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Democracy or Partition: Future Scenarios for the Kurds of Iraq

Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Kurdish politicians were involved in Baghdad governments, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) became a federal unit with increased autonomy. Nevertheless, the KRG’s quest for keeping its autonomy was challenged after the withdrawal of US forces at the end of 2011. When US forces left Iraq, the Baghdad government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, the leader of the Shiite State of Law Coalition, tried to centralize power. Unsurprisingly, Maliki’s centralization efforts have generated criticism and secessionist repercussions among Kurdish political circles. Furthermore, the Maliki government has violated the basic principles of power sharing, which is sine qua non to strengthen the confidence-building processes in divided societies. Increasingly, the Kurds’ willingness to remain as part of Iraq considerably decreases as the Baghdad government consolidates its power and excludes the ethnic and religious groups from the political system.

Democracy or Partition Future Scenarios for the Kurds of Iraq
Iraq’s PM al-Maliki, Iraq’s President Talabani and Kurdish President Barzani meet in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region near Sulaimaniya.
 

In 1970, a commission headed by Saddam Hussein visited Mullah Mustafa Barzani’s headquarter in Saman, Arbil. There had been an ongoing Kurdish armed struggle for autonomy since 1961, and the Baghdad government was offering a new agreement in order to settle the Kurdish issue. Mullah Mustafa said that he would not lay down arms unless Baghdad recognizes the autonomy of Kurds. He also insisted on keeping the peshmerga organized under any circumstance. Saddam Hussein accepted the conditions of Mullah Mustafa and the ceasefire began. During this meeting, Masoud Barzani, son of Mullah Mustafa, asked Saddam Hussein how Baghdad would solve the democracy problem in all of Iraq. Saddam Hussein said that “The system that we govern the rest of Iraq is none of your business. You will have autonomy in Kurdistan. Why do you care about this?”1

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