Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Comment: A Question of Transparency

The people of Kurdistan believe their leaders are repeating the historic mistakes of Kurdish national movements.
By Twana Osman

After a year of tug of war over the Kurdish issue in Iraq, our two ruling party leaders, Jalal Talabani and Mas'ud Barzani, shocked us by sending a whiny letter (see ICR No. 66) to President Bush.

The hitherto silent leaders came out of their closets and voiced their concerns - to the American leader, not to us, the people they represent.

Their complaints and criticisms confirmed suspicions that the people of Iraqi Kurdistan have had for the past year about the US in relation to the Kurds.

It's a bit late in the day. For the past year, these two leaders say they have been “detecting a bias against Kurdistan from the American authorities" and we, the Kurdish people, are just now hearing about it?

The letter confirmed to the people of Kurdistan that their leaders are repeating the historic mistakes of Kurdish national movements - the lack of transparency.

Moreover, the real scandal for the leadership is that this letter was published in English, Arabic and Persian almost a week before we published it in our paper, Hawlati, in Kurdish.

The Kurdish people have the right to know what is being decided for them even if they have little choice in who is deciding it.

Before the leadership tells the world that Kurds should not be treated as second-class citizens in Iraq, they should start treating the Kurdish citizens under their regional governments as first class citizens by keeping them informed of what is going on in the capital city.

From what we have seen so far, the Kurdish individual comes last on the list of priorities and is always the last to know.

Not only did the letter to Bush come as a surprise to the Kurdish people, it also surprised other Kurdish members of the Governing Council. There was clearly no united front; no joint strategy.

If ever there was a time for the Kurds to work as one, it was this past year. But the two main leaders packed up their internal disputes and took them to Baghdad.

The five Kurdish Governing Council representatives only held four or five meetings throughout the last ten months. The meetings appear to have been little more than casual chit-chat. Apparently no minutes were taken.

Plagued by inter-party politics, the leadership and its performance over the past year in Baghdad should take the blame for not realising any of the demands made in the Bush letter, which were getting one of the top posts in Baghdad and the inclusion of the Transitional Administrative Law, TAL, in UN Security Council Resolution 1546.

"Iraq is a country of two main nationalities, Arabs and Kurds," the letter read. "It seems reasonable that the Arabs might get one of the top jobs (of their choice) but then the other should go to a Kurd." This was sent on the day the new president was sworn in. A day late and a dollar short.

Barzani and Talabani apparently had been told several times throughout the past year, and as recently as the middle of May, that they should not ask for the post of president or prime minister because they would not get either one.

But after the damage has been done, they tell President Bush, "We were therefore bitterly disappointed when your special representative advised us that a Kurd could be neither prime minister nor president of Iraq."

In the meanwhile, Talabani and Barzani vied with each other for top positions while publicly posturing with flattery for each other.

When discussions were underway about the formation of the new government and they were demanding that one of two posts should go to the Kurds, they had not decided between themselves who would take that job.

While praising each other by saying the other is more capable of the job, each was working separately to get the top position.

The end result was neither got anything.

The noise they are making about the UN Security Council resolution with the omission of the TAL should be first directed at the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari. He is a member of Barzani's party and in his speech to the council before the passing of the resolution, he never once mentioned the TAL. The TAL and the safeguards it embraces was the Kurds' only diplomatic achievement over the past year.

Instead, Zabari praised Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani who was the main opposition to the TAL and is unfortunately starting to become a despised figure in Kurdistan because of his support for the majority (Shia) rule to the detriment of minority rights.

While they complain bitterly about the short shrift the Kurds got, they still limply reaffirm that they continue to "admire" President Bush's "confident leadership", and that they "will be loyal friends to America even if our support is not always reciprocated". They add that "our fate is too closely linked to your fortunes in Iraq".

The people of Kurdistan might agree, but statements like these are not things that competent politicians would say on behalf of a nation.

Politics should not driven by emotion.

On many occasions in the past, the Kurdish people have been direct victims of this emotional political vision that their leaders expressed.

The interests of two nations might meet or complement each other, but usually this is tactical.

To say that our fate is "closely linked" to the US's and to vow that “we will be loyal friends to America” make the threat of withdrawal from government hollow and meaningless. It is the death knell of the Kurds' political credibility.

Not only did the letter disappoint us, it left us shocked. Today, we feel like orphans. No one knows what the future holds. The two leaders have left us in the dark.

The people of Kurdistan have always been willing to defend the position of their leaders and have always been willing to stand behind them, but only when they are informed.

Today, the people of Kurdistan feel that their leaders have failed them. For an entire year, the two main leaders hid from them the reality that the US has once again betrayed them.

Twana Osman is an editor of Hawlati newspaper in Sulaimaniyah.