News / Middle East

Iraqi Kurds Hope for a More Independent Future

Members of Kurdish Peshmerga forces hold their position in the Iraqi village of Basheer, 15 kilometers south of the city of Kirkuk, June 21, 2014.
Members of Kurdish Peshmerga forces hold their position in the Iraqi village of Basheer, 15 kilometers south of the city of Kirkuk, June 21, 2014.
Kurdish leaders fear Iraq is destined for a long sectarian civil war if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refuses to step aside and insists on confronting militarily the Sunni Muslim uprising roiling the country.

Much of the media focus on the current strife in Iraq is on the role played by the al-Qaida breakaway, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).

But Kurdish leaders said jihadists would not have grown so strong had they not been able to feed off widespread Sunni resentment toward al-Maliki and anger at his government's exclusionary policies favoring Shi'ite Muslims, the majority group in Iraq.

As they see it, the only solution to the crisis is for Iraq to adopt a federal system.

"If al-Maliki had implemented the Iraqi constitution and allowed a federal system to develop, we wouldn’t be in this mess," said Ahmed Askari, a veteran Kurdish Peshmerga commander and head of the security council of the city of Kirkuk.

"Instead, he banked everything on the army and thought if he had a strong army, he could control everyone, including Kurdistan. But the army has now collapsed," Askari said.

Reconciliation process

Kurdish political leaders want al-Maliki’s Shi'ite-dominated government to be replaced by one able to reach out to Sunni Muslims and start a process of reconciliation to undercut the jihadist exploitation of Sunni resentment.

U.S. officials also have urged al-Maliki to pursue reconciliation, and there has been little disguise of their hope that the prime minister steps down.
 
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, second right, visits a revered Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, Iraq, June 13, 2014.Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, second right, visits a revered Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, Iraq, June 13, 2014.
x
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, second right, visits a revered Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, Iraq, June 13, 2014.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, second right, visits a revered Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, Iraq, June 13, 2014.

Al-Maliki, though, has shown no indication he will surrender power. Nor are there signs that Iran, where al-Maliki lived for seven years in exile during the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, is ready to withdraw its backing of him.

Iraqi Kurds see the current crisis as presenting opportunities as well as great danger for them, but most are eager to stay out of the fighting. 

"We are trying to keep away from this war," Mariwan Naqshbandi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Religious Affairs, told CBN News. "The national issue is much more important for us. We don’t want to be involved in this because the war is between Sunni and Shi'ite."

Kurdish Peshmerga forces are focused on self-defense and protecting semi-autonomous Kurdistan and securing territory close to their lines, although they have seized full control of the city of Kirkuk, which has a large Kurdish population, and some areas of the Nineveh plains just outside Mosul and an hour’s drive from the Kurdistan capital of Irbil.

Peshmerga commanders said they moved to secure the oil-rich province of Kirkuk to ensure jihadists didn’t overrun it, but privately they say they don’t want to relinquish the city as they did as part of a deal with Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The biggest question is whether Kurdish leaders will seize this moment and declare an independent state – something many ordinary Kurds, buoyed by the territorial gains and despair at the Sunni-Shi'ite violence, said they want.

"We should grab our future," said Mazan, a 19-year-old student who said most of his friends argue it would be better to be separate from the rest of Iraq.

“It would be the best thing,” he added.

But political leaders are more hesitant about statehood and are careful to insist they don’t want to see a formal break-up of Iraq.
 
FILE - Kurdish President Massud Barzani (r) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani open a ceremonial valve during an event to celebrate the start of oil exports from the autonomous region of Kurdistan, in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, Iraq, June 1, 2009FILE - Kurdish President Massud Barzani (r) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani open a ceremonial valve during an event to celebrate the start of oil exports from the autonomous region of Kurdistan, in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, Iraq, June 1, 2009
x
FILE - Kurdish President Massud Barzani (r) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani open a ceremonial valve during an event to celebrate the start of oil exports from the autonomous region of Kurdistan, in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, Iraq, June 1, 2009
FILE - Kurdish President Massud Barzani (r) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani open a ceremonial valve during an event to celebrate the start of oil exports from the autonomous region of Kurdistan, in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, Iraq, June 1, 2009

Federalism 'best solution'

Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told NBC News Sunday that while Iraq is an artificial country with many disparate groups living within its borders, “the best solution for Iraq” would be federalism.

But Barzani has also made clear in other interviews that it likely will be impossible for Iraq to revert to how it was before Mosul fell and that he isn’t sure Iraq can stay together.

The biggest fear for Kurdish leaders is that statehood will leave them exposed: Iraqi Kurdistan has changed dramatically since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, transforming itself from an economic backwater into a prosperous oil-based statelet.

Irbil boasts modern new buildings and a skyline of cranes, all helping to fuel Kurdish self-confidence.

But Iraqi Kurdistan has been able to grow for many years protected by an international security umbrella, and without an American military presence in the area, it remains vulnerable.

Although political relations have warmed with neighboring Turkey – the Turks have supplied Iraqi Kurdistan with major loans to help them pay government salaries – and energy deals between Irbil and Ankara have developed apace, it remains unclear whether the Kurds could rely on Turkey for security assistance if needed, analysts said.

And, if the jihadists grow stronger in the south, the Kurds may need friends in Baghdad.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Geordi from: NJ
June 23, 2014 8:59 AM
Wow. There is no way the Kurds need Baghdad, for it's the other way around now - Baghdad need the Kurds. The Shiite-led Iraqi government has shafted the Kurds out of their fair share, thus why the Kurds will not help the Shiites now. If the Shiites will not allow federalism and say "I'm sorry" to the Sunnis and Kurds for their wrongdoings, it's over. Once Baghdad falls, the Kurds should declare independence.

Face it, there's no way we can go back to the old Iraqi system. It's broken. Either federalize or break into smaller nations.

by: Stephen Real from: Columbia USA
June 22, 2014 3:18 PM
We need the Marines to rebuild our network of friends in Anbar Province and establish a so-called new "Sunni-Iraq" nation. The whole planet agrees the old imperial lines are dead. It's time for the new world to emerge for a more peaceful planet and the ultimate end game.
In Response

by: Eric from: New Jersey
June 23, 2014 11:14 AM
Using force to create world peace and an 'ultimate end game' has been a rallying cry of Imperialists for centuries. The United States can't afford to save Eurasia from itself, the people there have to find their own way.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More