Falah Mustafa Bakir – Kurds have risen against the odds but Baghdad remains the constraint that holds back Kurdistan
The Kurdistan of 2013 is no doubt a far cry from the dark days of the past. The Kurdish political, social and economic achievements since 1991, particularly since the overthrow of Saddam, have culminated in somewhat of a Kurdish national renaissance across the Middle East.
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa Bakir, spoke proudly on the transformation of Kurdish fortunes. What have made the achievements all the sweeter for Bakir are the numerous constraints encountered, particularly in the difficult days of self-rule prior to 2003 and the fact that Kurdistan is in the midst of chaotic sectarian strife across much of Iraq, and of course not forgetting the raging sectarian fires across the Middle East.
“Been in a region in volatile part of the world, surrounded by problems has not been an easy march. But thanks to our commitment to democracy, to rule of law and to a prosperous future for our people the leadership has been able to present Kurdistan in a very good way.”
Kurdistan is becoming an important player in the Middle East and a force to be reckoned with.
Bakir emphasised the political maturity demonstrated by the last Kurdistan regional elections that underscored democratic progression, “last elections were like a festive event. It highlighted the degree of maturity amongst the people that only through the ballot box that they can make change.”
Kurdistan’s economic drive has been perhaps most impressive of all. The level of construction, new businesses and increasing foreign trade has been unprecedented. Once upon a time, Kurdistan was the most neglected and devastated area of Iraq. New oil deals with major foreign companies have been at the forefront of the economic success.
According to Bakir, “economically, we have been able to tell the outside world that Kurdistan is an emerging market. This is an area where the government upholds the rule of law, it is open, transparent and where foreigners are welcomed. Kurdistan is a onestop window for investment. “
For Bakir, the concept of foreign partnerships is vital and as such these partners are essential in the Kurdistan drive, “our policy of openness and to outreach to the international community, to go and build relations, on an economic, social and cultural basis, have all allowed new partners to come onboard. Alone we cannot do it.”
Although, foreign partners have been the fuel, Bakir lauded Kurdish private investors as the spark by which foreign investors could be attracted. It showed that the “Kurds had confidence in their own region.”
A conference was recently arranged in London by UKTI and British Consul General in Erbil, not only to encourage UK business to invest in Kurdistan but also to entice investors and business men in Kurdistan to come to UK.
Yet for all these achievements in Kurdistan, it becomes increasingly evident that Baghdad is a rope by which the Kurdish development is still constrained.
“Our expectation with the fall of Saddam was high, of a new Iraq democratic and pluralistic Iraq based on a partnership but unfortunately, it seems that we were mistaken, that regardless of who is in power, the mentality hasn’t changed.”
Bakir noted that some officials in Baghdad “still act as though they are doing Kurds a favour.”
Bakir lamented the passing of the election law in Iraq, in spite of Kurdish reservations, as “not to our liking and unfair.” He stated that Kurds accepted the new election law so as not to be blamed for blocking the passage of the law and thus delaying elections as some had hoped.
For Bakir, it was a case of 10 lost years in Iraq and a reoccurring theme talking about the same problems with no political will or intent to formulate solutions.
So in this light and with past atrocities and misfortunes residing under Iraqi rule, surely Kurdistan cannot just continue in the current vain. With their military and economic strength and becoming increasingly affected by regional spill overs and constant issues with Baghdad, what next for Kurdistan and when do they say enough is enough?
Bakir warned against the “guest mentality” employed by some Iraqi circles towards the Kurds and deemed the national elections in 2014 and the resulting formation of a coalition government as a last chance for Baghdad, but at the same time underscored the importance of non-violent means.
“We have given enough sacrifices; we do not want any more blood to be shed and will aim to sort out differences peacefully. Times have changed and much more can be achieved through dialogue. This is an era of the Kurds and time for the Kurds to enjoy their rights.”
Developments in Syrian and Turkey with respect to the Kurds have meant that borders between the four parts of Kurdistan are slowly but surely eroding. The Kurdish issue is gradually shifting from the localised minority rights issue of the past to one where all parts can build affective bridges.
Bakir praised the democratic opening in Turkey, “the peace process is a very promising process. It should be supported and commended. There are small but vital steps in the right direction. We always advocate peaceful dialogue. But peace takes time and problems over decades cannot be resolved in a year or two.”
In Syria, the long-time impoverished and repressed Kurds are finally rising up with newfound prominence, opportunities and even autonomy.
“Syrian Kurds have an opportunity to prove themselves and propose a model. We want a united statement of vision to present to the outside world. So that people know who they are and what they stand for.” Bakir urged the PYD to reach an understanding with other groups so that they have a common understanding and emphasised the importance of inclusive governance based on the will of the people.