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

Gun Nation

This is who America's gun owners are More

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web 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.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs