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After the Referendum: Secession or Confederation for Kurdistan

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The Iraqi parliament voted by majority to reject the Kurdish referendum on the independence that holds on September 25 and authorized the Prime Minister Haider Abadi to take measures that preserve the unity of the country. Off course, measures do not include military actions against and clash with the Peshmerga forces, simply because it will be against Iraqi constitution and bilateral conventions between the United States and Iraq.

The international community is also announced illegality and illegitimacy of the referendum and urged the Kurdish leaders to solve the problems and issues with the Iraqi government through dialogue. On the other hand, the foreign ministers of Iraq, Turkey and Iran agreed on the unconstitutionality of the referendum in Kurdistan, warning against taking countermeasures in coordination with each other, without specifying their nature, because it will cause conflicts in the region to be difficult to contain, and confirmed their strong commitment to preserving Iraq’s political unity and territorial integrity. Additionally, the United Nations Security Council announced its opposition to the referendum on independence by the Kurdistan region of Iraq, warned that such a unilateral move would destabilize and reiterated its adherence to Iraq’s sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity.

The Kurdish referendum throws up questions about the future of the Kurdistan region and its political ties with Baghdad. Thus, what will be the best future ties between Baghdad and Erbil? Is federation still workable? Or Confederation will be the best alternative?

Federalism, like the legal system, is based on clear constitutional rules that guarantee the coexistence of different nationalities, religions, sects, and groups within a single state run by constitutional institutions in the states of law. The Iraqi constitution recognizes the federal system to determine the form of the relationship between the Kurdistan region and Baghdad or between the regions that may be formed later, but the Kurdistan Regional Government accuses its federal counterpart of trying to monopolize power and not to give constitutional powers to the region and the Iraqi provinces, which led to disputes and conflicts between the two sides during the years following the adoption of the Constitution. The implementation of the federal option faces the challenge, the distribution, and sharing of resources and revenues as oil plays a very important role and will remain a central element in the division of sects and ethnics. The marginalization of the Sunnis by the Shiite-led government has contributed to raising insurgency and the takeover of many cities in Iraq, especially Mosul by the terrorists. Overlooking constitution in regarding Kurdish rights and demands has pushed the Kurdistan region to move unilaterally, and hold independence referendum to decide the fate of Kurds in Iraq.  

This referendum can restructure the relationship between the KRG and Baghdad, through adjusting a new form of political system “confederation” between the Kurdistan region and Iraq. If there have two/more confederation states, there will have three equal capitals that do not exceed one another, indicating that, this will put an end to years of conflict and violence. Confederations are often established by treaty between confederation members who enjoy equal status.

The Kurdistan Region may possibly consider put forward a confederation with Baghdad,‏ as it will be a smooth mechanism to separate the Kurds from, and this for many reasons, including:

Either as a transitional arrangement between the both sides. As a transitional measure, this would give Iraqis time to adjust to Iraqi Kurdistan’s eventual independence.

Because it deems independence to be impractical given the regional opposition.

Confederations would create breathing space as Iraqis gradually redefine their relations with one another, aggregating interests to achieve greater self-rule through the formation of states: one Kurdish, one Sunni, and one or more Shiite regions.

The Republic of Kurdistan is an autonomous and completed institutionally and capability, but it also suffers from the monopolistic despotism of the Barzani Party and the Talabani Party since 1991. Nevertheless, before this republic is recognized by Iraq and as part of it should solve all the issues that related to the resources and borders, particularly the disputed areas.

Disputed areas, especially Kirkuk, is completely different from the reality of the other three Kurdish provinces because Kirkuk is home to multiple communities in Iraq, several of whom were systematically expelled from the region under the Ba’ath regime, and cannot resolve the issue of subordination to Iraq or the region through proportional voting, because this solution undermine the rights of half the population of Kirkuk – or a little less – non-Kurds, and vital to be Kirkuk a special situation to be agreed upon between Iraq and the region. It has written about several alternatives, including Kirkuk as an independent province or the division of the province between its components in a municipality between a Kurdish municipality and a non-Kurdish municipality, or the option of joint sovereignty by Baghdad and Erbil. Though, after protecting the areas and taking part in September 25th referendum (which 92.73% of voters cast ‘yes’ ballots) on support for independence from Iraq, it is difficult to Kurdistan region move back to share sovereignty by the Iraqi government.

However, amending the Iraqi Constitution to ensure the establishment of a Confederal system as the best solution for Iraq, pointing out that it will end the problems between the sects and groups in Iraq, mainly in the disputed areas.

In post-2003 Iraqi political situation has not changed anything and remained problems and differences are stuck between Baghdad and Erbil. Thus, the confederation will solidify the principles of democracy and prevents the occurrence of conflicts and draw the boundaries between regions (North, Middle, and South) while maintaining the national identity and historical privacy of the segments and components in the community all, noting that it can encircle the problems that arise between governments. So that the application of the confederation in Iraq, “very important”, because it is a permanent union of sovereign states and joint action among governments within one union through international treaties, the adoption of a common constitution, dealing with the common currency, stabilizing borders and resolving disputes in accordance with the will of peoples, away from the hierarchy of power and dominance.

The confederation also does not give the possibility for divisions, indicating that it encourages the construction, development, and reform of the states (regions) and generate citizens of various components sense of belonging and stability.

Confederation is, however, difficult to achieve. Constitutional changes require a referendum and approval by the majority of voters. Any three governorates can defeat a referendum on a constitutional amendment with a two-thirds vote.

 To sum, the post-September 25th Kurdistan situation will never be the same as past. Obviously, the federation is not successful in Iraq; the Kurdish referendum brings a new debate about the future ties between Kurdistan region and Baghdad. Kurdish leaders have had absolute overwhelming yes support for independence for Iraq, but they will be agreed on remaining in a confederation union with the Iraqi government.  Predictably, this will be the start point of future dialog between the both sides.   

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Middle East

Erdogan’s Calamitous Authoritarianism

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Turkey’s President Erdogan is becoming ever more dangerous as he continues to ravage his own country and destabilize scores of states in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa, while cozying up to the West’s foremost advisories. Sadly, there seems to be no appetite for most EU member states to challenge Erdogan and put him on notice that he can no longer pursue his authoritarianism at home and his adventurous meddling abroad with impunity.

To understand the severity of Erdogan’s actions and ambitions and their dire implications, it suffices to quote Ahmet Davutoglu, formerly one of Erdogan’s closest associates who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently Prime Minister. Following his forced resignation in May 2016 he stated “I will sustain my faithful relationship with our president until my last breath. No one has ever heard — and will ever hear — a single word against our president come from my mouth.”

Yet on October 12, Davutoglu declared “Erdogan left his friends who struggled and fought with him in exchange for the symbols of ancient Turkey, and he is trying to hold us back now…. You yourself [Erdogan] are the calamity. The biggest calamity that befell this people is the regime that turned the country into a disastrous family business.”

The stunning departure of Davutoglu from his earlier statement shows how desperate conditions have become, and echoed how far and how dangerously Erdogan has gone. Erdogan has inflicted a great calamity on his own people, and his blind ambition outside Turkey is destabilizing many countries while dangerously undermining Turkey’s and its Western allies’ national security and strategic interests.

A brief synopsis of Erdogan’s criminal domestic practices and his foreign misadventures tell the whole story.

Domestically, he incarcerated tens of thousands of innocent citizens on bogus charges, including hundreds of journalists. Meanwhile he is pressuring the courts to send people to prison for insulting him, as no one can even express their thoughts about this ruthlessness. Internationally, Erdogan ordered Turkish intelligence operatives to kill or smuggle back to the country Turkish citizens affiliated with the Gülen movement.

He regularly cracks down on Turkey’s Kurdish minority, preventing them from living a normal life in accordance with their culture, language, and traditions, even though they have been and continue to be loyal Turkish citizens. There is no solution to the conflict except political, as former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan adamantly stated on October 20: “… a solution [to the Kurdish issue] will be political and we will defend democracy persistently.”

Erdogan refuses to accept the law of the sea convention that gives countries, including Cyprus, the right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for energy exploration, while threatening the use of force against Greece, another NATO member no less. He openly sent a research ship to the region for oil and gas deposits, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called “extremely worrying.”

He invaded Syria with Trump’s blessing to prevent the Syrian Kurds from establishing autonomous rule, under the pretext of fighting the PKK and the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish militia that fought side-by-side the US, and whom Erdogan falsely accuses of being a terrorist group).

He is sending weapons to the Sunni in northern Lebanon while setting up a branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in the country—a practice Erdogan has used often to gain a broader foothold in countries where it has an interest.

While the Turkish economy is in tatters, he is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the Balkans, flooding countries with Turkish imams to spread his Islamic gospel and to ensure their place in his neo-Ottoman orbit. Criticizing Erdogan’s economic leadership, Babacan put it succinctly when he said this month that “It is not possible in Turkey for the economic or financial system to continue, or political legitimacy hold up.”

Erdogan is corrupt to the bone. He conveniently appointed his son-in-law as Finance Minister, which allows him to hoard tens of millions of dollars, as Davutoglu slyly pointed out: “The only accusation against me…is the transfer of land to an educational institution over which I have no personal rights and which I cannot leave to my daughter, my son, my son-in-law or my daughter-in-law.”

Erdogan is backing Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia (backed by Iran) over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and has been the subject of dispute for over 30 years.

He is exploiting Libya’s civil strife by providing the Government of National Accord (GNA) with drones and military equipment to help Tripoli gain the upper hand in its battle against Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in February 2020 that “The unclear Turkish foreign policy by Erdogan may put Turkey in grave danger due to this expansion towards Libya.”

He is meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort to prevent them from settling their dispute unless Israel meets Palestinian demands. He granted several Hamas officials Turkish citizenship to spite Israel, even though Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction.

He betrayed NATO by buying the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which seriously compromises the alliance’s technology and intelligence.

He is destabilizing many countries, including Somalia, Qatar, Libya, and Syria, by dispatching military forces and hardware while violating the air space of other countries like Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece. Yakis said Turkey is engaging in a “highly daring bet where the risks of failure are enormous.”

Erdogan supports extremist Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and an assortment of jihadists, including ISIS, knowing full well that these groups are sworn enemies of the West—yet he uses them as a tool to promote his wicked Islamic agenda.

He regularly blackmails EU members, threatening to flood Europe with Syria refugees unless they support his foreign escapades such as his invasion of Syria, and provide him with billions in financial aid to cope with the Syrian refugees.

The question is how much more evidence does the EU need to act? A close look at Erdogan’s conduct clearly illuminates his ultimate ambition to restore much of the Ottoman Empire’s influence over the countries that were once under its control.

Erdogan is dangerous. He has cited Hitler as an example of an effective executive presidential system, and may seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s time for the EU to wake up and take Erdogan’s long-term agenda seriously, and take severe punitive measures to arrest his potentially calamitous behavior. Sadly, the EU has convinced itself that from a geostrategic perspective Turkey is critically important, which Erdogan is masterfully exploiting.

The EU must be prepared take a stand against Erdogan, with or without the US. Let’s hope, though, that Joe Biden will be the next president and together with the EU warn Erdogan that his days of authoritarianism and foreign adventurism are over.

The views expressed are those of the author.

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Syrian Refugees Have Become A Tool Of Duplicitous Politics

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Syrian refugees in Rukban camp

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displace has been the subject of countless articles and reports with international humanitarian organizations and countries involved in the Syrian conflict shifting responsibility for the plight of migrants.

The most notorious example of human suffering put against political games is the Rukban refugee camp located in eastern Syria inside the 55-km zone around Al-Tanf base controlled by the U.S. and its proxies.

According to official information, more than 50,000 people, mostly women and children, currently live in the camp. This is a huge number comparable to the population of a small town. The Syrian government, aware of the plight of people in Rukban, has repeatedly urged Washington to open a humanitarian corridor so that everyone can safely return home. However, all such proposals were ignored by the American side. U.S. also refuse to provide the camp with first aid items. Neighbouring Jordan is inactive, too, despite Rukban being the largest of dozens other temporary detention centres in Syria, where people eke out a meager existence.

At the same time, the problem is not only refugee camps. Syria has been at war for a decade. The country’s economy has suffered greatly over this period, and many cities have been practically grazed to the ground. Moreover, the global coronavirus epidemic didn’t spare Syria and drained the already weakened economy even more. However, Damascus’ attempts of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery were undermined by multiple packages of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. At the same time, U.S.-based human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations continue to weep over the Syrian citizens’ misery.

The situation is the same for those refugees who stay in camps abroad, especially in countries bordering on Syria, particularly Jordan and Turkey. Ankara has been using Syrian citizens as a leverage against the European states in pursuit of political benefits for a long time. No one pays attention to the lives of people who are used as a change coin in big politics. This is equally true for Rukban where refugees are held in inhuman conditions and not allowed to return to their homeland. In those rare exceptions that they are able to leave, refugees have to pay large sums of money that most of those living in camp are not able to come by.

It’s hard to predict how long the Syrian conflict will go on and when – or if – the American military will leave the Al-Tanf base. One thing can be said for sure: the kind of criminal inaction and disregard for humanitarian catastrophe witnessed in refugee camps is a humiliating failure of modern diplomacy and an unforgivable mistake for the international community. People shouldn’t be a tool in the games of politicians.

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Is Syria Ready For Second Wave Of COVID-19?

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©UNICEF/Delil Souleiman

Despite a relative calm that has been holding on the front lines of the Syrian conflict since the beginning of the year, Syria had to face other equally – if not more – serious challenges. The spread of COVID-19 virus in the wake of a general economic collapse and a health care system battered by nine years of war threatened Syria with a death toll as a high as that of resumed military confrontation. However, the actual scale of the infection rate turned out to be less than it was expected considering the circumstances.

Although Syria did not have much in resources to mobilize, unlike some other countries that were slow to enforce restrictions or ignored them altogether, the Syrian authorities did not waste time to introduce basic measures that, as it became obvious in hindsight, proved to be the most effective. A quarantine was instituted in the areas controlled by the government, all transportation between the provinces was suspended, schools and universities were temporarily closed and face masks were made obligatory in public spaces.

As a result, official data puts the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the government areas at modest 4,457 while 192 people died of the infection. In turn, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria announced that 1,998 people contracted the virus. The data on the infection rate in the opposition-controlled areas in Idlib and Aleppo is incomplete, but the latest number is 1,072. Compared to the neighboring Turkey with  9,000 of deaths of COVID-19, Syria seems to be doing relatively well.

Tackling the virus put the already embattled health care system under enormous strain. Syrian doctors are dealing with an acute shortage of medicines and equipment, and even hospital beds are in short supply. Over 60 medical workers who treated COVID-19 patients died.

The situation is worsened even further by the economic hardships, not least due to the sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.S. and the European states. Syrian hospitals are unable to procure modern equipment necessary for adequate treatment of COVID-19, most importantly test kits and ventilators.

The economic collapse exposed and aggravated many vulnerabilities that could have been easily treated under more favorable circumstances. A grim, yet fitting example: long queues in front of bakeries selling bread at subsidised prices, that put people under the risk of catching the virus. Many Syrians are simply unable to avoid risking their health in these queues, as an average income is no longer enough to provide for a family.

Moreover, despite a nation-wide information campaign conducted with the goal of spreading awareness about means of protections against COVID-19 like social distancing and mask-wearing, for many Syrians the disease is still stigmatized, and those who contracted it are often too ashamed to go to a hospital or even confess to their friends. As consequence, a substantial number of cases goes unreported.

With the second wave of COVID-19 in sight, it is of utmost importance that the work of health care professionals is supported, not subverted by the citizens. Otherwise Syria – and the world – may pay too high a price.

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