Middle East

New govt in Iraq's Kurdistan pushes for long-awaited constitution

Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), speaks during a conference of national campaign of 16 days of combating violence against women, in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, on November 27, 2017. AFP / SAFIN HAMED

BEIRUT: The Kurdistan Regional Government called on all political parties to convene and discuss the process of drafting a long-awaited constitution, a statement from the presidency’s media office said Sunday.

A new constitution would ease internal divisions and settle long-running disputes with Baghdad, the KRG’s President Nechirvan Barzani and the Region’s Parliament Speaker, Rewas Faiq, said after Sunday’s meet in Irbil.

The long-awaited constitution should be based “on national consensus that guarantees the rights of all components, based on the principle of democracy... and the cooperation between both presidencies to support Irbil-Baghdad negotiations, and secure the constitutional rights of the Kurdistani people that are guaranteed by the Iraqi Constitution,” a statement from Barzani’s media office said.

Along with recent political and economic developments, Barzani and Faiq also discussed the KRG’s budget issues, security, and the disputed territories.

Separately, the KRG’s Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani last week warned during a conference at the American University of Beirut, that the Region faces a threat from a resurgence of Daesh (ISIS).

In recent months, Kurdish officials have warned of renewed military activity by Daesh militants in areas of northern Iraq. “The threat of Islamic State is not over. There is no post-ISIS Iraq,” said Talabani.

He emphasized the importance of addressing the root causes of what led Daesh to gain political momentum and sweep across Iraq in 2014, imposing its brutal rule on nearly 8 million people. “Who is Daesh? And why did it emerge?” said Talabani.

He pointed to the central Government of Iraq for failing to deal with the issues that nourished the rise of Daesh - especially among the marginalized Sunni communities. “The initial Sunni demonstrations in Anbar [province] weren’t about killings and beheadings,” Talabani said. “They were asking for the bare necessities: healthcare, education, and prosperity. They were asking for good governance.”

Between 2012 and 2013, thousands of Iraqis demonstrated against the country’s Shiite-led government, then headed by former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. The protesters’ “calls were ignored because of a void government and leadership. This led to anger and frustration,” Talabani said. “The Islamic State filled the political vacuum,” he said.

In 2017, Deash was ousted from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which had been held since 2014. Kurdish peshmerga fighters allied with Iraqi forces and Shiite militias, participated in defeating Daesh.

As extremism is expanding globally, Talabani stressed Daesh is a local problem that stemmed from internal divisions. “The core and the support of ISIS was from Iraq. ISIS is Iraqi,” Talabani said.

Daesh lost the last of its territory in Syria to a U.S.-backed Kurdish-led offensive in March, but the militant group has since had time to regroup, plan and restructure itself.

Still, challenges remain for the KRG, Talabani said, touching on Kurdish political problems which are also festering, including, mismanagement, mishandling of funds and poor governance. “These are the internal problems we [the KRG] face,” Talabani declared.

In 2014, ties soured between Irbil and Baghdad when the Kurds began exporting oil directly to Turkey. Baghdad responded by cutting the KRG’s central government budget shares, resulting in a four year-long slash of KRG employee salaries.

In addition, a Kurdish referendum on independence in September 2017 prompted an even angrier response from the Baghdad government. It responded with military force and drove the Kurds from oil-rich areas of north Iraq around the city of Kirkuk. Kurdistan still disputes Iraq’s control of the territories.

Faced with the lingering effects of a severe financial crisis, the re-emergence of Daesh, and strained divisions between Kurdish parties, the new regional government led by President Nechirvan Barzani promises change. During his inauguration speech in July, Barzani said, “After working since September 2018 to put together a truly inclusive government, my commitment now is to work together with every party and every part of our nation to build a strong Kurdistan Regional Government that serves the people, not the other way around.”

Despite all the challenges and obstacles in the Region, Talabani said he is optimistic. In order to succeed, he said, a new mentality must be adopted: “The debate is about policy not politics, it’s about governance not rulers, a government that breeds success and loyalty from the people.”

 

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