State­hood dream in tat­ters, Kurds go to the polls

Viet Nam News - - INSIGHT - Ab­dul­hamid Ze­bari

ARBIL, Iraq — A year ago, the roads of Iraqi Kur­dis­tan were decked out with green, red and white Kur­dish flags as the re­gion voted over­whelm­ingly for in­de­pen­dence from Bagh­dad.

To­day, the elec­tion posters lin­ing the streets of re­gional cap­i­tal Arbil ahead of Sun­day’s par­lia­men­tary vote are sim­ply an an­noy­ance to many Kur­dish vot­ers, an­gry at their lead­er­ship and the eco­nomic cri­sis deep­ened by the Septem­ber 2017 poll.

“They are spend­ing crazy money on print­ing cam­paign posters,” said Ab­dul­lah Mo­hammed, a 69-year-old re­tiree. “But when peo­ple in need ask for help, they say there’s a cri­sis and there’s no money.”

Twelve months since a con­tro­ver­sial ref­er­en­dum that sparked a pun­ish­ing back­lash from Bagh­dad, Iraq’s di­vided Kurds will elect a re­gional par­lia­ment Sun­day, their dreams of state­hood shat­tered.

“These elec­tions don’t in­ter­est me at all,” Mo­hammed said, a black and white kuf­fiyeh scarf on his head.

Last year’s poll, held in de­fi­ance of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, sparked anger and a firm re­jec­tion from the Iraqi cap­i­tal.

It also deep­ened the di­vide be­tween the Kur­dis­tan Demo­cratic Party (KDP) of long­time re­gional leader Mas­sud Barzani, who cham­pi­oned the ref­er­en­dum, and the Pa­tri­otic Union of Kur­dis­tan (PUK).

Less than three weeks af­ter the vote, fed­eral forces moved in to oust PUK forces that were con­trol­ling the dis­puted prov­ince of Kirkuk.

The pro­vin­cial gov­er­nor, who had sup­ported the KDP-backed ref­er­en­dum, took to the air­waves to call peo­ple to arms — even as PUK forces with­drew with­out a fight.

Iraqi Pres­i­dent Fuad Ma­sum, a PUK mem­ber, blamed the ref­er­en­dum for trig­ger­ing the as­sault on Kirkuk, whose rich oil re­sources would have been es­sen­tial to the sur­vival of a Kur­dish state.

Barzani, who stepped down shortly af­ter the poll, in­di­rectly ac­cused the PUK of “high trea­son” for with­draw­ing.

The episode ex­posed the deep split be­tween the two par­ties that dom­i­nate Kur­dish pol­i­tics. De­spite the back­lash sparked by the ref­er­en­dum, the fact that three mil­lion Kurds voted for in­de­pen­dence will have ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions for the elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to Adel Bakawan, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Kur­dis­tan cen­tre of so­ci­ol­ogy at So­ran Univer­sity near Arbil.

“By por­tray­ing them­selves as vic­tims of an in­ter­na­tional and re­gional sys­tem that pre­vents the Kurds en­ter­ing his­tory by found­ing their state, the sep­a­ratists are hop­ing to win back those votes,” he said.

Top party

The KDP has al­ready reaped the re­wards of its sep­a­ratist stance, win­ning 25 seats in May elec­tions to the Iraqi na­tional par­lia­ment, mak­ing it the top party from the Kur­dis­tan re­gion, he said.

Party of­fi­cials are up­beat.

“All the signs in­di­cate that the KDP will dom­i­nate and win by a land­slide” on Sun­day, said Sobhi al-Man­dalawi, a high-rank­ing party mem­ber in Arbil.

The stran­gle­hold the two heavy­weights have over Kur­dish pol­i­tics means smaller par­ties are ex­cluded from de­ci­sion-mak­ing, Bakawan said.

That has cre­ated dis­trust that could prompt record lev­els of ab­sten­tion, he said.

That will likely pro­long the PDK’s grip on power, ac­cord­ing to Ab­dul­razaq Sharif of the Goran (Change) move­ment, set up in 2009 to chal­lenge the mo­nop­oly of the two main par­ties, which it ac­cuses of cor­rup­tion.

“Goran wants to see Kurds play a real role in the cen­tral gov­ern­ment,” he said.

Wahid Kurdi, a 57-year-old former Pesh­merga fighter from Arbil, said the re­gional gov­ern­ment’s key pri­or­ity should be the well­be­ing of “Kurds who are suf­fer­ing in Kirkuk” and other dis­puted ar­eas.

“Once they’re in par­lia­ment, MPs must not for­get the dis­puted zones,” he said. “They should work to bring them back in­side the bor­ders of Kur­dis­tan.”

In the au­tonomous re­gion’s sec­ond city Su­laimaniyah, Ahmed Bash­dari, 65, said he plans to vote — “for those who don’t put Kur­dis­tan in dan­ger” — and urged lead­ers to re­build the bridges dam­aged by the ref­er­en­dum.

Lead­ers in Kur­dis­tan and Bagh­dad “must make con­ces­sions so their con­flicts stop dam­ag­ing peo­ple’s lives,” he said. — AFP

Twelve months af­ter a con­tro­ver­sial ref­er­en­dum sparked a pun­ish­ing back­lash from Bagh­dad, Iraq’s di­vided Kurds will elect a re­gional par­lia­ment Sun­day. — AFP/VNA Photo

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