Nawshirwan Mustafa: The Kurdish House Will Not Be Put in Order Through Social Niceties

  • 19/01/2012 00:00:00

Interview by Hoshyar Abdulla

Nawshirwan Mustafa Amin, General Coordinator of Gorran Movement, in a reference to the recent developments in Iraq said “Iraqi Kurds are part of the state of Iraq. Kurdistan region is still a region within the framework of Iraq. Whatever happens in Iraq affects us no doubts”. In an interview in Face to Face programme recorded for Kurdistan News Network TV (KNN), he also asserted that “It is possible for the Kurds to be a mediator as well as a party to the conflict.” He also criticised the Kurdish leadership in his talk with Hoshyar Abdulla, the presenter of the programme, that “In the past few years they have been successful in obtaining very high ranking portfolios and in securing a great deal of funds. But they have not been able to bring one inch of the Kurdish territories that falls outside Kurdistan Region into our domain”. He also advocates that the Syrian regime is akin to the Iraqi Ba’tghist regime and all Kurds would benefit from its demise. Below is the full transcription of the inetrveiw.

KNN: let us start with the withdrawal of the American forces from Iraq. You could say that it has plunged Iraq into a whirlwind of change. Where do you see Iraq as a whole and the Kurds on particular heading as a result of this?

NMA: when the Americans came to the region they dismantled one of the most brutal regimes in the world. Only after their arrival that for the first time a sort of free election took place in Iraq. A constitution was adopted that, up to a certain degree, honoured human rights and enshrined the rights of the Kurdish people. The economic embargo was lifted and many similar things happened that could be considered as great gains for the Iraqi people. But, upon their departure now, they are leaving behind a country that is ethnically divided and is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. They’re leaving behind a failed state that has not been able to provide basic services for the population, especially electric and water supplies and livelihood. They’re also leaving behind a country with many fissures, such as the conflict between the Sunni and Shia, the conflict between the Kurds and the central government and many similar problems that are festering. We are in the midst of these events. We are part of the state of Iraq. Kurdistan region is still a region within the framework of Iraq. Whatever happens in Iraq, beit corruption our terrorism, affects us no doubts. We are in the midst of all this. Until now our disputes with the central government which are reflected in the conflicts over territories, wealth and power, remain largely unresolved

KNN: One of the developments that rapidly and visibly spiralled in the wake of the American withdrawal was the conflict between [P.M] Maliki and [Vice President] Hashimi, which many regard as an extension of the conflict between the Shias and the Sunnis. How would this affect the Kurds?

MNA: The Iraqi Arabs are divided into two sectarian groups. When the media mention the Sunni, they mean Sunni Arabs. And when they talk about the Shia they are alluding to the Shia Arabs. And when they refer to the Kurds they regard them as separate from the other two groups. We are not regarded as Shia or Sunni, because our identity is our ethnicity. Our concerns are also ethnic and not sectarian ones. The conflict between the Shia and the Sunni is a deep and ancient one that has only began to reflect on the functioning of the government, which in turn would affect us. We, Kurds, have our own share of problems with either group. We don’t have conflicts, but we do have issues. Our issues with the Sunnis are related to territories. Most of the [Kurdish] territories that still remain outside the boundaries of [Kurdistan] region fall in areas under Sunni control, such as Mousil, Salahaddin (Tekrit) and Dyala, where the majority of the population are Sunni Arab. For example, in Mousil we wish for the district of Shangar and other areas to be added to Kurdistan Region. In Salahaddin we would like to see Dozkhormatoo added to Kurdistan Region. In Dyala we would like Khanaqeen to be added to Kurdistan Region. We would like Kirkuk to be returned to Kurdistan Region. In these provinces our issues with the Sunnis are about territories. But at the same time we have issues with the central government, which is under the Shia control. These issues are about the distribution of [Iraqi] wealth and power. Usually, Federal states tend to be established on the bases of dividing authority, wealth and territories. Every Federal entity has geographical boundaries. Every Federal entity has claims to a portion of the wealth of the state and some of the power it exerts, both at central level and at regional level. We have disputes over these issues with both Shia and Sunnis.

KNN: What direction did the policies of the Kurdish leadership took in the recent months? There is an impression, as you have mentioned, that Kurds have issues with both parties of the conflict. The question is whether Kurds are a mediator or party to the conflict?

NMA: It is possible to be both at the same time. It is possible to be a mediator and also a party to the conflict at the same time. Kurds have issues with both sides, but we still have mediated between them, sometimes even on the expense of our own national interests. It is time to integrate the solutions to the issues that we have dispute about with the Shia and the Sunnis of Iraq, in any peaceful settlement that includes the three factions. I mean Kurds are mediating to achieve this settlement. It is only right that we include our concerns too so we arrive at a settlement that would radically resolve the problems. As we try to resolve the Shia Arab-Sunni Arab disputes, we should also try to resolve the Kurds-Sunni and Kurds-Shia disputes too. We can integrate it into the comprehensive settlement of the problems of Iraq.

KNN: Do you think that the Kurds benefited from the role of mediator in the past?

NMA: Iraq as a whole might have benefited, but not the Kurds in isolation. They have received not much more than “Well-done” gestures. On the contrary, some of the Arabs in Iraq have reached a conclusion that the Kurds are an opportunistic nation that is taking advantage of the Sunni-Shia conflict. The mediation has adversely affected our standing in some circles of the Arab society, instead of benefitting us.

KNN: The fragmentation of Kurdish politics is reflected in the Kurdish approach. Which faction of the Shia or the Sunni is aligned closer to the Kurds? With which faction should we be closely aligned to?

NMA: I don’t believe that strategic alignments between nations could be static. We could trace several phases in these relationships. At the times when we were fighting the Ba’thist regime, the Shias were also fighting the same regime. Therefore, inevitably we had common goals and common interests. This enabled us to work together to attain the common goal, which was the overthrow of Saddam’s regime in Iraq. In that period the Kurds found themselves close to the Shia as the Shia found themselves close to the Kurds. In the post Saddam period, the Shia were still fragile. The Constitution wasn’t adopted then. In that period too the Shia’s perspectives were similar to those of the Kurds. They were of the opinion that there should be a decentralised government in Iraq. They didn’t want a central government in Iraq that would be capable of oppressing the Iraqi people once again. They wanted federalism and Parliamentary system. But as time passed, the balance of power shifted. Now the Shias are the strongest faction and the rulers of Iraq. But it is not in our interest to be aligned with either one against the other. On the contrary, we should keep equal distance from both sides.

KNN: You suggested that we have disputes over authority with the Shias and disputes over territories with the Sunnis. Which one was the priority for the Kurdish leadership in the past?

NMA: The Kurdish political leadership has concentrated on money and government portfolios. In the past few years they have been successful in obtaining very high ranking portfolios and in securing a great deal of funds. But they have not been able to bring one inch of the Kurdish territories that falls outside Kurdistan Region into our domain.

KNN: If the priority of the Kurdish leadership has in the past been about power while the solution to the Kurdish issues has fallen beyond our reach, what is the solution for this conundrum?

NMA: The solution for this conundrum is to transform the relationship that exist between Kurdistan Region and Baghdad government from a relationship between one or two political parties with Baghdad, to a relationship between a nation and the centre. It is true that we have obtained many important portfolios, indeed the two parties have. But I don’t feel that we are truly equal partners in the Iraqi political decision making process. The issues that we raised when the Iraqi constitution was being drafted were not only to acquire high ranking portfolios and a fair share of the budget of Iraq. And more important than all that. Throughout the history of the state of Iraq the Kurds were excluded from the political decision making process in Iraq, on matters of relationship with the neighbouring countries, or on the way Iraq was governed. I don’t feel that the Kurds are real partners in the political decision making process. To remedy this we have suggested the setting up of a commission, in line with the score of independent commissions and government bodies that exists in Iraq, even in Kurdistan there are many commissions such as the Commission for Probity, Financial Audit Commission, Human Rights Commission, and they are in the process of setting a commission for the elections. We believe that in order to transform the relation between Kurdistan Region and Baghdad to become the Nation’s relationship with the centre, we must set up a special commission that would enjoy the support of the whole nation, that Kurdistan Parliament approves it and holds it accountable. This commission should have two purposes; first, to be the conduit for all negotiations with the Central Government in Baghdad. Second, to monitor and direct our representatives in Baghdad, all those who hold executive portfolios, Kurdish members of the Iraqi parliament and ministers in the Central Government. This commission should be independent and professional. The composition of the commission is not an issue that we should duel upon. We don’t mind that if all of the membership consist of members of the Polit Bureaux of the parties. What is important is that they should be competent people, that they enjoy the support of all parties and that they would be accountable to the Parliament. This is instead of the current arrangement whereby in the occasions when there are problems brewing between Kurdistan Region and the Central Government in Baghdad, delegations of the two Kurdish political parties go there, but no one knows what they do, say or agree upon. I mean a commission should be set up to lead the negotiations with the Central Government in Baghdad and to be accountable to Kurdistan Parliament, who would enquire about their conduct and receive their reports about their work. We don’t mind if the membership consists only of members of the parties Polit Bureaux.

KNN; The reasons for the failure of the Kurds to properly partake in the decision making in Iraq include the two reasons that you have outlined. But surely there are other factors playing here. Our representatives are not performing well in Baghdad, nor are they held accountable for that failure here in Kurdistan. Why is that?

NMA: This is attributed to the inherent failure in the political system in Kurdistan Region. This is due to the fact that the governing system that is prevailing in Iraqi Kurdistan is outdated and doesn’t concur with this age and time. It is a primitive monopoly of single party rule. There is a single party rule in this province [Sulaimani], and another single party rule in Erbil and Dohuk. This failure is attributable to this defect in the political system that prevails in our country.

KNN: Baghdad was the source of the greatest threat to the Kurdish pathway, the Kurdish struggle in Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Do you think that Baghdad is still pauses a threat or has this receded?

NMA: We can never eliminate threats. Even great nations of the world, such as USA with all its might, China, Great Britain and Russia, with all of their respective might, all of whom posses nuclear weapons, enjoy advance levels of development, vast populations and all are regarded as great powers, even these nations take account of their internal and external threats when they prepare their security plans. Even they have to recognise what threatens their own interests. And it is not necessary for it to be just political threat. There are natural causes too. It could be a flood, tsunami, plague, cholera pandemic or Aids epidemic. These events could also be counted as threats. What I can see in Iraq, I do not perceive that there is a real threat of genocide hanging over Iraqi Kurdistan. I don’t believe that another Halabja or Anfal could take place. I don’t believe that the Iraqi Army, for now and for many years to come, could be able to re-invade Kurdistan and to occupy the mountains like the Ba’thist regime did. The Bathists regime utilised the Iraqi army with an arsenal that was accumulated over 70-80 years and was already occupying all of Kurdistan’s mountains. Therefore, none of these atrocities would occur, especially not by a government that is wholly preoccupied by its own problems. I believe that the real threats to us lurk within us. If we manage to defuse the internal threats by resolving the internal problems, if we spread harmony and tranquillity amongst our own people, if we achieve a form of social justice, if we perform radical reforms to the political system of our country, then we will be so strong that we would be able to deal with whatever external threat we have to face. If we confront these external threats in unison, whether they come from Iraq (from Baghdad), from the neighbouring countries or any other place in the world, we will be able to stand up to it and combat it. In my view our priority should be concentrated on resolving the internal threats, which threatens our peace, harmony and cohesion.

KNN: These views are in direct contrast to the views of the political rulers of Kurdistan. They argue that we should set our internal concerns aside and concentrate on the external threats.

NMA: That is true. But that is only an excuse to ensure that they govern the country for ever.

KNN: So you believe that the threats are all internals and there are no external threats. Is in that in direct contrast to what you said in 2003 when you argued that the great battle for Kurdish cause was in Baghdad, especially you were one of the Kurdish leading delegation in Baghdad that was involved in the drafting of the constitution and defending the rights of the Kurdish people?

NMA: Twenty years have passed since the establishment of Kurdistan Region, which went through several phases. The first phase was filling the political and administrative vacuum that was left in the wake of the withdrawal of the Ba’thist regime. The second phase was the infighting (civil war). Another phase was the drafting of the Iraq Constitution. Each phase would have its own priorities and I have spoken and written about this question several times. The phase we were supposed to be united and demand the Kurdish rights in one unison voice was the phase of drafting the Iraqi Constitution. Enshrining our rights in the Permanent Constitution, no doubt, was the priority at this stage and all efforts was expected to concentrate on this task, while every other consideration had to be rescinded to lower attention. But now the priority has to shift. It is no longer about drafting the constitution, since it has been adopted. At this juncture the priority has to be about resolving the thorny issues within Kurdistan Region.

KNN: Some argue that, just as drafting the constitution required a struggle, the implementation of it equally needs to be fought for. Therefore, they regard the source of the threats are still to be coming from Baghdad?

NMA: To be able to wage that fight they have to bring about unity in Kurdistan Region. They have to have to achieve social peace, social justices and to draft a proper constitution.

KNN: Suppose that this is the ultimate capability of the Kurdish ruling elite in Iraq, suppose that this is all they can attain in the current circumstances of Iraq. What is the opposition’s alternative plan to formulate an effective voice to demand the Rights of the Kurds and attain those rights that are still remaining unfulfilled in Iraq?

NMA: I said it. We propose the setting up of an independent and professional commission especially for that purpose. I’ve answered your question.

KNN: You have argued that, in order to attain the goal of implementing the constitution we need to unify the Kurdish House first so we could have a unified voice and a common objective. How, in your view, should we organise the Kurdish House?

NMA: We believe that, first and foremost, we ought to draft a proper constitution for Kurdistan Region, one that would enjoy the support of the nation. Let us take stock of what is happening in the neighbouring countries. The great struggle in Egypt now is about the Constitution. The great struggles in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Syria now are all about the Constitution. All of these nations are busy drafting new constitutions for their own countries. Why do we have to resort to imposing a kind of constitution on our own people that would compel us to protest against it year on year, demanding to change it. Let us agree on a constitution that would not need any amendment for decades and generations to come. We start from here. If we have a good constitution that properly organises the government of Kurdistan Region, that separate the authorities that transform the Judiciary, legislative and executive powers from being phony powers to genuinely exercised powers by granting it independence. I believe that a constitution like that would organise the Kurdish House, for it would not be put in order through rhetoric and social niceties.

KNN: Let us talk about the reform proposals. In the wake of the opposition’s summit you have once again confirmed that the implementation of the six- package reform proposals as a precondition. The question is whether this is your uncompromising pathway in dealing with the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan?

NMA: We have had series of meetings, during which I believe we have said in the last meeting exactly what we have said initially in the first one. Kurdistan Parliament has issued several executive decisions [in March 2011]. The Region’s Presidency has also produced several executive decisions [also in March 2011]. We, on our part submitted a six-package proposal [in May 2011]. Yet we have not witnessed any single one of these decisions to be implemented in the past few months. So what is the point of further meetings? What can we do there? We have to reiterate the same statements that were uttered in the past. No one has prevented them from implement the decisions of the Presidency or the Parliament, which I believe are referred to as proclamations number 1 and 2.

The proposals that we have submitted are about building a modern state and modern government. None of it is for ourselves. Instead of implementing those decisions, they provoke bickering quarrels by keep producing counter proposals. We can see no earnest desire to introduce profound and radical reform in Kurdistan.

KNN: You are still demanding radical reforms?

NMA: Yes we will always demand it

KNN: There is a view, could be the view of the rulers of Kurdistan, which argues that reforms are not easy things to do. Reforms require time and preparations. It will not happen in the “Let there be light” fashion as the opposition is demanding. What do you say to that?

KNN: I think this is an insult to people’s intelligence and disregard to their interests. Even those who live in the wilderness of central Africa know the difference between hot and cold weathers, or between right and wrong, or health and ill-health. Why then those who make these arguments are able to obtain the latest computer technologies and utilise it? Why can they bring the latest model and most prestigious car in the world and drive it around here? Why can they, according to their own assertions, import the latest development in education systems and set it up here. How come they can import the most advanced healthcare facilities and set it up in our hospitals? If the Kurdish intelligence is such that it is capable of implementing the latest education and healthcare systems, if it is able to utilise the latest computer, video, television and cars, then no doubt it is capable of implementing an advanced political system in their own country too. This is taking the Mickey. In fact our people are very well educated. We have more than 100,000 teachers. We have tens of thousands of medical doctors, engineers, lawyers, judges and entrepreneurs. We have intelligent and wise people amongst us. Our people have reached a stage where they could enjoy a proper political system. The people who hold these views believe in totalitarian parties. Usually, totalitarian parties believe that the ordinary people are ignorant and idiots. They believe that the people need a Vanguard Party. Within the Vanguard Party they need a leadership. And within the leadership they need a Polit Bureau. And within that they need a leader who points the way forward. This insult to people’s intelligence stems from the mentality of advocating for the totalitarian party. Otherwise, as I said, our people just like other nations in the world, are capable of governing themselves according to the most advanced political model. We do not need to start from scratch.

KNN: Not only on reforms, there is a similar view about democracy. They argue that democracy in Kurdistan require preparatory work. The rulers of Kurdistan argue that we are passing through a temporary and transitional phase, that we are still at our beginning. They say the beginning starts from kindergarten phase not from the Parliament and other institutions. There is a view like this.

NMA: These are the views of those people who would want to rule this country forever through to their grandsons.

KNN: You said that you will continue demanding radical reforms. But there is a perception emerging that there is a form of normalisation taking place between you and the ruling parties. Is this an indication of you relenting in your serious demands for radical reforms in Kurdistan Region? Or is it because it is a tranquil period?

NMA: Have you ever heard or felt that we have abandoned our demands? Have you?

KNN: No I haven’t, but this is a question that is in people’s mind. Compare to when you were engaged in a bitter confrontation in the past, it feels that right now the situation has somewhat normalised. Let me ask the question in a different way. Who was responsible for the past confrontation? Why is the condition normal now?

NMA: We very much like the situation to be normal and tranquil. The democratisation of Kurdistan Region would be achieved better in a tranquil environment. As for the confrontation, we were not the party that created the tensions. We had no prisons to imprison anyone. We have no Asayish (Security Police) to arrest anybody. We have no control over any government institutions to sack workers from and to cut their livelihood (income). These are the measures that generate tensions. They, the other side, have arrested individuals, cut worker’s livelihoods, physically assaulted individuals, imprisoned and kidnapped others. This is what caused the tension. When this disappeared we happily see peace and tranquillity is prevailing.

KNN: There is a body of view suggesting the possibility of the opposition participating in the seventh cabinet.

NMA: In our view change in personnel is not important. It is not important to us who is coming or who is going, who is becoming the Prime Minister and who is becoming a minister. Our quarrel is not about individuals but it is about governing system and the political system of this country. That is why it is not important who is in government. We have submitted our six-package proposals and are waiting to see someone would implement all, some, or even a better set of packages than our proposals. That is what really important to us.

KNN: With regard to outside Kurdistan Region, I would like to ask you about the condition of the Kurdish people in Northern Kurdistan and Western Kurdistan. What are your thoughts about the struggle of the Kurdish people in Northern Kurdistan?

NMA: With regard to Northern Kurdistan, since its inception, the Turkish modern state has denied the existence of the Kurdish people. In the past 70-80 years they have adopted the oppressive approach, the security approach, the military approach. Whenever a sign of a movement or anything like that appears, they have mobilised their army and attacked them, killed and exterminated them. They have committed genocide against them. Now, they have learnt through experience that the military and police solutions can never solve the Kurdish problem. The only solution for the Kurdish problem in Turkey is for Turkey to acknowledge the Kurdish national identity within Turkey and to safeguard the rights of the Kurdish people. That is the only way to solve it. Otherwise, even if they mobiles the entire Turkish army and resort to chemical weapons, at the end, they have to acknowledge the existence of Kurds and their entitlement to their rights and seek that solution.

As for Syria, We regard the current regime that rules Syria as akin to the Ba’thist regime of Iraq. Therefore, if this regime falls and is replaced with another regime, even if the new one is more hostile than the current one, it would not be more dangerous to the Kurds. Whatever replaces that current one would not turn up to be worse. Therefore, the collapse and demise of the Ba’thist regime in Syria will not only be in the interest of the Syrian Kurds but for the entire Kurdish nation.

KNN: Away from politics, I have heard that you are about to publish a new book titled “Reaping Flowers While Strolling” can you tell us about it?

NMA: Yes, even though this is not related to our discussions. As you know, I have spent all my life in politics and have had little time for anything else. Given the choice, I might have chosen a different path if it wasn’t for the pressures that I endured. Whenever I find a free moment, just like those who take hunting or swimming or socialising as hobbies, I have taken to reading literature in those free moments. I have cherished our poets’ Diwans (poetry books) since my teenage and adolescence years and enjoyed reading it. Every time I found a free moment I use it in that way. The book is about this. It has very little to do with politics.

KNN: Can you briefly describe its content?

NMA: The book consists of several chapters. In one of them I have attempted to tackle the self-alienation of the Kurds, from the land and the surrounding. Kurds consider themselves to be aliens from the history and the geography of the region. This alienation is caused by the occupation and subjugation of the Kurds for such a long period in their history. I have tried to propagate that we are the true owners of the land, of the mountains and of the historic legacies of the region. I have tried to translate sections of Mesopotamia literature into Kurdish language. In another section I have tackled aspects of the history of my people. A big part of the history of my people is in its literature. I believe that there has been three schools of Kurdish literature; the Northern Kurmanji school, represented by Malai Jiziri, Ahmadi Khani, Malai Bati and others. The Goran school; represented by Khanai Qubadi, Bisarani and Mirza Almas Khan. And the Baban School. The book is about these topics.

  • 19/01/2012 00:00:00