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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs