Clashing Interests Between Iraq’s Shi’a Arabs and Sunni Kurds
|June 18, 2004||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Sorting Out the Powers in Iraq
Clashing Interests Between Iraq’s Shi’a Arabs and Sunni Kurds
Who will control Iraq’s government and its natural resources after June 30, 2004?
This article is reprinted here with permission from the Power and Interest News Report.
Less than two weeks away from the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq, there are doubts regarding the agreement between the Coalition Provisional Authority and Iraq’s three main power groups. The burning issue is how the country’s Sunni Arabs, Shi’a Arabs and Sunni Kurds will share power in a post-Saddam Hussein government in Baghdad. Each group has attempted to institutionalize their power and interests into Iraq’s budding constitution. Because the future of Iraq’s power sharing environment has not been finalized yet, all three groups have been jockeying for power, so far mostly diplomatically. Yet, once the constitution is finalized, whichever power groups feel most disenfranchised will likely protest the decision, and, judging by Iraq’s history, such protestations will be violent.
The precariousness of these negotiations is evident through the recent anger expressed by Iraq’s Kurdish population. Fearful over Shi’a domination, the major Iraqi Kurdish political parties warned that if the Shi’a are granted too much power, the Kurds will withdraw their cooperation from the provisional government and possibly secede.
The Kurds, who have been largely autonomous since the end of the Gulf War in 1991, as a result of U.S.- and British-enforced “no fly zones” that protected them from Hussein’s repression, are desirous for their own independent state, comprised of at least northern Iraq. However, due to the antagonism by Iraq’s border states that also have large Kurdish minorities — such as Turkey, Iran and Syria — the Kurds have recognized that any bid for independent statehood would likely invite a major confrontation with the militaries of the aforementioned countries. While the Kurds have a fairly powerful militia — known as the peshmerga — the military resources of a country like Turkey would mean that any potential conflict could be quite devastating.
This recognition has prompted the Kurds to cooperate with Washington’s bid at creating a post-Saddam Iraq. Yet, Washington’s efforts to satisfy Iraq’s largest power group — Shi’a Arabs — has come at the expense of Kurdish interests.
Under Iraq’s interim constitution, Kurdish leaders were indirectly offered a veto over the major clauses of Iraq’s permanent constitution planned for 2005. This effectively gave Kurdish groups the same amount of power as Sunni and Shi’a Arabs. The interim constitution holds that the permanent constitution will be developed after democratic elections, and will then be voted on by the Iraqi people. In order for the permanent constitution to pass, it must receive a majority vote; however, if two-thirds of the voters in three of the country’s 18 provinces reject the constitution, then it will fail to pass.
Because Kurds hold a majority in three provinces in Iraq, they basically have a permanent veto over the permanent constitution. Despite this prior agreement, Washington refused to include this clause in the U.N. resolution that was approved on June 8, 2004. This decision has sowed division between Kurdish demands and what the U.S. has been willing to offer.
Mulaha Bekhtiyar, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, explained this succinctly in an interview with the Associated Press, “Until now, we have not called for a separate Kurdistan, but if the Kurds’ rights are not recognized, then we will take political measures that serve the interests of the Kurdish people. For the time being, we will commit to a united Iraq.”
The reason for Washington’s unwillingness to serve Kurdish interests is that it considers the Shi’a to be a much more dangerous group to negotiate with. While before the actual invasion Washington reached out the most to the Kurds, it was because U.S. leaders never predicted that the Shi’a would be so antagonistic to the occupation. Shi’a leader Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army has been engaging U.S. forces in firefights. The most prominent Shi’a leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called for diplomacy in dealing with Washington, but the Bush administration fears that if al-Sistani believes that Shi’a interests are betrayed, he will call for his Shi’a followers to rise against U.S.-led occupation forces.
Indeed, al-Sistani has been issuing intense warnings to Washington, criticizing the interim charter that enshrined a Kurdish veto as a document “put in place by an unelected council, under the shadow of occupation.” Furthermore, al-Sistani warned that if the charter were mentioned at the U.N. Security Council for inclusion in a resolution, it would be “an act against the will of the Iraqi people and will have dangerous results.”
But, as seen by the Kurds’ own warnings, Washington’s decision to satisfy the Shi’a has only created new threats emanating from the Kurds. Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, hoping to prevent a confrontation, said that his government would adhere to the agreement enshrined in the interim constitution, despite the lack of verbiage on this issue in the U.N. resolution.
In this respect, Washington’s balancing act has been carried off somewhat successfully thus far, but it is highly unlikely that this success will continue. As time goes on, and Iraq draws nearer to establishing a more permanent constitution, decisions over the future of Iraq will have to be finalized. When this day arrives, it could very well be a day of clashing interests and violent conflict.
This report was drafted by Erich Marquardt. Copyright 2004 by PINR. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of firstname.lastname@example.org.
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