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Post-referendum Iraq… is there enough space in the cemeteries for our victims?

President of Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (IKRG) Masoud Barzani speaks during a meeting with a group of journalists, artists and authors at the Saad Abdullah Palace Conference Centre in Erbil, Iraq on 6 Septembe, 2017 [Yunus Keleş/Anadolu Agency]
President of Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (IKRG) Masoud Barzani speaks during a meeting with a group of journalists, artists and authors at the Saad Abdullah Palace Conference Centre in Erbil, Iraq on 6 September 2017 [Yunus Keleş/Anadolu Agency]

The Iraqis are fearfully waiting for the beating of war drums after the referendum was held in Kurdistan, wondering if this is the post-Daesh phase. They know too well the exchange of accusations, the imposition of sanctions and the fighting that will follow as long as they live under this.

Those who were born in the 1950s remember very well the 1960's war against the "night bats", i.e. the Kurdish fighters/rebels led by Mulla Mustafa Barzani (Masoud Barzani's father, leader of Kurdistan and the grandfather of the Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and many other Kurdish officials). The enthusiastic calls broadcast on the Iraqi radio at that time, from morning to night, raised the morale of the soldiers to fight the rebels. The late President Abdel Salam Aref was not known for his understanding and tact, so no one took him seriously when he invalidated the identity of the national Kurds as "mountain Arabs".

If Masoud Barzani chose, with political discernment, to speak today about the crimes of the successive Iraqi governments against the Kurds, then he would not mention the Iraqi Constitution of 1959, which stated that the Arabs and Kurds are partners in the homeland. He also would overlook the Iraqi people's general rejection of the war in Kurdistan over the years, and would overlook the secret cooperation between the Kurdish leadership and Israel in the 1960s, one of the first instances of secret agreements with Israel. This was done with complete awareness of the Palestinian cause's sanctity in the hearts of the Iraqi people, and with the knowledge that Israel is considered an enemy and therefore cooperating with it is considered a great betrayal, as is the case in all countries.

Barzani also neglects to mention that the "Arab nationalist" Baath Party's government legitimised autonomy for the Kurds in 1970, and that he, Barzani, resorted to the central government in Baghdad in 1996 when the Kurdish entity was under international protection and Iraq was besieged. He urged the government to rescue him and his party not from the Arabs, but from his Kurdish citizens and partners affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Jalal Talabani. The fighting between both parties' Peshmerga forces for four years around Irbil, was no less fierce than the Central Government's attacks before then.

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More importantly, Barzani would forget the distinct social and historical cohesion of the Iraqi society, from the north to the south, which is based on intermarriage among the different people, regardless of nationality, religion and doctrine. There is rarely an Iraqi family, in any province that has any national, religious, or doctrinal prejudices.

Barzani's justification during his international press conference, on the eve of the referendum, despite the local, regional and international "begging" and "threats" to postpone it, not cancel it, is considered a detailed lesson in re-writing history with a contrived perspective. Barzani presented himself and the Kurdish politicians, as riding a moral horse, absolving the Kurdish leadership from its sins and washing their hands of the crimes committed together with the rest of the politicians in the central government against all of the Iraqi people, without exception, during the years of occupation.

Kurdish Referendum [Arabi21]

Kurdish Referendum [Arabi21]

These were crimes against humanity and deliberate destruction, not only on the level of the state and infrastructure, but on the level of institutionalising corruption and establishing religious, sectarian and national discrimination. They worked together, in unprecedented partnership, to fragment humanitarian issues and injustice was seen in various levels and forms, and the responsibly for condemning this fell on the shoulders of the politicians of a specific sect, ethnicity, or religion. Shia politicians are concerned with their people, while the Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmen and Yazidis do not address, cry, or feint in the parliament except in defense of their people. Worse than this is the fact that each group accuses the others of exaggeration and lying about their suffering and injustice rather than resorting to the law and investigating the credibility of the claims and then working to achieve justice.

This issue, i.e. being a part of the silence and directly or indirectly contributing to the crimes committed and caused by the occupation, classified by dozens of international reports as war crimes and crimes against humanity, Barzani chose to ignore this in order to maximize the chance of mobilising emotions and focused on "their" crimes against "us". This is a populist discourse usually used by leaders or politicians when they feel an internal danger threatening them. History contains countless examples of the need to create an external enemy to make the people feel threatened, and therefore the people will rally behind the leader, despite the leader's tyranny and their opposition to him, because they feel a sense of priority towards defending their country and national security. Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this is the American administration's waging of the "war on terror" in order to divert attention from its decreased popularity, its major economic crisis and its dwindling global impact.

Manufacturing an enemy has become an urgent necessity. The Iraqi politicians, both the Arab and Kurdish ones, have proven that they are good at imitation, at least in this regard.

The other important point that Barzani ignores, like his political partners in the political process in Baghdad, is resorting to foreign protection and cooperation in invading and occupying the country and then looting it, whether the foreigner is in the form of a regional power or an international administration.

The doors of the country are open to everyone, all acting on their own interests, including America, Britain, France, Iran, Israel and Turkey. The borders are torn apart, as Turkey and Iran take turns bombing its villages. Meanwhile, the skies are dominated by coalition aircraft and drones and the ground is being destroyed by militias, Pershmerga forces, Iranian forces, American forces, unsuccessful government forces and remnants of Daesh. The people are exhausted by poverty, unemployment, government terrorism, armed and sectarian organisations and forced displacement, while the partners in Baghdad and Kurdistan continuously fight over their share of corruption and compete in their speeches about nationalism and independence by the Kurds and nationalism and sovereignty by Baghdad.  This is an attempt on their part to bury their corruption and crimes in a hole they can cover with cement, as members of the mafia gang do when burying one of their victims.


The imposition of sanctions on the Kurdish region will not affect the descendants of the Kurdish leadership, i.e. the Barzani and Talabani families. It is the citizens who will be the only losers in this. As for the winner, it will be the international arms manufacturer and the local deal broker, which is the case in every war. These winners are present on both sides, which are ready to fight in an atmosphere of negligence and disregard for the people who are so exhausted that they are willing to vote for the best of the worst, and not the best choice. Pushing the people towards what seems to be a choice, under the guise of election or referendum, is being carried out by the partners in the political process.

While Prime Minster Haider Al-Abadi is accusing Barzani of an illegal referendum and putting the government on the spot, he is ignoring the fact that he, his party, and the politicians around him are the result of the fait accompli imposed by the occupation, causing the government in Baghdad and the Kurdish region to embody the saying "the lesser of two evils". We hope that the Iraqi people will not have to stand in line at cemeteries to bury new victims, as the earth can no longer absorb more death.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 3 October 2017

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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