Kurds-Baghdad Negotiations: Independence Seekers Making Deal with Centralizers
It has been a decade since the promise of a new democratic Iraq, which planted optimism all over the country, especially in the Kurdish region where Saddam’s atrocities were felt most. Ten years on and the promised democratic Iraq proved incapable of even catching up with the daily needs of its citizens lest of all solving the century old internal dilemmas haunting the country and claiming its citizens’ lives.
Kurdish and Iraqi officials have met many times, and declared agreements in several cases; nevertheless, these agreements have failed to solve the problems and some Kurds seem to regard the Maliki government as an extension of previous Iraqi governments headed by Ba’athist and Iraqi monarchs. Taking a look at the historical evolution of the Kurdish-Iraqi relations will help in understanding the roots of the problem, and the reasons behind the continued failure in establishing a comprehensive and sustainable peaceplan.
Iraq as a state was engineered by the colonial powers for their interests. For the colonial project to succeed, Arabs and Kurds were forced to live under a mandatory coexistence. It is almost a century and Iraqi state’s survival has claimed many innocent lives, while neither Kurds, nor Arabs are satisfied with their status, Kurds have revolted many times, starting as early as 1918, to rectify what they believe to be a historic injustice to claim their right of having an independent homeland. These revolts have faced brutal crackdowns, as incumbents in Baghdad believed it is their right to rule the Kurd- ish areas the same way they were ruling the rest of the country. Since the aim of independence was not feasible, Kurds conducted a number of peace negotiations with Baghdad, especially at times when Baghdad was weak and not capable of crushing the Kurdish revolts by force. The most famous one was the 1970 peace agreement. However, the main outcome shared by all these agreements so far has been to postpone the problems for a future time. The Iraqi side has done so with the hope of managing the Kurdish unrest till the central government gets enough military and financial might to crush the Kurdish polity by force. Kurds have signed such agreements as the best option available in absence of international support for their independence cause and lack of better options on the table.
The main points of discord in these agreements have been on issues related to different concepts of power and power sharing, such as the size of the Kurdish administered territory, management of its natural resources, the status of its military force and the extent of its administrational authorities. The mentality in Baghdad insists that a strong Iraq is a state with a strong central government monopolizing the military, economic and administrative powers, while Kurds as a nation are forced to share a bloody history full of mistrust. Hence, clash of these two different mentalities has turned all the agreements into a crisis – postponing agreements rather than solving problems.