niqash | Hoshang Ose | Brussels | 24.04.2014
The idea of a nation of their own is something many Kurdish people would like.

Syrian Kurdish commentator Hoshang Ose discusses possible options for Iraq’s Kurds after the upcoming elections. Should they support the next Prime Minister of Iraq? Or should they stop crying wolf about secession and finally strike out for independence? 

Iraq’s political scene is more complex and fragmented than ever. Not only have long standing Shiite Muslim alliances been fraying, Sunni Muslim alliances are also being renegotiated. Election campaigns characterized by confusion, chaos and partisan conflicts reveal this.

Although there are internal problems in places like Kirkuk, the political position of Iraq’s Kurdish people – mostly based in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan – seems more stable. A part of this stability stems from the fact that Iraq’s Kurds seem to have washed their hands of the current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Al-Maliki’s regime in Baghdad has accused Iraq’s Kurds of bad behaviour because they have signed contracts with foreign firms to extract oil and also to export oil independently from the rest of Iraq. As a result, al-Maliki has publicly accused local Kurds of stealing Iraqi oil. In return, Iraqi Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani, has described the recent financial impasse between the two sides as possibly even worse than Halabja – he was referring to the infamous 1988 gas attack on Iraq’s Kurds by former leader Saddam Hussein that killed thousands.

Barzani says that all parties are currently waiting for the results of a US-led negotiation to end the financial impasse. But Barzani told Al Hayat, a leading pan-Arab newspaper, that if the intercession doesn’t work out the Iraqi Kurdish may have no other choice but to strike out for even more independence.

“If our efforts with Baghdad do not bear results, then Kurdistan will be forced to rely on its own revenue, and in that case everything will change,” he told Al Hayat.

Barzani made similar comments to the Arabic-language Sky News channel recently; during an interview he talked about how Iraq’s federal system had failed and how it was important to look at other options for Iraq’s future. He suggested that some sort of confederation between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq might be one suitable one.

However such talk of secession is nothing new – Barzani has said these things before. And up until now, they don’t seem to have had much impact on al-Maliki’s regime. In fact, in that interview with Sky News Arabia, Barzani said that al-Maliki was able to maintain his position because he was supported by a deal between the US, Iran, the Iraqi Kurdish and Iraq proper. However recent reports would appear to indicate that Tehran is not as happy with al-Maliki anymore and that they may well be seeking alternative candidates.

The question is: Will the Iraqi Kurdish repeat their alliance with al-Maliki anyway? At one stage they were considered the king makers in Iraqi politics because, although they didn’t win any kind of majority, they held the balance of power between two fairly evenly matched political sides, the Sunni Muslim and Shiite Muslim coalitions.

But over the past eight years Iraqi Kurdish politicians have had plenty of experience of al-Maliki and his government’s broken promises – so it would be hard for them to trust him again. This is why any further talk of secession must wait until after the upcoming general elections, due to be held on April 30. At this stage the Iraqi Kurdish will be able to see in which direction Iraq is heading and to make further decisions based on those new insights.

After the elections, Iraq’s Kurdish politicians are most likely to have two choices.

The first option will be to cooperate with the next Prime Minister of Iraq – especially if it is not al-Maliki. This means the Iraqi Kurdish will return to square one and continue to hear promises and pledges from the new administration. Some of those will certainly be broken, as they have been over the past few years.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s other option will be to truly declare their independence. They certainly need to stop “crying wolf”, so to speak, about leaving Iraq. They may even be willing to give up the disputed area of nearby Kirkuk in order to achieve this.

The Kurdish people are one the largest ethnic groups in the world without an actual homeland and Kurdish living in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey share a language, culture and ethnicity. Many Kurds already call the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan “southern Kurdistan” – and where the majority of Kurds live in Turkey, Iran and Syria are known as northern, eastern and western Kurdistan respectively. For many of them, the idea of a nation of their own, a greater Kurdistan, is something to strive for – and is also one of the biggest conflicts between militant Kurdish fighters who believe in that dream and the governments of the various countries in which they live, such as, for example, Turkey.

However over the past few years the countries that formerly opposed any kind of Kurdish independence are not as focussed on this issue anymore. The Syrian government is too worried about its internal affairs and the Iranians are more concerned about Syria and Iraq’s Shiite Muslim politics. Turkey’s attitude towards the Kurdish people has changed and it’s become a significant economic partner to Iraqi Kurdistan; Ankara is trying to negotiate a settlement with its own Kurdish population.

All of which means that regional conditions seem favourable for the semi-autonomous, northern region to be able to achieve independence.