I do not think that any one of the Kurds expected at that time that the international community could turn so generous toward them.
The coalition countries leading the liberation of Kuwait imposed on Saddam’s forces a no-fly-zone at 32 degrees latitude to stop their attacks on Kurdish areas. A safe zone was established for the Kurds who soon returned to their towns and villages.
Kurdish groups, who formed the Kurdistan Front in 1987, invested in the withdrawal of Iraqi military forces and government administration from internationally protected areas to establish self-governance.
In the summer of 1992, elections were held for a local parliament, but the two main Kurdish parties — the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union led by Jalal Talabani — did not wait long to compete for power and influence. They deliberately resorted to fraud to win the elections, creating a big problem, which they agreed to solve by dividing power equally.
This was the first sign of the “betrayal” of the Kurdish dream to exercise of their right to self-determination to reach complete independence and the first sign of the agitation in the Kurdish compass.
After issues around self-governance began to settle, a dispute erupted between the two parties over money, especially regarding trade specifically across the Turkish border. Regional powers that did not necessarily like the “audacity” of the Kurds in establishing self-governance sought to abort the experiment by encircling it first.
The regime of Saddam imposed a strong siege around Kurdish areas. Turkey, Iran and Syria coordinated efforts to monitor what was going on behind their borders with Kurds and were ready to interfere the moment they’d feel this model “threatens” to influence Kurds in their countries.
The hands of the four parties later spread to help provoke an armed conflict between the two ruling Kurdish parties that lasted for nearly three years. The autonomous region was divided into two with unmarked borders but guarded with arms and where each has its own government. Even when the two governments united after a while, the two regions have kept their respective independent administrations.
After the overthrow of Saddam regime and the effective participation of the Kurds in the establishment of the new regime in Iraq, the two entities of Erbil (Barzani) and Sulaymaniyah (Talbani) remained in place, to this day actually.
Turkey, Iran and Syria coordinated efforts to monitor what was going on behind their borders with Kurds and were ready to interfere the moment they’d feel this model “threatens” to influence Kurds in their countriesAdnan Hussein
The relationship between the two main parties seems at its worst at the moment due to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or a wing of it, the wing of the Talabani family, is linked to the operation of the deployment of the federal government forces in Kirkuk last year, which resulted in the overthrow of the governorate administration and the appointment of a new administration which was not elected.
Then came the issue of the President of the Republic of Iraq which rubbed salt into the wound and made matters worse between the two parties. The last dispute has focused on who deserves to be the president of the republic.
The Patriotic Union considers that the “strategic” agreement it held with the Democratic Party in 2006 authorizes it to occupy the seat and in exchange, the Kurdistan Democratic Party will hold the post of the president of Kurdistan.
The Kurdistan Democratic party, however, believes that the agreement is no longer valid since the abolishment of the post of the president of Kurdistan and that it deserves the position of the federal presidency – as per the elections since it is the largest Kurdish party in the federal parliament with 25 seats while it has 45 seats in Kurdistan’s parliament.
The issue of the presidency didn’t actually deserve all of this dispute and its repercussions. The Patriotic Union will not gain anything by clinging to the position. The leader of the party Jalal Talabani held office for eight years, but that he could not ensure the unity of the party.
The biggest split in the party occurred while Talabani was the president of the republic. I am referring to the split of the Gorran movement, which was established by the deputy of Talabani, Nawshirwan Mustafa, in 2009. The presidency is not destined to give the Kurdistan Democratic party any added value.
In fact, without it the party succeeded in winning the support of 92 percent of the voters of Kurdistan for its referendum proposal on the right to self-determination and independence last year, and in the recent federal elections and in the Kurdistan’s parliamentary elections, the party emerged first as the first Kurdish power and party.
The big picture
There was no sense for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan to cling to post of the federal presidency and to “import” a candidate from outside, after having held three mandates from 2006-2018, without making a good impression on its occupants in Iraqi public opinion.
It wasn’t reasonable either for the Kurdistan Democratic Party to insist on taking the position from the Patriotic Union especially since they had better alternatives presented through many ministerial positions.
This agitation is what drove the two parties to focus on a minor case at the expense of the main issue to attain a better position in the process of decision making in Iraq, and this is what the unity of the Kurdish ranks requires and not swinging eddies of the compass of the Kurdish parties.
Freed from the dictatorship of Saddam 12 years before the rest of the Iraqis, the Kurds were expected to create a democratic experience for themselves and their historical dream, and to provide a successful model for Iraq, which fell into the hands of a dictatorship of a new kind.
Among the reasons of this fall is the unrest of the Kurdish compass which stability was and it still is one of the conditions for Iraq’s stability that will not be achieved without the Kurds enjoying stability that’s linked to their rights.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists. Previously, he has held the position of Managing Editor in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. He tweets under the handle @adnanhussein.