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Rudaw

Kurdistan

Kurdistan Region: Local Elections Global Impact

By 19/9/2013
Members of Kurdistan's security forces searching their names on the Election Commission's voter rolls outside a polling station in Erbil, September 19, 2013. Photo: Rudaw
Members of Kurdistan's security forces searching their names on the Election Commission's voter rolls outside a polling station in Erbil, September 19, 2013. Photo: Rudaw

 

By Anwar Faruqi

Oil, geography and this moment in time make Saturday’s legislative elections in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region globally important.

Together with the rest of Iraq this three-province enclave in the north, where five million Iraqi Kurds have exercised self-rule since 1992, is sitting on the petroleum fields that world markets are counting on to assuage fears of a future oil shortage.

Because of decades of war and conflict that devastated Iraq’s Kurds and their ancestral lands, but meant that their oil stayed largely unexplored and underground, this is the place that the world’s last barrel of oil may come from – or so some experts say.

In a report earlier this year London’s authoritative Financial Times newspaper described the Kurdistan Region as “one of the biggest draws in the energy industry.” It called Kurdistan, “Big Oil’s hottest real estate.”

Saturday’s elections for the 111-seat Kurdish assembly will determine the shape of the government which, over the next four years, will take the decisions that will have a regional and global impact.

  Here, peace is disturbed not by bullets and roadside bombs but by the more familiar sights and sounds of a rocket economy,  

 

Over this period oil production will rise nearly tenfold to two million barrels-per-day (bpd); Baghdad-Erbil relations will plummet further as Erbil continues to ignore Baghdad and starts selling crude to – and via – Turkey through a new pipeline that its Norwegian builder says is almost finished; the war in Syria has already stepped beyond Kurdistan’s doorstep, with some 200,000 Syrian Kurds washed in across the border, nearly 50,000 of them in a massive wave just last month.

Tensions between Baghdad and Erbil have already come close to snapping. Last year the two were almost at war over control of Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic Iraqi province touching Kurdistan’s southern border and at the centerpiece of a row over vast tracts of disputed territories that both the Kurds and Arabs claim.

For the future government, Kirkuk will remain the Gordian knot of Erbil-Baghdad relations. If Baghdad and Erbil go to war, many say the flashpoint will be Kirkuk; here are Iraq’s richest oil fields, by some estimates a whopping 7 percent of world oil reserves. Because of its oil wealth, some believe that Kirkuk is the prize that Baghdad may accept to let the Kurds blow the horns of  independence instead of the drumbeats of war.

But it is not easy for any Kurdish government to give up Kirkuk. If this is a prize for Baghdad, for the Kurds it is seen as their Jerusalem, the capital of a future homeland.

At this historical juncture, Iraq’s Kurds are closer than they have ever been to having their own state – an aspiration shared by nearly all of the world’s 30 million Kurds, who are scattered at the crossroads of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran.

While the rest of Iraq drowns in violence to the south and to the west Syria spins out of control in a complex and dangerous civil war, Iraqi Kurds live in the country’s only peaceful oasis.

Here, peace is disturbed not by bullets and roadside bombs but by the more familiar sights and sounds of a rocket economy: Glass towers, and a forest of construction cranes building more of the same; flights from Dubai, Doha and Europe disgorging swarms of expectant foreign businessmen at Erbil’s new and modern international airport; supermarkets stocked with chocolates and cheeses from Europe and run by workers from the Indian subcontinent.

Before the world, Iraqi Kurds and their leaders remain proud of elections in Kurdistan that have been internationally hailed as the entire region’s only successful experiment in democracy – however imperfect.

Many believe that Kurdish autonomy was the only good outcome of the 2003 US-led invasion.

  The world may not take much notice of who wins Kurdistan’s elections on Saturday. But the repercussions of what happens there over the next four years will certainly be felt around the globe. 

 

The elections are largely a race that will determine whether the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) remain as uneasy partners in the KRG.

Out to rupture that partnership is the Change Movement (Gorran), the novice opposition that has fought only one other legislative election, in 2009, shortly after breaking away from the PUK. But in those polls it won a stunning 25 seats, not far shy of the PUK’s own 29 seats and the KDP’s 30.

Saturday’s elections take place despite complaints by the PUK and the opposition of serious issues such as outdated voter rolls. The PUK has sided with the opposition over claims that only 440 names of the 90,000 people who have died since March 2009 have been removed from the voter registry.

Whatever happens at the polls and whoever is declared victorious, the next Kurdish government will be dealing with the continuing fallout of the war in Syria, whose dangers go far beyond the worry over more refugees. The real worry is over Kurdistan getting sucked into the conflict.

So far, Syria’s more than two million Kurds have remained largely neutral in the war between the main opposition Free Syrian Army and the regime of President Bashar Assad that the rebels want to topple.

Into the void that was created when Assad’s forces pulled out of the northern Kurdish regions of Syria, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) has stepped in, emerging as the dominant and controlling force in Syrian Kurdistan.

But the PYD is really the Syrian wing of the militant and powerful Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. It is deeply distrusted by the other Kurdish groups, and has stymied all efforts at unity among the different Syrian Kurdish groups, including an initiative by Kurdistan Region President Massoud  Barzani.

Barzani has pledged to step in and protect Syrian Kurds if there is need – and the PYD has warned that it needs no outside help in the vast Kurdish regions it controls.

The world may not take much notice of who wins Kurdistan’s elections on Saturday. But the repercussions of what happens there over the next four years will certainly be felt around the globe.

 

Comments

 
Reader | 19/9/2013
This is a very good analysis of the Kurdish elections and Kurdistan's current position in the world.
Alex | 19/9/2013
It is true. It is hard to imagine that the Kurds will ever let go of Kirkuk. Iraq's ties to Kirkuk is political, but the Kurds' is cultural, historical, geographic and sentimental. Why do the Iraqis want Kirkuk anyway? To riddle with sectarian war and make it a slum city like Najaf and Karabala and all the southern cities?
Atheist | 20/9/2013
The mere fact that Kurds vote is a milestone achievement. It is a poignant moment in our history, for so many brave men and women fought and paid the ultimate price, their life, for the realization of this moment in our history. As we head to the polls we must remember that we are walking on the shoulders of those heroes and honor their sacrifice and celebrate their courage. Lest we forget!
alan Qadir | 23/9/2013
I love Kurdistan and wish you independent from all parts, I hope to see this before I die :)
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