On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ventured to the Kurdish autonomous region for the first time in years and promised to settle disputes that have threatened Iraq’s stability.
The Kurds want to expand the autonomous region to include oil-rich Kirkuk. Ahead of the July 25 elections that returned him to power, Kurdish President Massoud Barzani vowed never to “compromise” on this sticking point.
The U.S. has put pressure on Iraqi and Kurdish leaders to resolve their issues prior to U.S. withdrawal.
But as Worldfocus contributing blogger Eric Davis writes, for many young Iraqi Kurds, divisions are rooted less in historical Kurdish-Arab relations and more in economic disparity.
As analysts continue to focus on Iraq’s ethnic divisions, they consistently fail to ask the very simple but important question: why do such divisions exist? Assuming that none of us believe in sociobiology, namely that Arabs and Kurds (and other Iraqi ethnic groups) emerge from the womb disliking or even hating each other, the core question of what drives ethnic divisions in Iraq needs to be raised. Unfortunately, it rarely is, in part because analysts continue to concentrate on elites, to the detriment of studying public opinion and non-elite political parties and civil society organizations.
The recent Kurdish Regional Government (K.R.G.) Assembly Elections, that were held on July 25th, demonstrated that most Kurds are less worried about Iraq’s Arabs to the south than the lack of jobs in Iraq’s 3 northern Kurdish provinces and the pervasive corruption and autocracy that characterizes the two parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (K.D.P.), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (P.U.K.), that have ruled the semi-autonomous K.R.G. since the U.S. imposed a “No-Fly Zone” in 1991.
Because analysts largely ignore the political economy of Iraqi Kurdistan (and that of the south as well), they have little to say about the underlying dynamics of Kurdish politics. […]
All interviews indicate that Kurds are fed up with the corruption and authoritarian rule of the K.R.G., presided over by president and K.D.P. leader, Masoud Barzani. Despite the fact that Masoud Barzani’s father, Mullah Mustafa, still holds almost mythic status among older Kurds for his efforts to achieve an independent Kurdish state in the late 1940s and after, younger Kurds are more concerned with jobs and the ability to express themselves than with a history that none of them experienced. […]
Indeed, this was what I discovered when I visited the K.R.G. Few Kurds were concerned with Arab-Kurdish relations. In my research in the north I discovered that many young Arabs who have moved with their families to the north, as a result of sectarian violence in the south, have made friendships with young Kurds without any problems. A delegation of Iraqi youth that recently visited the U.S. was comprised of many young Kurds who also indicated that they had no difficulty forming friendships with Arabs their own age when I spoke with them. While Kurdish-Arab relations does not seem high on the agenda of most Kurds, virtually all complained about corruption and lack of jobs.
Indeed, I found many professionals, including lawyers and engineers, who were forced to take second jobs to support their families. With the proceeds from oil contracts known to be divided 3 ways, between the K.R.G., foreign investors and “other,” Kurds completely understand the extent to which oil wealth is taken from the public purse for illegitimate ends. On the political side, Kurds implored me not to return to the U.S. and speak of “Kurdish democracy,” since they argued that civil society organizations require a government permit and that K.R.G. officials are constantly looking over the shoulders of all members of such organizations to monitor their activities.
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