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

Kurds Resent 'Lack of Representation'

Some say US has let them down and turned them into “second-class” citizens.
By Kareem Omer

Many Iraqi Kurds are disappointed and frustrated with the appointment of two Arabs as president and prime minister of the caretaker Iraqi government, with little or no significant Kurdish representation.

Most people in this Kurdish city had expected at least one of the top posts to go to a Kurd, and many are alarmed by the appointment of Shia Arab Iyad Allawi and Sunni Arab Ghazi Yawar as prime minister and president respectively.

Eight deputy and cabinet posts in the new government did go to Kurds - including the post of foreign minister - but they are of little importance, many say, since the positions will be under the direct authority of the president and prime minister.

"The Kurds have been turned into second class citizens or even less," said Aram Omer, 38, a professor in the College of Law at the University of Sulaimaniyah.

"We carried out our duties towards the Americans," said Khalil Othman, 34, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK. "But they did not carry out theirs fully towards the Kurds."

Echoing others, Othman believes that a senior post should have gone to a Kurd because the Kurds fought against the former regime for decades, and they also fought alongside the US-led Coalition during the recent war.

Other people share Othman’s frustration that the Kurds – the only population group in Iraq that has not attacked Coalition forces – have not been given their just reward.

"If the Kurds killed 100 American soldiers every day like the Arabs, they would have been given better posts," storeowner Admond Anwar said sarcastically.

Some residents think the Kurds should reconsider their cosy relationship with the Americans.

"The Kurds should start demonstrations and boycott the new government," said Nizar Saleem, 24, a history student.

Many people in this northern city of 700,000 cite the divided Kurdish leadership as a possible reason why the Kurds lost out.

The Kurdish parties "were not unanimous in their stands", says Khasraw Abdulla as he sat in the local park reading the PUK newspaper, Kudistani Newe.

He was referring to the fierce rivalry between the PUK, which governs eastern Kurdistan, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, which holds sway in the western part.

For some residents, the ethnic background of the appointee matters less than the political and cultural orientation of the new officials.

"The president has a tribal mentality and the prime minister is a former Baathist who is a chauvinist," opined Abdulla Ahmed, 26, a radio journalist.

He points out that in former Iraqi governments there were several high Kurdish officials, including a vice president of Saddam Hussein. Yet the rights of the Kurds were not protected.

A distinct ethnic group from the Arabs, the Kurds constitute 20-25 percent of the Iraqi population and have long been seen as a large troublesome minority.

As a result, the Kurdish population was heavily repressed by successive Arab-dominated governments in Baghdad.

Most Kurds live in four northern governorates but there are nearly one million in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. Most are Sunni Muslim.

Ahmed Khayrulla, 42, a Shia Kurd and a PUK member, said little thought given to the position of the hundreds of thousands of Shia Kurds in Iraq.

He pointed out that while Shia and Kurdish political aspirations were taken into consideration with the appointments, Shia Kurds are now represented by Sunni Kurds.

Even so, he says he is “more comfortable with Dr Barham [Salah, the new deputy prime minister and a Sunni Kurd] than Ayad Alawai [the Shia prime minister]”.

Other people viewed the changes in the government as having little relevance to their lives.

Sarkawt Jamal, 32, a storekeeper saw limits to the powers of the government in Baghdad, saying that in Iraqi Kurdistan the new president and prime minister will have less power than the KDP and the PUK.

Jamal Wali, a former Kurdish guerrilla fighter but now a university student of political science, says the most crucial element in the new Iraq is the constitution and not the personalities.

"What is most important for me is my rights being guaranteed in the constitution," he said.

Kareem Omer is the IWPR northern coordinator and Shabaz Jamal is managing editor of Liberal Education newspaper.