As expected, the merger between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) resulted in a political victory in Iraqi Kurdistan. Although the political opposition group Change managed to win an impressive 25% of the total vote, political control of Iraqi Kurdistan will remain with the KDP and PUK, who took about 65% of the total vote.
Notwithstanding the previous political turmoil existing between Change and PUK, the elections highlight a substantial political rift growing between the largely autonomous Kurdistan and Iraqâ€™s central government in Baghdad. US forces serve as a cohesive unit holding together the various factions of the Iraqi government and with the military in the initial stages of withdraw, the question of Iraqâ€™s sovereignty becomes infinitely more complex.
Kurds have long seen themselves as a nation without a state and their independence movements have been met with military force on multiple occasions. The reconstruction of Iraq was confronted by these issues of self-determination, which were accommodated through weak alliances and semi-autonomous government that exists today. Further complicating the problem is Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, which offers the right of return in Kirkuk expelled my Saddam Hussein in the 1970â€™s.
More than just the semantics of reparations, Kirkuk stands as the gateway to the oil reserves of Northern Iraqi. Encouraged by perceived distrust between the Shiâ€™ite dominated central government, Iraqi Kurds are unwilling to submit their resources to the control of the state. A problem since the US invasion in 2003, the dispute over resources remains the single biggest threat to a stable and democratic Iraq.
Al-Maliki has parlayed these differences into his nationalist platform, an attempt to bring together Sunni and Shiâ€™ite Arabs against the Kurds in the north. Many analysts believe civil war is avoidable and political demonstrations, confrontation and violence seem inevitable. The Iraqi government is faced with an identity crisis, a large minority of its citizens do not associate themselves with the ethnicity and culture of its ruling parties. Unless these differences are settled, another regional conflict will soon emerge.
Iraqi democracy remains in a very fragile state. Combined with the Turkeyâ€™s interests in quelling a Kurdish rebellion as well as the growing threat of water scarcity in Iraq, regional violence may soon be completely reshaped from recent conflicts. Believed by many to be on the downswing of violence and headed towards stabilizations, Iraq could easily be engaged in another conflict.
While a victory of 25% for Change offers hope and optimism for a war-ravaged country, coming to a political compromise will prove to be very difficult. Both sides have legitimate claims to the resources in question and conceding on these resources is tantamount to surrendering power. Although the U.S. continues to lobby for a political solution for this dispute, no signs of progress are apparent. The question remains, how much more violence will Iraqis suffer before these political faction come to a consensus?
Minaret of Freedom Institute