By Iran Review
By Mohammad Ali Dastmali*
Masoud Barzani, the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, paid a visit to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, after a relatively long period of time, and met and conferred with most officials of the central government of Iraq. The body language used by Barzani in his meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi did not show any serious signs of power and comfort and self-confidence, and everything apparently showed that Barzani was preoccupied with concerns of his own.
At the same time, Barzani also has differences with the Iranian officials and although both sides prefer not to officially talk about them at the present juncture, it is evident that a major complaint that Iran has of Barzani is about his insistence on the need for the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to get separated from the rest of Iraq and form an independent Kurdish government there. Of course, during his stay in Baghdad and in a joint press conference with Sayyed Ammar al-Hakim, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Barzani referred to a point, whose real meaning is apparently very difficult to understand. When asked by a reporter about independence of Kurds, he said, “We seek independence, not separation from Iraq.”
Now, let’s try to give short answers to the question that “what are the most important obstacles and problems, which currently face Barzani in his march toward gaining more power and establishing an independent state?” The following points are noteworthy in this regard:
There are serious problems facing Barzani in domestic political equations of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is led by Jalal Talabani, as well as the Movement for Change, which is led by Nawshirwan Mustafa, have stood up against Barzani with full force and believe that since the legal term of Barzani’s rule over the Iraqi Kurdistan Region has ended, he was step down. Barzani, however, is not willing to accept this and is more inclined to see his dream for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state to come true under his leadership in order to record this honor for the Barzani family forever.
In reaction to these opponents, Barzani has shut down the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s parliament and dismissed opposition ministers. However, measures taken by the opponents and their propaganda efforts have made Masoud Barzani and his nephew and son-in-law, Nechervan Barzani, who is also prime minister of the Kurdish region, very uneasy. Continuation of this internal tension will not only fail to pave the way for the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, but is also sure to cause serious problems for continued presence of Barzani in power.
The Iraqi Kurdistan Region is suffering from economic crisis. Baghdad is sending no money, the war with Daesh has hefty costs and at the top of all problems are the economic corruption and a strange bureaucratic system, which has about 1.5 million on its payroll, that is, about one out of every six people living in the Kurdish region. Therefore, at a time that all the money and the lion’s share of power are controlled by Barzani himself, he is not in good conditions. The number of jobless people is on the rise in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, a large part of people lack welfare and primary facilities and, in short, the Iraqi Kurdistan Region in its current state is not a good model to prove that the Kurdish leaders and parties have been able to create a good and powerful “Kurdistan” in the past 25 years, let alone to create an independent state.
The United States and the European Union are not ready to agree to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in Iraq yet. Of course, they have not opposed this project out loud, but are not ready to play the role of its supporter or catalyst either. In better words, an independent Kurdish state in Iraq will be facing a serious problem of begin recognized by the rest of the world.
Another difficult problem which is sure to give a headache to any new Kurdish government and also the central government in Baghdad is the fate of Kurdish regions outside the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, including the city of Kirkuk and other Kurdish regions.
On a regional scale, and especially when it comes to Iraq’s neighboring countries, it goes without saying that Iran is opposed to independence of Kurds. On the other hand, although Turkey has apparently no problem with this issue, it is not clear that trusting Ankara’s promises will be a good way to provide necessary conditions for the independence of the Iraqi Kurds. This is true because the current relations between the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and Turkey are, in fact, relations between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party – which is also known as AK Party by its Turkish name – and cannot be considered as broad-based relations between the two sides.
The new generation of the Kurdish youths, who like their peers in other parts of the world have access to the Internet and satellite channels, has gradually moved toward a new strategic discourse, which gives the priority to welfare and standard living conditions. As a result, the concept of the independence of Kurds has lost the importance and sanctity that it had 20 or even 10 years ago. At present, many Kurdish youths in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region dream about living in Europe, not about leading a life under an independent Kurdish government.
Last but not least, despite all the aforesaid problems, Masoud Barzani is still the most powerful Kurdish leader in Iraq and the most important flag carrier of the Kurdish nationalist current. On the other hand, having diplomatic relations with regional and transregional actors in addition to the power of his party and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have greatly increased Barzani’s power as a result of which, he has a better chance for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state than other Kurdish leaders.
*Mohammad Ali Dastmali, Expert on Turkey Affairs