Iraq’s Kurds keep options open

ERBIL — Iraqi Kurds have become disenchanted with their conservative Shiite allies in the outgoing national government and are keeping all options open on how best to broker power in the new administration.

At a January poll, Iraq’s first free vote in half a century, the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UTA) won 140 seats in the 275-member parliament and formed an alliance with the Kurds, who came in second with 75 seats.

Given its majority populace and a traditional electorate voting en masse for sectarian interests, the UIA is certain to win a large number of seats in this month’s elections, with the Kurds again probably in second place.

Yet significant cracks have emerged between the two partners since they emerged the leading forces in government, not least over the writing of the constitution, the role of Islam, federalism and women’s rights.

Analyst and Kurdish writer Abdelghani Ali Yehya believes the alliance was never a true meeting of minds in the first place.

“They agreed on certain points without really aligning,” he said.

For Yehya the political gulf between the UIA and the Kurds is too large, particularly on the thorny question of the ethnically mixed oil centre of Kirkuk, to be anything other than a marriage of convenience.

The two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are keen to make Kirkuk part of the autonomous zone they have controlled since the 1991 Gulf War.

The Shiites do not.

Under ousted president Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime, large numbers of Kurds were driven out of the city to make way for Arab settlers in a deliberate attempt to change its ethnic make-up.

Since the regime was ousted in 2003, many displaced Kurds have sought to reclaim their homes in a city which has become a melting pot of Arabs [both Shiite and Sunni], Kurds and Turkomen.

The president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massud Barzani, made clear things were not all well just two days before Thursday’s election for a full-term government.

“We were dissatisfied with this alliance because they [the Shiites] did not respect the protocol,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean we are going to end this alliance, but we are looking to broaden it,” he added without elaborating.

Sami Shorash, an official with Barzani’s KDP, said any group wishing to align with the Kurds should agree to various conditions.

“They must support the rights of the Kurdish people within a federal Iraq, agree to reverse the Arabisation measures in Kirkuk and commit to democracy, the only way to preserve the rights of Kurds,” he said.

“We must develop a political programme with our potential allies before forming a government,” said Adnan Mufti, speaker of the Kurdistan parliament and a PUK member.

Iraq’s Kurdish head of state, President Jalal Talabani, has also publicly accused Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, a Shiite, of exceeding his authority by taking decisions without consulting the president.

“Any group, particularly the big ones, has its own peculiarities. The Arabs cannot represent the Kurds and vice versa neither. We are aware of the situation and I think the next coalition should include everyone,” Mufti said.

Until last Thursday, Sunni Arabs largely boycotted the political process and so their representation in the transitional national assembly was minimal.

But Sunnis both ran candidates in the elections and voted in large numbers in a bid to boost their showing in parliament.

Mufti believes the only way to build a strong Iraq is to give all communities a chance to participate, particularly in the four-year parliament.

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