Kurdish Confederalism of Iraq

Shamsul Khan and Sherko Kirmanj, both Kurdish political analysts, argue on an article titled “Engineering Confederalism for Iraq” that Iraq should apply confederalism to its political structure. They bring some reasons and these are that Kurds need to determine their national and territorial identity, and that Sunni society also put importance on sectarian and territorial identity since Shiite government was established, and that, therefore, Sunni community wants federal region as well as the existing Kurdish region. They also introduce more supporting arguments such as quite a few countries regard Iraq as a de facto confederation as the United States and other countries “promised to support more Sunni independence” in a meeting. The authors believe it is a good time when Iraq adapts confederalism now; however, their plans need some improvement to be applied. The basic idea of the article is sufficiently agreeable, but the details of the programme need to be considered more carefully.

First of all, Khan and Kirmanj analyse various factors for political division of Iraq; it even defines Iraqi establishment “as a sort of ‘artificial state’ by the British colonial administration”. By drawing borders without any consideration of original Iraqi citizens, British imperialism sowed the seeds of today’s conflict. “Artificial” Iraq was and is consisted of Sunni, who were long leader of Iraq state but dismantled by the US invasion and yet to completely admit the power had gone, Shiite, who suffered Sunni oppression during Saddam era and now enjoys the power after the “democratic” process, and Kurds, who are completely different from Arabs but were forced to live under Saddam’s brutal occupation and now has an autonomy though it still has area disputes with central Iraqi government.

Then, they recommend confederalism system to Iraqi politics. They assert that Iraq should be divided into three parts: the borders of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish confederations would even split the existing provinces like Nineveh, Kirkuk and Diyala. Although their abstract map showing how to split the confederations roughly fits ethno-religious districts, however, it is extremely difficult to draw new border within Iraqi territory, especially along Kurdish region. By a curious coincidence, the current Peshmerga-controlled areas are very similar to the authors’ proposal, but territorial disputes between Baghdad and Erbil are ongoing at present mainly about Kirkuk. It is certainly because Kirkuk yields oil and has complicated population map as it is one of the main oil fields in Iraq. Controlling entire Kirkuk would be a big deal indeed, but dividing it will be more controversial issue between the Sunni confederation and Kurdish one.

Furthermore, Khan and Kirmanj propose that the president should be “selected” from three main groups and other minorities. There is no concrete idea how to select him or her, but if it means elections, it is natural to think that the odds on the winning of the minorities are very low. Even though “the position would rotate among the three confederations,” other confederations have to wait for five or ten years to take the position; this does not seem a good idea. For a better solution, Iraq could apply the similar system to Lebanon; the heads of the three powers, government, legislation and justice should be selected from three confederations and the positions rotate every three years. In fact, Lebanon was and is able to avoid the additional heavy conflicts by this system and Iraq can learn from this wise solution.

However, there are some points which deserve to be applied to be Iraq in the hopefully near future. The authors strongly propose that the cabinet should include representatives from all winning parties as the backgrounds of most parties are based on ethno-religious divisions. The problem here is that it is quite questionable to appoint a cabinet member from a party which won only one seat in parliament. The requirement should be that parties which won more than five seats or so. This restriction would exclude some minorities, but it is better for Iraqi politics to avoid make confusion and conflict within the cabinet due to too many cabinet members from miscellaneous groups, at least so far. There should be a system which enables minorities to participate the national politics directly.

Also, Khan and Kirmanj states that the Sunnis are eager to set the true national army up since they consider the current Iraqi army as “Shiite army.” This is the common issue among some Arab countries; for instance, as to Palestine, the main political parties Fatah and Hamas compose the Palestinian national government, but there is no united military. Hamas has armoured section named al-Qassam Brigades and both are listed as terrorist organisations by the West. Similarly, Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has a member group known as Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is well known as a terrorist group as well. If these are integrated into one national army, the world will no longer regard them as terrorists; the same case can be applied to Iraq. Iraq is fighting against Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) with Iraqi army, Shiite militias, Sunni militias and Peshmerga. This complexed structural configuration makes military operation difficult in communicative and cooperative aspects. If unified into one, Iraqi armament will be stronger in sides of both force and cooperation; also, militia members can get employed and the number of possible terrorists would be decrease. Thus, Iraqi military should be reformed so that it can really represent the country Iraq.

To sum up, Khan and Kirmanj propose confederalism based on ethno-religious divisions and plan to divide Iraq into mainly three parts. Since Iraq is at war on terror, it is far from good time for such a big political reform, and precisely, there are some points which should be improved. First, drawing borders in the middle of the existing provinces would provoke conflict between interest-holders of oil fields in Kirkuk as the place are occupied by both the Peshmerga and Sunni. Second, the position of the president, chair of parliament and chief of justice should be shared among three confederations and rotated every three years to prevent the majority from monopolising the power and having people had discontent pent up inside. On the other hand, the good point of the article is that there should be affirmative action in Iraqi cabinet which allow parties which represent the minority to take part in the national politics. In addition, military reform can build new national forces which truly represent the people of Iraq by integrating various ethno-religious groups into the “national” forces. Iraq now does not have time and room for this entire great reform, but Iraqi people have the power and vitality to complete it.

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