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Op-Ed: Iraq’s second chance is coming up

Kurdish legal consultant, writer and journalist Chiman Salih discusses the possibilities for Iraq as its second chance seems to be on the horizon. Recently, the Iraqi Prime Minister made a statement in which he said that the Iraqi government wants only peace with the Kurds. According to Salih, this statement gives the impression that Iraq could become “a beacon of humanity and democracy for Muslims” if the Kurds are allowed to finally decide their fate.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi Photo Credit: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office

It will be possible to view Iraq’s second chance as an oasis and an opportunity for democracy in the hostile Middle East if the statements of the main political figures in Iraq over the past few days are really implemented.

Finally, after a 3-year estrangement period, President of Iraqi Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani visited Baghdad along with most of the leaders of the Kurdistan political parties and fractions. In Baghdad, he met Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and a number of the other prominent Iraqi politicians.

What separated this meeting from previous ones with al-Abadi in Baghdad is that this time, Barzani overtly talked about Kurdistan’s desire for independence during a press conference following the meeting. Moreover, Barzani articulated that Kurdistan wants independence, not separation, which are two different concepts as Kurdistan is unwillingly attached to Iraq.

During the press conference, al-Abadi said, “Peace will be our path whether we live together or separate.” Both of the sides expressed their commitment to living together in peace or separating in peace, the latter being a new development.

Reportedly, former Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the head of the State of Law Coalition backed by Iran, was set to implement a plot through his powerful fraction and allies in the Iraqi Parliament to unseat al-Abadi and to delay the Mosul liberation operation until after his takeover of the premiership. It is worthy to note that during al-Maliki’s periods of incumbency, ISIS took over large swaths of Iraqi territory. Thus, al-Abadi inherited this situation against ISIS when he came into office in 2014. 

Al-Abadi, a Shiite and a member of the Islamic Dawa Party since 1967, after he announced his plan to reshuffle the Iraqi cabinet in 2015, suddenly began being described as supported by the Americans as the USA and EU strongly backed his decision. Barzani said in Baghdad: “I came here to support Mr. Abadi.”

US Vice President Joe Biden called Barzani on the eve of his visit to Baghdad. Biden was the creator of well-known project of partitioning Iraq into three separate regions. He launched it first in 2006.

Hamay Haji-Mahmud, the Kurdish veteran and head of Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party, accompanied Barzani to Baghdad and said: “We discussed some things in Baghdad that we were forbidden to talk about before.”

In 2003, all the parties as well as the US and the West were hoping to see Iraq become a sample of democracy in the Middle East and a bridge for bringing in new mentalities for resolving the various problems in the Middle East. But after the US withdrawal from Iraq, the country became borderless and even more hostilities occurred between the populations in the country.

After ISIS started its onslaught and took over a large part of the country, Iraq became militarized and found itself engaged in a new war after a number of fatiguing wars. In addition, nearby regional states started to meddle in Iraq with their military and intelligence agencies. Sectarianism escalated and the economic situation deteriorated as foreign aides rushed to Iraq but no reconstruction or social projects were launched.

The war against ISIS has cost the lives of thousands of civilians and soldiers. All these drawbacks turn the dream of creating an Iraq that is a source of democracy in the Middle East into a mirage.

In light of the recent unexpected meeting, another gate might be open that will hopefully bring back a sense of optimism if the majority of politicians agree to negotiate. They should first decide to not let the war against ISIS be a reason for establishing a country of militiamen. The Iraqi people have suffered too much and the Kurdistan region population suffered more due to the cost of estrangement and its economic burden as the government in Baghdad cut the payrolls of Kurdistan employees starting in 2013. The patience of the people in Iraq and Kurdistan as well is due to run out soon. The leaders should remember this every time they sit to negotiate.

If the Iraqi government agrees to go into negotiations and allows the Kurds as well as all the other ethnic and religious minorities to decide their fate within Iraq, this will be Iraq’s second chance to become a leading Muslim country in the Middle East.

Most of the Arab and Muslim countries have not expressed a humanitarian attitude toward the Kurds in their historical plights. However, now that the Kurds have witnessed their reality and their attitude toward other Arab Muslims, they should not take this personally. In the past few years, wars have broken out in a number of Muslim countries such as Iraq, Syria and Libya. No Muslim Arab country offered to give shelter to let's say only a dozen of migrants who remain homeless because of the wars, causing them to desperately risk their lives by trying to make it to Europe.

Despite having very limited resources and fighting a costly war against ISIS, the Iraqi Kurdistan Region has given shelter to 3.5 million refugees during these past three years and an extra 1.5 million are expected to come into the region once Mosul is liberated from ISIS.

Instead of applauding the Iraqi Kurds, the Muslim countries and their media agencies are trying to smear the Kurds because they are talking about independence.

Lastly, if Iraq decides to behave differently compared to other Arab Muslim countries, it will be viewed as a beacon of humanity and democracy for Muslims, the entire the Middle East and even the rest of the world.

JOL Blogger | Chiman Salih

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