By JUDIT NEURINK
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Ten years after the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein Iraq is in chaos and heading toward a possible civil war, warns Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the autonomous Kurdistan Region that for a decade has remained an enclave of relative peace and economic growth.
He makes no qualms about who is to blame: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose Shiite-led government is locked in potentially explosive rows with both the Kurds and Sunnis.
“The current political crisis in Iraq is a direct result of the concerns throughout the country that Iraq, under the policies of Prime Minister Maliki, is deviating from its constitution, and the country’s founding principles of consensus and pluralism,” Barzani told Rudaw.
“Most of Iraq’s ethnic and religious factions are dissatisfied with Mr. Maliki’s performance,” Barzani said. “The political process in Iraq is at a critical stage. Regrettably, unilateral actions from the federal government seriously question the intention of the Iraqi prime minister,” he said.
The Kurds have been incensed at Maliki, and Barzani’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was even warning of war last December, after the premier dispatched the newly-formed and controversial Dijla forces into disputed northern territories that have been under the administration and command of the Kurds.
For the KRG, the last straw came when Maliki’s government railroaded through parliament the 2013 budget, which ignored Kurdish objections to their annual share.
Meanwhile, Maliki’s other battlefront has been the large Sunni minority, which demands better treatment by the fellow Arab but Shiite government.
All of the Kurdish and most of the Sunni ministers have for weeks boycotted Maliki’s government.
The political process in Iraq is at a critical stage. Regrettably, unilateral actions from the federal government seriously question the intention of the Iraqi prime minister
“We favor a peaceful solution out of this crisis, through dialogue and negotiation in adherence to the constitution,” Barzani said. “We encourage all Iraqi factions to try to work together for the benefit of the whole country and not just one constituent component of the country,” he added.
Kurdish leaders have consistently tried to bring Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites closer together, and will continue to do so, Barzani said.
But Sunni protesters that have been taking to the streets for over three months do not see any results. Every Friday around 25,000 people come to Tahrir Square in Mosul, and on weekdays they number between 3,000 and 5,000. They constitute “farmers, doctors, lawyers, the jobless, and former military personnel,” says Ghanib Al-Abid, one of the organizers of the demonstrations in Mosul.
The same happens in most other Sunni towns in Iraq. Because of this, the provincial April 20 elections have been postponed in the most restless provinces of Nineveh and Anbar.
The protests began over crackdowns by Maliki on Sunni political leaders, but have been fuelled by Sunni anger about evictions from government and security jobs, and the number of Sunnis in prison.
In total some 180,000 Sunnis are in prison, many without charges, among them many women, who were picked up to force husbands, brothers or fathers to turn themselves in for “terrorism” investigations, Sunni leaders charge.
“We do not get into the academies for police, army and the security forces, and not into jobs either -- hardly into any jobs with the government,” Abid complained.
“That’s why they all come to Tahrir Square,” he said, agreeing that the free daily lunches served to the crowd – among them many jobless -- help swell numbers.
Abid shrugs his shoulders over reports that the former Baath party or Al-Qaeda supporters are behind the protests, or that neighboring countries are supporting them.
“If the Saudi’s would send money, we would not refuse it. But this is all paid by the community itself,’’ he said, vowing that the protests will not stop.
“We will continue. We cannot stop, because then they will persecute us for terrorism,” Abid said.
“The government has no policy or vision. It does not know how to react to this,” Abid said, adding that he fears Maliki will eventually resort to violence to retain control.
“I do not like blood,” Abid said. “But if Maliki wants to use weapons, we are ready.
“If civil war breaks out in Iraq, the Kurds will not partake in it,” Barzani vowed. “We will do our best to prevent such a thing from happening.”