Kurdish People See Federal Government as Compromise for Independence

Iraqi leaders have begun debating a new constitution that will determine the shape of the government after elections in December.  Strong debate is expected on the issue of forming a federal state that would shift power from the central government in Baghdad to regional governments, including Iraq's Kurdish region.  VOA's Patricia Nunan recently visited Kurdish regions of Iraq.

The market in the city of Suleimaniyah is adorned with Kurdish flags.  In one spot, a series of flags is suspended from the ceiling of a passageway, making the bold red, white and green stripes emblazoned with a 21-point yellow star the most striking feature around.
Elsewhere in the city, government buildings are adorned by both the Kurdish flag and Iraq's predominantly red, white and black national flag.  
The flags demonstrate the mixed attitudes Kurds have toward their relationship with the rest of Iraq and the shape they hope the new government will take.

Rights groups say, during the Saddam Hussein regime, about 200,000 Kurds were killed in chemical weapons attacks and years of fighting intended to prevent the Kurds from becoming too powerful.
But Kurds spent 12 years governing themselves after the United States imposed a no-fly zone over the region after the 1991 Gulf War.  Since the fall of the Hussein government in 2003, the region has been spared much of the insurgent-related violence plaguing other parts of Iraq.

One woman says, during the Saddam Hussein regime, the Kurdish region never enjoyed peace, it just received pain.  She thinks, now is the perfect time for the Kurdish region to become an independent country.

An informal referendum held in tandem with the January 30 elections throughout the Kurdish region revealed that more than 98 percent of Kurds want independence from Iraq.  But many, including Kurdish leaders, are resigned to the fact that may be too much too soon, and international politics have conspired to make independence not feasible.

Kurdish leaders are instead pushing for a federal government, a reversal of the system that saw highly centralized powers in Baghdad during the Saddam Hussein regime.  But that regional system has given rise to fears of the so-called "Balkanization," or fracturing, of Iraq.  

Deputy Prime Minister Rowsch Shaways, a Kurd, argues that sharing powers will be key to preserving Iraq's unity, and it is a formula that has worked elsewhere.

"There are examples which show that the federal solution is a very successful one in countries, which are similar to Iraq, which consist of different ethnic and religious groups,” Mr. Shaways noted.  “Why not in Iraq?  … And, we see that such problems were solved very, very successfully in countries like Belgium, like, say, Germany, like Switzerland, like Canada and other countries of the world.  Like the [United] Arab Emirates, for example, is also a kind of a federation."

An April survey by the U.S. organization, the International Republican Institute, reveals that more than 50 percent of Iraqis identify themselves most closely with their country first.  About 30 percent chose their ethnic group or tribe and 19 percent identify religion.
Those apparent faultlines are also partly why federalism causes fears about the disintegration of Iraq. 

This man in the Suleimaniyah market says Kurds like federalism because they do not have any other choice.  If Kurds had a chance to have their own country, they would take it, because they have already paid for it in blood.

But International Republican Institute Country Director Patrick Egan says there is support in Iraq for a decentralization of powers.

"When you talk to people about federalism generally, what you will get is a reaction to the word, and the connotations it has taken on in Iraq recently, that its sort of a euphemism for separation,” said Mr. Egan.  “Well, then when you talk about more subtle questions like, where would be the most appropriate level of government to address issues like electricity, or sewers, or water supplies, then people identify that it should be a local or regional level government, and not the central government."

The parliamentary committee drafting the new constitution is trying to include more Sunni representatives in the debate.
Iraq's Sunni community, roughly 20 percent of the population, was politically powerful in the Hussein government.  But because many Sunnis boycotted the January 30 election, there are few in the National Assembly.
Ammar Wajeeh, a spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni party represented on the constitutional committee, says a federal system may work, but just for the time being.

"We are afraid that they [the Kurds] want to separate from Iraq,” he said.  “We shall, will do our best to prevent this to happen [from happening].   But, for the time being, you know that the situation is a bit complicated, and they had a bad experience with the previous government.  They tried to marginalize [the Kurds] and to oppress them, yes.  For the time being, it may be a solution for them, but should not be permanent."

In the Suleimaniyah market, while many Kurds still speak of full independence, many also seem cautiously ready to accept the compromise that federalism represents to them.

This man says, if brotherhood develops between Arabs and Kurds, then federalism will be a good idea.  If not, then it will not be.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanoni
John Owens
October 08, 2015 7:32 PM
Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs