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 American Scholar says Kurdish leverage declines in Iraq  

 Opinion — Analysis    
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American Scholar says Kurdish leverage declines in Iraq  25.5.2010   
By Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

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May 25, 2010

OSLO, Norway, — In a conference organized by the Gulf Research unit in Oslo, Dr. Denise Natalie spoke about the influence of Kurds in Iraq, arguing that Kurds have lost their position of kingmakers and that their recent agreement for unity in Baghdad is very weak.

Denise Natalie is the Academic Dean of Students and Research Centers Director at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimaniyah. She has lived, worked and conducted independent researches in the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria for nearly twenty years, and is the author of numerous publications on Kurdish nationalism, politics, economy, and identity.

Dr. Natalie emphasized that the Kurds have limited objectives and opportunities to form coalitions with Arab parties. In addition it is difficult for them to maintain a unified bloc in Baghdad.                  

Denise Natali is the Academic Dean of Students and Research Centers Director at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan region.
KDP-PUK Agreement Finished

The professor said the strategic agreement of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, has come to a "dead end because of the loss of power of the PUK to the new opposition movement, Gorran, meaning Change in Kurdish.

“The PUK has become a burden to the KDP and all high positions are run by the KDP,” she said.

She said the Kurdish media talks about a shadow government of Nechirvan Barzani despite the fact that Barham Salih, a politician of the PUK, is now the PM.

Apart from that there is great Arab representation (of the Sunnis), less Kurdish seats and the future Iraqi president will not have veto power.

“Kurds have a much weakened position compared to 2005," she said.

Roadmap for Kurdish Unity

Dr. Natalie said the new United Kurdistan Alliance, Itilafi Kurdistani, forged by the main four Kurdish parties replaced the two-party strategic agreement. While the KDP remains to be powerful in Dohuk,
www.ekurd.netMosul and Erbil, the PUK is strong in Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah has become stronghold of Gorran. However, the parties work together in Baghdad.

According to the Strategic Agreement, KDP and PUK agreed that Massoud Barzani will be the president of Kurdistan and Jalal Talabani the president of Iraq.

But Natalie claims the agreement has been weakened by the emergence of Gorran, an opposition party which has its own conditions on oil and other matters.

“Gorran is trying to press KDP and PUK to become clean, transparent and accountable. I don’t know how much leverage Gorran has to make these claims," she said.

Eventually these internal issues will result in problems in dealing with Arab coalitions.

"Gorran doesn’t get a part of the budget, so why would they care about the hydrocarbon oil law.”

She says Gorran sees the oil companies similar to the central government in Baghdad, just like they want the Peshmerga forces to be unified and under Iraqi control.

"We regard the oil companies as colonizers," she said.

Gorran thinks the current Kurdish contracts made by oil minister Hawrami are too generous for oil companies and want these contracts to be under public control.

The number one priority of the KDP is the hydrocarbons law, and not Kirkuk, despite statements made by the KDP about Kirkuk, she said adding that the Kurds do not agree on Kirkuk stance.

"PUK people won Kirkuk with seven seats. This somehow disfranchised the KDP who some say no longer see Kirkuk as theirs. Compromise has to be made if Kurds want to export oil out of the country. Negiatie with Baghdad and Kirkuk is the most likely area to be negotiated."

But PUK only wants to talk when they get Kirkuk from Baghdad, while KDP's priority is the oil contracts. But still the KDP will have a stronger hand.

PUK's Last Straw

Apart from that, Natali says Gorran will not vote for Talabani as a president.

"The PUK is standing on a half leg right now," Dr. Natalie said.

Still Gorran is happy with the KDP playing off PUK-Gorran, pressuring the PUK to give jobs back to fired Gorran supporters and allowing Gorran to exist.

"They give us more power than what we thought," Gorran thinks according to Dr. Natalie. But she thinks that the Strategic Agreement could result in the 'Obama effect' and a loss of support for Gorran, due to the increasing control of KDP.

The Gorran supporters will say: "You promised us to be different from the parties and now you go to Baghdad and negiatiate with them." Apart from that, Gorran could fall in the same pattern as KDP and PUK and become corrupt, if they get money from the budget, she said.

The expert suggests that the PUK is very weak, and as a result KDP has family members in high positions. Despite this, the PUK will not go away yet, but they do not have anybody to replace Jalal Talabani if he dies. Qubad Talabani does not have a basis in Kurdistan because he is an 'outsider who is never in Kurdistan', Barham Salih is seen as too weak compared to Nechirvan Barzani and Kosrat Rasul has a disagreement with Jalal Talabani, she added.

Not Positive About Kurdish Future

Dr. Natalie is worried about the increasing control of the 'Barzani family' of Kurdistan after the weakening of the PUK. She says Barzani is not amendable to compromises and this will make a political solution about outstanding issues like oil, article 140 and others difficult.

"I am very skeptical concerning Kirkuk and oil," she said.

She concluded by saying she does not see a positive future for the Kurds due to their own differences and declining leverage inside Iraq. The least the Iraqi Kurds can get is minimal authority. If the Kurds keep on having maximalist positions and do not compromise, there is no room for Arab-Kurdish coalitions. 

Dr. Denise Natali is an honorary research fellow at the Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter University and currently is the Academic Dean of Students and Research Centers Director at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimaniyah. Over the past fourteen years she has conducted independent field research in the Kurdistan regions of Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria and is the author of numerous publications on Kurdish nationalism, politics, and identity, including, The Kurds and the State: Evolving National Identity in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), and The Kurdish Quasi State: development and dependency in post-Gulf War Iraq (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, forthcoming). Her current research, supported by a fellowship from The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARI), focuses on the political economy of Iraq and the Kurdistan region since 1991, and the role of external aid in shaping transition patterns in conflict-prone and post-conflict societies.

In addition to her expertise on the Kurds and Kurdistan, Dr. Natali has worked in the field of disaster relief and humanitarian affairs. She has held posts as information officer for the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) in Iraqi Kurdistan, the American Red Cross International Disaster Relief Services, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and cross-border director for a healthcare NGO in Peshawar, Pakistan, where she also served as a liaison to the Afghan Interim Government’s Ministry of Public Health.
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