Obama must look at Kurdistan

By Baran Mohammed
The Kurdish Globe
22 January 2009

The new US president Barack Obama without doubt faces huge challenges both at home and abroad. From serious and threatening economic and financial crisis in America and in the world to devastating foreign issues Obama will be under pressure to make right and difficult decisions. The enormous hope that has put upon him makes his job even more difficult. According to the surveys more than 80% of the American people one way or other supports him or has optimistic expectations that the new US president will deliver.

The Obama’s administration foreign policy priority without doubt will be on Middle East, and particularly Iraq, Iran and Palestine. Due to the fact that the US presence in Iraq and security agreement between the two states which determines the period for the US military in Iraq makes it Iraq as an urgent issue to be dealt with. The US withdrawal from Iraq is a serious matter and requires somber analysis.

US objective in Iraq

There are two opposing ideas about the reason behind the US occupation of Iraq. Pro US critic mostly argued, and now this argument has long been outdated, that the fundamental rational behind the US decision to go to Iraq was Saddam’s assumed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) which caused grave danger both for the region and the US global interests, particularly on the issue of safe flow of oil to the industrial centers. Anti-US critics on the other hand argued that Iraq’s rich oil reserves was the main reason for the US occupation of Iraq.

These two arguments to a certain degree have their merits. Surely nobody before the US occupation could have argued that Saddam did not have any WMD due to the fact that Iraq’s authorities’ ailing treatment of UN weapons inspectors. And still nobody today can claim that Iraq’s rich oil reserves have anything to do with the US occupation of Iraq. Oil is indeed a serious commodity and industrialized mainly western countries well being depended on secure and regular flow of oil to feed their growing energy demands.

However, the reasons behind the US move to Iraq has to be contemplated within larger framework in order to understands the rationale and future US policy both in Iraq and in the Middle East.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the US remained the single super power to design the world as a result of new conditions left over by the crumple of so called Socialist Bloc. Post-Soviet world was no longer a bipolar world where balance of powers adjusted their position and at least there was a kind of stability in established balances. Following the Soviet crumple the World became a less secure and balance in terms of politics, economics and culture.

As being the only remaining super power of the world and gendarmerie of capitalist bloc it was left to the US to design a new grand policy to shape the world affairs in the 21st century. It was at this period where the concept of ‘New World Order’ and the concept of ‘globalism’ appeared in political lexicon.

Looking in retrospective it can be argued that the following US administrations either under Republicans or Democrats failed to develop and implement grand policies to sort out world affairs according the US global interests. Contrary ensuing period of post-Soviet witnessed multi-polar world where various growing power centers racing with each other to further their political and economic interests. What resulted from this were the growing fault-lines throughout the world and tension between various global and regional forces. From Chine to Japan, from Middle East to Asia, from Balkans to Europe political chaos coupled with economic and financial crisis rippled any prospect of a prosperous and stable world both in politics and economics.

Due to its energy sources and energy corridors both Middle East and Central Asia proved to be strategic regions for the US. It was this strategic consideration that led to the US to enter Middle East and Iraq was an obvious place to initiate a grand Middle East project that was designed by the US. Saddam’s miscalculated decision to occupy Kuwait in the hope to regain its loses during the long and arduous war with Iran provided perfect alibi for the Bush senior administration to capitalize on it, so began the first Gulf war in 1991. The US misguided policy to keep Saddam in power in Iraq for long diminished the credibility of US in the region and allowed time for other regional powers, particularly that of Russia, to maximize its regional policy and time to regain its power that it lost at the early 90s.

When the US finally decided to occupy Iraq as 9/11 gave the way for both domestic and international sympathy for Bush junior administration to go ahead in 2003. Iraq for the US is not solely due to its oil reserves but its strategic position in Middle East. Through Iraq the US aimed to implement and widened its policy in the region. US policy can be summarized as to create US-friendly regimes opened to and integrated with free market economy and transfer the region to consumer societies. Controlling energy sources and corridors would have also provided the US upper hand in world political and economic affairs and a rationale to continue its world supremacy at the expense of other growing economic powers.

Six years following the toppling of Saddam’s regime it seems that the US has long way from its initial policy. It has not yet sorted out Iraqi affairs and for so many analysts it boggled down in Iraq let alone to expanse it policy to other regional countries. It is still to early to argue that the US failed in Iraq, and equally too early to state that the US gave up its intention to transform Middle Eastern and Central Asian societies and regimes for its global interests.

What is clear though for the US to be successful it needs more than a new face to the White House but to seriously work on better alternatives and policies. Iraq again would be a testing ground for the US administration to implement its policy in the region. Success in Iraq would realize long term US global economic interests and at the same time reconstruct the tarnished image of the US.

In that sense Iraq constitute a strategic issue for Obama and Iraq’s destiny will one way or other determines the destiny of both Obama and US future. Looking things from this perspective then arguments whether the US withdraw its troops from Iraq or not became a shallow argument mainly because of the fact that it is not going to be Obama’s decision to withdrawn or not but the general long-term US policy that determines when and how the US will withdrawn from Iraq.

Obama and Kurdistan Region

Since the war on Iraq the Kurds became a major partner and ally of the US in Iraq. The Kurdish political actors’ decision to be part of Coalition force against Saddam and their political steps to remain part of Iraq saved the integrity of Iraq and prevented its division. Despite the Kurds did not opt for independence from Iraq they nonetheless strongly and firmly made their case that an Iraq can be only remained united could only be through federalism and pluralism where unitary strong state cannot be applied any more. In that sense what kept Iraq united and integrated was the Kurdish decision to be part of it.

Iraq’s future still depends on the possible paths that the Kurds may take or not. Growing rift between Maliki’s government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on strategic issues such as oil law, disputed territories, and the issue of power sharing between centre and local governments must be treated as a serious threat for the well being and future of Iraq. In that the blame must be on the shoulder of Maliki government and the governments before who repeatedly failed to resolve the existing problems between the Kurds and the central government.

Obama must understand that the Kurds will not bow to Maliki’s or any other central government to return back to old days where a strong central state running the country from Baghdad. Nor the Kurds will ever give up their gained rights for the sake of Iraq’s unity.

For Iraq to remain united and stable the Kurdish legitimate demands must be respected and as Iraq’s sudden and unexpected disintegration would not serve for the US interests the Obama administration must be more attractive to the genuine Kurdish demands and apply pressure on Central government to come to terms with the KRG.

After all the US did waste all its resources and sacrificed its souls for the sake of another dictatorship in the form of Shiite to rise in Iraq.

For Obama administration reconciliation between Baghdad and Erbil must be more urgent than the issue of troop withdrawal. An early troop withdrawal from Iraq without resettling Iraqi politics in sound foundation may have devastating impact both for Iraq and for the US. The only beneficiaries in such scenario will be Iran and other competing global powers, particularly that of Russia.

Kurdistan region in that sense remains and will be a focal point and strategic issue for the US and deserves much more attention from the new US administration.

The Kurdish political actors must also realize that any hope replaced on individuals will not be realistic and that their policy and actions will definitely determines the likely policy that the Obama administration may take in Iraq and in Kurdistan.

This requires that the Kurds must develop a sound and workable national policy both to safeguard their national interests in Kurdistan and Iraq and this policy should be in adjustment with the US global interests.

Despite the efforts of KRG to stabilize and develop Kurdistan economy there is still a huge task before the KRG to do more. Developing a vivid civil society, less control of party and government apparatus on economy, further connection with free market economies must be priority of the KRG so to be in strong position in international political affairs.

Safety of Kurdistan will be at the end determined by the participation and determines of Kurdish nation and to lead this nation is up to the KRG.

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