Baghdad Without the Kurds

April 5, 2013

By their absence from both the central government in Baghdad and from parliament for weeks, Iraq’s autonomous Kurds have been expressing their extreme displeasure with the Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

But while the boycott of cabinet meetings and other official functions is understandable, the Kurdish absence in parliament creates the impression that the Kurds are boycotting the whole political process. This is counterproductive and may work in favor of Maliki.

Every day of the boycott helps entrench Maliki’s power, helping him get more comfortable as he adjusts to a Kurds-free Baghdad.

The Kurds insist they are partners in Iraq. But their pullout from parliament creates the contrary impression.

The government boycott is justified: Maliki’s coalition is based in large part on a political agreement with the Kurds, and that is broken.

But the pullout from parliament appears baseless: The legislature is based on a constitution and an election that represented the will of the people. The Kurds’ loyalty to the constitution and the will of the people remains unbroken. So why the boycott of parliament?

Unlike ministers, members of parliament have a duty to those who voted for them. They should do their jobs as representatives of the people and not just political blocs. In their absence, many decisions and laws that the Kurds have opposed can be passed now, as long as there is a quorum.

Furthermore, a single pullout is a single news story that lasts only a few days. In order to maintain media attention, would it not have been more effective for the Kurds to remain in Baghdad, and stage a daily walkout from parliament?

Withdrawing from government puts pressure on Maliki; withdrawing from parliament eases that weight. The Kurds are starting to vanish from the news out of Baghdad, and their adversaries are filling the vacuum with their own news bytes.

The Kurdish withdrawal from the government is understandable as a political decision. But the withdrawal from parliament is inexplicable.

The Kurdish members of parliament could have been working now in Baghdad with other blocs, and with the media, to publicly explain the reasons for the withdrawal from government.

As things stand, the impression about the Kurds is that they are maximalists, and will settle either for all, or none.

The Kurds should change that perception.

The current crisis was triggered by Maliki’s government forcing through parliament the annual budget for this year, which did not take into account Kurdish concerns and demands.

Following the serious differences over disputed territories that are claimed by both sides, and rows over Kurdish oil production and intended exports, this may be the worst crisis since the establishment of the new Iraq.

What makes matters worse is the absence of President Jalal Talabani who is greatly respected, but who has been absent from Iraq ever since suffering an acute stroke more than three months ago.

At the writing of this column, the presidency of the republic, the parliament and the council of ministers have been absent of Kurds.

The Kurds have always complained that they have never enjoyed a strong presence in the countries they have lived. But in this instance, the Kurds have only themselves to blame for their complete absence from Baghdad.

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