BY SRWA ABDULWAHID
We wanted independence. Now we face defeat and subjugation — again.
It has been half a century of abuse, mistrust, and disparity for the Kurdish people. Ruled for years and years by despotic Pan-Arab Nationalism parties, the Kurds, a pro-Western, self-sufficient and proud people, were on the path to independence.
Then, a self-centered, power-grab gamble by then-Kurdish President Masoud Barzani to force-feed our independence on the world backfired — badly, just as we were warned would happen by our clear-eyed friends.
Barzani gambled with a weak hand and had his bluff called. Now he has folded his cards, cut his losses and is leaving others to clean up the mess he created.
Make no mistake about it, we will. Ideally, with leadership that has been shunted aside because of personal power grabs. Now, with our region reeling politically and geopolitically, it is time for our new path.
We and others who have advocated independence through a deliberate process of negotiation and support for our friends — conducted by those elected by Kurds and not illegally clinging to office — intend to restore the good will we once had with the United States and others, to restore our democracy to the strongest level we can and to be a model as a responsible, dependable and determined ally
To that end, this is how Kurds can get their groove back:
- Convince the United States and other democracies to convene and guide discussions with Baghdad to make clear the current and future status of the Kurdish region.
- Ask, with as much firm politeness as possible, that the United Nations and the world’s democracies insist that Baghdad live up to the promises it made in our constitution, including supervised votes in disputed areas. Kurds have repeatedly agreed not to force compliance by Iraq — a good-will gesture on our part that has gone unappreciated, never returned, and most likely contributed to the current imbroglio.
- Improve relations with our neighbors, including Iran — even though it supported militias now seeking to take Kurdish territory.
- Create true friends and alliances with those in the West who support Kurdish causes and aspirations because they truly share those goals and are not simply our “friend” because they are on some payroll.
- Install technocrats and those with appropriate knowledge and vision to run our government institutions, ending the cronyism that now is festooned through our political institutions.
There has been a draconian slide of our region from the glory days of the early 2000s, when we gleefully accepted the moniker of “The Other Iraq” and were named by the New York Times and National Geographic Traveler as one of the “must see” places in the world.
The current state of the country, the condition of world affairs, and the increasingly tumbling prices of oil all mean that, for the first time in history, the dream for a Kurdish state could be achieved through a focused, disciplined and legal strategy. But to achieve this, we must be fair to our neighbors, be forceful in our democratic principles, be open to a compromise that has merit, be clear-eyed, fair and determined in our negotiations, and be insistent on others keeping their word.
It will not be easy. The fact that our Kurdish forces were the key in halting, and then rolling back, the ISIS scourge encouraged Kurds living beyond our borders to ratchet up their dreams of being part of our region. That sent shivers into the leaders of Turkey, Iran, and Syria, who would not wish for an independent Kurdistan that could enthuse their respective Kurdish subjects.
We cannot let others decide our future. And we cannot let our own people undermine us for personal political benefit.
It is almost a century since the Western powers first promised independence to the Kurds. We have compromised and compromised, delayed actions, turned the other cheek, watched promises be broken, all while waiting restively.
Now we are reeling from our own mistake — so we must step forward, look our friends in their eyes and say, “It’s time. No more excuses.” We are the Kurdish leaders who understand the world, our place in it, and how we have nurtured the fragile seed of democracy in a very hostile neighborhood. Let us do this all together, to make our balancing act a success and solve one of the few problems in the Middle East that can be solved peacefully and wisely.
Srwa Abdulwahid is a member of Iraq’s Council of Representatives and head of the Gorran Bloc party in the Kurdish region
*This article previously appeared on The Hill.