SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region - Iraq is on the way to becoming a failed state, warned Fuad Hussein, chief of staff of Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani. “Iraq, maybe, has the last chance to build a democracy. But the main problem now is that Iraqis do not understand what democracy is.”
Hussein spoke at the second annual Sulaimani Forum of the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani (AUIS), where politicians and academics shared thoughts about the challenges in the Middle East.
He pointed out that the present conflict between the autonomous Kurdistan Region and the central Iraqi government in Baghdad about oil revenues and budget cuts is a crisis for democracy, because it involves a growing concentration of power in the central government, which is contrary to democratic rule.
The crisis “is about how to deal with the principle (of democracy), and how to make decisions of the federal government and security,” he said.
Many in Iraq have looked at democracy as something Western that they did not want, he said. That resulted in Iraq having no national parties that organize all Iraqis, independent of their personal background.
“The main parties in Iraq are based on religion. They want to go back to jihad and religious wars, to follow (the Shite saint) Hussein and to impose their ideology on others. This is a catastrophe,” he warned.
“To access democracy, we must try to make a balance of power, and not deny the rights of the entities. The culture of democracy is related to respecting each other.”
Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, like Fuad Hussein a political scientist, had pointed to the importance for states to respect all individuals. “Those who do not cannot survive.”
He called sectarianism “a big trap that makes us slaves of a bad background. Successful regimes in history all were multicultural states. We have to find a way that everyone can win, because if we are competing against each other we will all lose.”
Davutoglu added that states should provide security without interfering in freedom.
He said states face two major challenges: One is to create a sense of belonging and equality for all citizens, and the other is governance.
“People, and most importantly young people, must have a sense of belonging, of citizenship. States that do not create it cannot survive. There should be no discrimination and all should be equal.”
The minister, who was greeted by warm applause a number of times, reminded the audience how in Turkey it was thought that if the Kurds would be acknowledged, this would affect the unity of the state. And how the recent developments of more Kurdish rights and a peace deal with the Kurdish resistance had not had this effect.
“If you have enemies around you, you cannot survive. If you have all friends, there are no domestic or external threats. So we have only friends, or potential friends.”
Davutoglu made history by opening his speech with a few sentences in Kurdish. Only a few years ago, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to use the name “Kurdistan” when he opened the Turkish consulate in Erbil, referring to it time and again as ‘Erbil’.
Airlines that carried the name Kurdistan were not allowed to use Turkish airports or airspace. Books and magazines printed in Kurdish would be confiscated if found at Turkish border posts and airports.
Davutoglu said he spoke “from my heart to your heart.” He went on to say that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who has been in Germany since suffering a stroke more than a year ago, was badly missed. He remembered him as “one of the wisest people of the region.”
The second challenge Davutoglu mentioned was governance. He explained that states that do not function cannot guarantee safety, security and freedom.
“In rising states, the leadership has vision, can motivate people for a common vision and has the ability to discuss issues.”
Without referring to Davutoglu’s speech, Hussein complained that Kurds feel that in the Iraqi state they have no real partners. And yet, “the Kurds were the pillars of the Iraqi democracy. It is in their interests that they feel secure towards Baghdad,” he said, referring to the Kurdish history of suppression and struggle.
He added that he saw no real progress in the past 10 years. “We have to find solutions for the present problems. Even when you have an incomplete democracy, you still have to tackle all the problems.”
Hussein suggested, as a way forward, to “go back to the constitution, and back to the entities. We have to get a balance on the issues of authority, natural resources, budgets.”