Saturday, September 30, 2006

"New Faces, Old Tunes"
Eamad J. Mazouri

To the astonishment of Kurdistan Regional Government, and in an interview with al-Sabah newspaper published 24 September, [Federal] Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani said his Ministry is not committed to investment contracts signed by the Kurdistan Regional Government in oil industry. He further stated that Baghdad [Federal] Oil Ministry would review the terms of these contracts.

This unpleasant bolt from the blue brought a swift response from the Office of the Prime Minister of KRG Mr. Nechirvan Barzani in the form of a Statement, blaming Iraqi Federal Government for non-implementation of the Iraqi Constitution, and attempting sabotage Kurdistan’s meticulous efforts to develop the region.

The statement read that, article 115 of the Iraqi Constitution of 2005 gives Regions [Kurdistan] “all powers not stipulated in the exclusive powers of the federal government.” Thus, Oil and Gas are not among the exclusive powers of the federal government.

Also, article 141 of the Iraqi Constitution specifically validates “decisions issued by the Kurdistan Regional Government, including court decisions and contracts” since 1992.
The statement further elaborated that, the people of Kurdistan of their free volition chose to be in a voluntarily union with Iraq on the basis of the constitution. If Baghdad Ministers refuse to put up with that constitution, the people of Kurdistan reserve the right to reconsider that choice.
It appears that no matter what the Kurdistan Regional Government does, it would be considered the wrong choice by those who are trying to turn KRG’s actions around and portray Kurdistan unreasonably and with prejudice as endeavoring to secede and form an independent Kurdistan. A charge that has been overused by Kurds’ opponents inside and outside Iraq but every time refuted by KRG officials. Those suspicious circles in fact are the ones that are seeking the disintegration of Iraq as they have in their mind if they fail to regain the power they had under dictatorship, but currently lost.

Kurdistan Regional Government has over and over again reiterated that Kurdistan opted of her free will to enter into a contract with Iraq to build a democratic federalism based on a voluntary union. The Iraqi Constitution is considered to be that contract or the major portion of it next to Kurdistan constitution.

Today, Kurds are not only major players in the political game in Baghdad, but also are playing a key role in bringing various Iraqi factions together to build the new federal Iraq. It is time for those who are throwing various accusations at Kurds to put an end to their baseless claims and focus instead on the real issues facing Iraq such as security and providing basic services to their citizens. Kurdistan Regional Government has expressed its wish and will in more than one occasion to assist the rest of Iraq to restore that and to share its experience with them.

On the other hand, federalism is not a ready to apply prescription. Every country must follow its own case in point, taking advantage of the accumulated international experience available. However, there is one significant lesson every potential country to be a federal candidate can benefit from. Since federal unions, unlike autonomies are conceptually different in terms of structure. For two regions or more to enter into a contract to form a union, that union usually becomes more powerful and lasting if further authority is retained by the regions and less given to the federal government. The best example here would be the first modern federal system in the world; that is the American model. On the other hand,[ assuming all the power is held by the intended regions, as it suppose to be the case in forming federations]when more concessions are made in favor of the federal government at the expense of the regions, the latter naturally will crave for more powers. Inevitably, persistency will lead to constant demand by regions for more powers that would result in shifting power from the center to the region and ultimately leading to the disintegration of the union. On the contrary, when regions reserve more powers at the outset, through constitutional and judicial channels and over time the power shifts in the other direction, empowering the federal government without threatening the regions as it was the case in the United States of America. Understanding the essence of this equation and accepting it will allow the Iraqi people to make the intelligent choice between building a temporary or a lasting federal union.

Unfortunately, this incident came in a chain of events that we could say started with Saddam’s flag controversy fabricated a few weeks ago, to the federal issue that was discussed in the parliament and put to rest for 18 months, followed by the Kirkuk issue and other Kurdish Arabized regions and now topped by the oil issue.

It is obvious that this charade will not stop unless there is a basic understanding and certain degree of tolerance and trust among Iraqi Arabs on the main issues that have been agreed upon in the constitution. They must understand that agreements are not made today to be retracted tomorrow especially not this one if they need to build a democratic federal Iraq as they claim.
If they have the intention of building something other than that or are trying to go back to dictatorship and coerced union that was imposed on the Kurds against their will, they can do it on their own without the Kurdish participation or blessings. No Kurdish administration or citizen has the stomach to go through that ordeal once again.

It is crystal clear that Kurdistan Regional Government is within its constitutional powers when making deals with international oil companies especially when it comes to exploration rights and new wells. The constitution is very clear in this regard. Current wells would be shared with federal government while the new ones fall under the jurisdiction of KRG. The administration and marketing are another issue and the constitution has dealt with that.

Mr. Shahristani and some other Iraqi federal officials either haven't grasped the concept of federalism or they don't believe in it or are misinterpreting the constitution. In either case, they are echoing the deposed regime's stance when it comes to Kurdish rights in this regard.
For decades the Kurds have fought successive Iraqi governments for their legitimate rights and have sacrificed too many lives. These issues were always the main obstacles in any past negotiations with Baghdad including the former regime of dictator Saddam.

True, these people who are objecting irrationally to Kurdish legitimate rights are different from the ones under the previous regime, but they are playing on the same tunes. Kurds are very familiar with this type of music coming from the past and that is causing a real concern in Kurdistan.

There are some Kurdish red lines here; embodied in the Kurdish demands they have fought hard for to secure them from ousted regime. They could be summed up as: A democratic federal Iraq, return of Arabized Kurdish land to the bosom of Kurdistan including but not limited to Kirkuk, Peshmarga forces, and natural resources of Kurdistan. All of which have been treated fairly with and resolved in the Iraqi constitution of 2005, that has been voted on by the Iraqi people and ratified by the Iraqi Parliament.

However, constitution has not deterred some Arab ultra-nationalists and Ba’athists and those who hover around that axis of evil from coming out every now and then trying to raise an issue as a pretext to attack Kurdistan and her nascent government.

They must know, as the Prime Minister Mr. Nechirvan Barzani emphasized that any violation of any of those principles constitutes a legal and constitutional ground for Kurds to reconsider the union and perhaps walk away if they do not find acceptance and commitment of the very principle of the voluntary union by other parties. Kurdistan's message to them is: A coercive union was imposed on Kurds for over 80 years. The consequences were dire, and the country still is paying the bill. For 15 years now, Kurdistan has been running successfully its own affairs. If you want Kurdistan to join this union or to remain part of this federal union, the framework endorsed in the constitution is a right milieu to make it work.

Don't try to impose any solutions on Kurdistan. Do not object to the rights taken away from us under previous regime that Kurds fought for and sacrificed too much and for too long. If your only concern truly is separation as you claim, you have Kurdistan Regional Governments’ assurances that there are no such plans as long as the Kurds have the right to choose how to be part of that union. That is the only union that would work, last and prosper.

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