| THE HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT OF POLITICS OF THE SALAHADDIN UNIVERSITY DR. SABAH SUPHI HAYDER: “KURDS MUST HAVE A UNITED STANCE IN THE IRAQI PARLIAMENT TO MAINTAIN THE MEDIATOR ROLE BETWEEN THE SUNNIS AND SHIAS”
Recently the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (IKR) has been passing through an intensive and tempestuous political agenda, exacerbated by the regional and international developments, both in its domestic environment and in its relations with the central government in Baghdad. On the one hand while the IKR is swapping the administrative posts of key importance, on the other hand it is striving to solve the Iraqi crisis that has been going on over the Baghdad government. With the Head of the Political Science Department of Salahaddin University in Erbil, we addressed the domestic dynamics of IKR politics, the effect of Arab Spring on the IKR, the future of the Iraqi crisis, the expectations from the Nechirvan Barzani government as well as the relations with Turkey.
ORSAM: Can you please introduce yourself?
Dr. Sabah Suphi Hayder: My name is Sabah Suphi Hayder. I am the Head of the Department of Politics in the Faculty of Law and Politics at the Salahaddin University. My area of specialization is political parties and reform. I conducted my MA and PhD studies at the Salahaddin University. During my doctoral studies I have studied at Lebanese Beirut University through an exchange program. I wrote my MA thesis on the socialization of the political parties in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the topic of my PhD thesis was the Labor Party in the United Kingdom, Social Democratic Party in Germany and Social Party in France. Currently I am giving political parties, mass media and public opinion lectures at the Salahaddin University.
The Law and Politics Faculty is hosting the Human Rights Research Center that we as ORSAM recently established partnership. Can you provide us information about the Center?
The Center was established in May 2011. The Head of the Center is the Dean of the Faculty of Law and Politics; Dr. Hussein Tofiq. I am also a member at the Center. We are conducting many activities in the Center like international seminars, workshops regarding the subjects of Human Rights, Public Policy, Democracy, Gender and Peace Building. Also the Human Rights Center is providing training for the officers of the KRG Ministry of Interior. In addition our college publishes a 6-month academic journal called Law and Politics which is composed of articles in Arabic, Kurdish and English.
What are the general determinants in making politics in Kurdistan Region of Iraq? For example, tribal relations are one of the stereotypes that come to mind.
As a matter of fact, tribal links are part of Kurdish societal life. But this is also the case for the rest of Iraq, indeed in all the Middle East. Historically, making the tribal relations part of political life among Kurds was a policy of the Ba’th Party. The Ba’th supported certain tribes, funded people among them and tried to gain their political loyalty in order to reach its own aims. So against this background of the Ba’th policies, the KRG political life started in 1991. Starting in 1996, we suffered of a civil war which led us to end with having a authoritarian system.
After 2003, we have changed the principles. For example constitution is very important. It means that we have a principle to guide us in ruling our people. Another important thing is the elections, although we can only say that they are half successful due to the fraught. These are what we call as the new stage, the stage that replaces the old style of politics in the KRG. Initially we were lacking two things in this regard; one is the free elections and the second is the recognition of the opposition. Now we have a good political process thanks to the existence of an active opposition. As we say; opposition is the condition for the government. Then, through this process, we pass from the old style of politics to the modern one, just like every other society; without changing our culture. As the political scientist Gabriel Almond argued, in order to understand a political system, not only its institutions but also their functions are important. So we have problem with institutionalization in the KRG in functional terms in economic and social policies, though they have potential to develop. For example, Ministry of Higher Education suffers this problem. We as academics, don’t know exactly what the function of our universities are; is it only providing diplomas? We want to establish a bridge between the academic and civil society in order to make the structure stronger.
In 2011 the KRG like the rest of the Middle East witnessed some anti-government protests. Even the protests in Sulaimaniyah started on the same day with Libya, on February 17, 2011. Was that simply the effect of the Arab Spring or it was more of an internal matter?
The protests in Sulaimaniyah were not against a totalitarian system unlike the Arab Spring. We have elections, free mass media and other indicators. After especially 2009 elections, the mind of Kurdish people has changed. For example Goran Party wants to destroy the government and the parliament but is not facing any trial. In 1990s, it wasn’t like this. People were thinking that we have a totalitarian system. But now people came to believe that they have a free mind.
Protest is something very usual and normal in democratic countries like Turkey. When I travel to Istanbul, I witnessed a different protest almost every day. The KRG is in a transformation process to democracy. We have basis and institutions for democracy. Therefore the protests in Sulaimaniyah that emerged on the same day with Libya, was only the political agenda of the opposition parties. They wanted to show it like the Arab Spring.
An important driving force for KRG politics is the strategic agreement between the KDP and PUK. Can you share your views about the nature and future of this agreement?
Following the civil war the KDP and PUK made an agreement which was supported by the United States. The agreement was not without problems since the beginning. There were two different governments; one in Erbil and one in Sulaimaniyah. When the 5th government headed by Nechirvan Barzani took the lead, its first and very difficult task was to integrate these divided agencies.
This strategic agreement is very natural result of the elections. Accordingly, they are the two biggest parties. It is true that they cannot forget the legacy of the years of war which can be observed easily today. The KDP and PUK have tense relations. But this does not mean that they cannot cooperate. Although the KDP and PUK fought for years against each other, more than this they fought side by side against the Ba’th regime.
So you mean that they have common ground as much as they have dispute, which led them to cooperate. Does it mean that the KDP and PUK will not fight against each other anymore, namely the strategic agreement is sustainable?
The KDP and PUK share the same ideology. Both of them are nationalist and secular parties. When you read their internal program, it is hard to see deep differences. However we must remember that in the 1990s the KDP and PUK fought over the customs revenue from the Ibrahim Khalil border as well as greed for power. Our environment is always prone to the conflict. For example we have oil factor, a big interest.
This, as its name suggests, is a strategic cooperation against the internal and external threats directed at the KRG. Therefore like any other agreement or cooperation in international relations, is not forever. Any party can cooperate resting on their respective interests and all agreements are subject to change as the interests change. The KDP and PUK can make alliances with other parties. For example the KIU models the AKP in Turkey. So there is a possibility that the KDP and KIU can cooperate and go to elections together. Now the KDP and PUK decided to go to the Provincial Elections of September 2012 separately although their aim is to see the level of their popularity. This is the aim of all the parties in the KRG because until now they do not know the exact size of their own parties. I expect that the strategic agreement between the two will end for the next parliamentary election which is in July 2013.
What do you think about the likelihood of a Goran-PUK alliance?
Goran is a party split from the PUK. So although their policies are different, they have the same thinking. Goran could not succeed so far to be a stable party. For example the final crisis that led two members of parliaments to resign illustrated this fact. So as an unstable party, Goran can do anything including a possibility of allying with the PUK. This alliance always has been the fear of the KDP. If Goran and the PUK cooperate, it means a big loss in Sulaimaniyah for the KDP. But I must say that during the prime ministry of Berham Salih, Goran created series of serious problems for the PUK premiership like initiating the February 17 crisis. So an alliance between the PUK and Goran does not seem likely for now. PUK-KDP agreement seems easier than PUK-Goran agreement.
How would the possibly shifting alliances and tense relations among the KRG parties affect the position of the Kurds in the Iraqi Parliament?
At the moment against the threat posed by the Baghdad government, Kurds have to have a united stance in order to be a strong block to protect our interests in the Iraqi Parliament. No matter how the Kurdish parties oppose each other in KRG Parliament on the issues such as budget, freedom of press, etc, like the process started with the February 17, 2011 showed, in Baghdad the Kurds have a uniting cause which is the securing of the implementation of the Article 140.
For example in the Hashimi crisis, Kurds showed a strong, unified position against the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki. Kurds offered a National Conference. But if Baghdad perceives that there is this clash of opinion between the KDP and PUK, or other Kurds parties in the Iraqi Parliament, Kurds cannot maintain the mediator role that they aim to play.
Some PUK members brought the draft constitution back to the KRG Parliament during the last days of the KDP Speaker of the Parliament Kemal Kerkuki. What is your opinion?
This constitution was drafted in 2006. Its approval needs a referendum, so for now the issue is frozen. In our Faculty we held many seminars regarding the content of the constitution. Nowadays is not good for holding this referendum. There is a big crisis in Iraq. Maliki does not believe in federalism which is naturally against the KRG constitution.
The KRG has a supportive position of the KRG regarding the new attempts to further federalize in Iraq. Don’t you see any dilemma regarding this issue considering the disputed areas within the potential new Sunni federal regions?
Due to the weakness of the Iraqi central government, after the US forces left, Sunni provinces started to declare their autonomy. The KRG supports federalism in Iraq but the main issue for the KRG is to gain the disputed areas. We as Kurds have never felt loyalty towards Iraq. So it is not a very big point of interest for us if Iraq is divided between Shia and Sunni regions as long as we get our disputed areas.
Kurds do not believe that either Sunni or Shia will give back the disputed territories. Therefore the KRG plays a very careful game. During the Hashimi crisis, the KRG established very good relations with Mousul like the other Sunni provinces. This is very important because we share border with the Sunnis, not with the Shia.
But having good relations only with Sunnis, not with the Shia, considering the Iranian support, would not jeopardize the aim of gaining the disputed territories?
Sure, the KRG has to balance the Shia and Iranian threat, too. The KRG hosted Tariq Hashimi and did not give back to Maliki, but did not let him fled abroad either. So this shows the balancing act of the KRG in this crisis between the Shia and Sunni, as well as its mediating role as demonstrated by the National Conference.
In addition I believe that Iranian power will not last long. Iran is facing a very big economic crisis at this moment due to the embargo. If Iran is the support behind Maliki, Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf States, as well as the US, will support the al Iraqiyya and the Sunnis. Iran soon will lose its free hand to have influence on Iraq due to its internal problems. Regime change is also possible. Iran can be the next Syria. It is just a matter of time.
What do you think about the US power in Iraq and in the Middle East after the withdrawal of the US troops?
The US is still active in Iraq but this activity is only a shadow. In every ministry of the KRG there is an American consultant though. The US has a bigger project in the Middle East. Therefore I think that after Syrian regime falls, the US will be more effective. Together with Israel will work on cutting the link between Hezbollah and Iran.
What is your prediction about the future of Iraq? Do you think the National Conference will be successful? Some say that the KRG may declare independence in the course of the conflict in Iraq. What is your opinion?
I am not positive regarding the future of Iraq. I don’t think that the National Conference will be successful because the problem is much bigger than between two parties. It is between two sects and has deep historical roots. I believe 2-3 years after now, there will be Sunni and Shia regions in Iraq in the places that these two sect live homogenously. But the main problems are in the middle places of Iraq where Sunni and Shia live together.
Independence is not something that the KRG plans for. Kurds in Iraq prefer to live within Iraq as long as Iraq is stable. Also we have disputes with Baghdad over the article 140. So even if a civil war happens in Iraq, in no case it will lead the KRG to independence. Kurds in Iraq only want peace, welfare and their rights.
Finally what is your opinion regarding the next government of Nechirvan Barzani and the relations with Turkey in his new term?
Nechirvan Barzani is tasked to lead the 7th government on February 16, on which his 30 days for forming the government started. He is trying to calm down the political tension in the KRG. He has many problematic issues on the table waiting for solution such as the unifying the divided budget, peshmerga and ministry of interiors. The second thing that he might do in power is to cooperate with the opposition. The February 17 anniversary showed that the opposition is adopting a reconciler stance since there was no important protest as such.
Besides, the next government will be busy with preparing for the next two upcoming elections; the provincial and parliamentary one. Nechirvan Barzani is open-minded, pro-progress and will work for eliminating the old style of politics and give more power to the youth.
Personally I expect that he will foster the relations with Turkey. He has good relations with Turkish government and Turkish businessmen. We will see stronger relations between Turkey and the KRG in the future.
Thank you very much for sharing your views and time.
*Bu röportaj ORSAM Erbil Temsilcisi Selen Tonkuş Kareem tarafından 19 Şubat 2012’de Erbil, Irak Kürt Bölgesel Yönetimi’nde gerçekleştirilmiştir.