's Arabs and Turkomen community. This reconciliatory approach that demonstrated by the Kurds in Kirkuk, should have been taken as an exemplary attitudes by the Arabs in Ninewa in order to make Iraq a livable place for all the national, ethnic and religious communities. It is clear, however, that chauvinistic character of Arab nationalist lacks such character and aim to run Iraqi affairs like that of Saddam's regime.

Kurdish political actors must realize that their endeavor and hard work to create a democratic and plural Iraq is almost an illusion and an unrealizable project. It is time to expand their vision towards further horizons and for that the Kurdish political actors must be courageous and determined.

The disputed areas of Ninewa province such as Sinjar, Shekhan and other Kurdish cities clearly expressed their intention to join Kurdistan Region. Their incorporation to Kurdistan region without referendum must be kept on the table if al-Hadba's nationalist and exclusive behavior continues in Ninewa provincial council.

In one editorial published in the Kurdish Globe last February under the title of 'Facing Challenging Times Ahead' I noted that 'Year 2009 is going to be a difficult year for Kurdistan. Kurdistan Regional government must deal with tough decisions and develop domestic and foreign policies to face challenging times ahead so to survive through chaotic and muddled politics of the Middle East. ? one of the most and serious challenges that the KRG faces is with al-Maliki's run Iraqi central government on the unresolved issues of the status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories; and the disputes of oil and power sharing between the two governments. Making clear his political tendency of centralism; (his intention to) rewrite Iraqi constitution; and his administration's slackness to resolve the pending issues with KRG, al-Maliki will further deepen his quarrel with Erbil, as his party got out victorious in last provincial election in Iraq. Al-Maliki will interpret this victory as Iraqi people's endorsement of his centralist policies and he will capitalize on this for the upcoming general Iraqi elections to further strengthen his position in central government.' The Ninewa tension and al-Maliki's silence on this serious conflict underlines the fact that al-Hadba is not alone in orchestrating this and has implicit support from Iraqi central government.

Those who wish to keep Iraq's integrity and unity must use their pressure on Arab nationalism, this is particularly true for the US as it prepares to withdraw its forces from Iraq soon. Such tension between Arabs and Kurds has serious potential to evolve towards a full civil war and toward destruction of Iraq. Nobody can blame the Kurds for such eventuality. In a previous interview with London based Asharq Al-Awsat, the Kurdistan President warned that 'We must understand that everything we accepted was because of the Constitution. When we accepted to remain within Iraq and contribute to the political process, we did that with the view that we will have a constitution. There was a referendum on this constitution, which defined the identity of Iraq as a federal country. The government is a federal government. If the central government means a single person ruling Iraq, this time has gone. If the purpose is to strengthen the role of the federal government with its constitutional institutions, decisions, and laws, we welcome that.' Historical background, political experience, and tendency of Iraqi political actors, however, do not provide any rational reason to expect Iraq to ever become a democratic country.

The KRG must pursue a cool, reconciliatory and peaceful policy to resolve its problems with central Iraqi government. KRG's policies so far have been dialogue oriented and remained within the framework of constitution. While the KRG follows such reconciliatory approach ,at the same time, it must make it clear that there will be no room for compromises on strategic issues and that they will give no way to allow Iraq returning back to the old days of authoritarian and centralist rule.

It can be predicted that the conflict between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds will be intensified with the fast approaching time of US troop withdrawal. The Arab nationalist anxiously waits to see US out of Iraq so they could deal with outstanding issues as they wish and they think that without the US troops the Kurds could be more easily subjugated. They fail to understand that the old days have long gone and there is a new Kurdish generation who can not easily be brought under Baghdad central rule.

Iraqi Arabs slowly bring Iraq to a standstill and towards its own destruction. Arab political actors must realize this fact and question deeply their nationalist attitudes towards the Kurds. They should reform their mentality of superiority over other non-Arab communities and challenge their nationalistic ideological mindset. Without this Iraq cannot survive. Arab nationalists should also realize that Kurdistan can survive without Iraq but survival of an Iraq without Kurdistan is questionable.

A full civil war between Arabs and Kurds would have regional complications and without doubt would be a major setback for the US policy in Iraq and the Middle East. Iraq, without doubt, will be the most strategic issue for the U.S., and it must be considered within the framework of U.S. global interests. Without sorting out Iraqi political affairs and putting it on a path toward stability and basic democratic functioning, any early troop withdrawal from Iraq would definitely have chaotic consequences in Iraq. The US has historical and ethical responsibilities in Iraq and particularly towards the Kurds. The US has no luxury to leave an Iraq engaged in bloody conflict and chaos. The Obama administration must pay serious attention to Iraq because there are danger bells tolling in Ninewa.