ARBIL – In a strongly worded statement, the president of Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region rejected in its entirety the report by the Iraq Study Group, and threatened that Kurds would opt for secession from Iraq should Washington try to implement some of the key recommendations of the report regarding Kirkuk, federalism and the constitution.
The group, co-chaired by former U.S. secretary of state James Baker III and former chairman of the House of Representatives international relations committee Lee Hamilton “made some unrealistic and inappropriate recommendations under the pretext that they are going to get the U.S. out of the current crisis in Iraq,” read the statement, signed by Massoud Barzani.
“If under this pretext, they want to impose their inappropriate recommendations on us, then, on behalf of the people of Kurdistan, we announce this report is against the constitution and interests of Iraq and Kurdistan and we will not accept it.”
Barzani called for a “real national reconciliation,” originating from Iraqis themselves instead of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report. The 160-page document was released on Wednesday.
“The report has been affected by Arab states and especially Saudi Arabia and I don’t think it will have any chance of success,” Saadi Barzinji, a Kurdish member of Iraqi parliament, told IPS in a phone interview from Baghdad. He criticized the report for being “unilateral and biased” in its views.
“From a Kurdish and Iraqi perspective, the report is not precise and has not taken many objective factors on the ground into consideration.”
The report has also divided politicians in Washington.
U.S. President George W. Bush said, after a meeting with his British ally Prime Minister Tony Blair, that he wouldn’t talk to Syria and Iran about Iraq and would not follow all the recommendations in the report.
But Baker told the U.S. Senate Thursday that his group’s report must be treated as a whole and not “a fruit salad and say, ‘I like this but I don’t like that’.”
While Baker insists on treating the ISG report as a comprehensive strategy, the Kurds’ threats could pose a serious challenge to U.S. efforts to improve the situation in Iraq in preparation for the gradual withdrawal of troops as the report suggests by the end of the first quarter of 2008.
On several principal matters the approaches advised in the ISG report “are in serious collision” with Kurdish interests and trespass Kurdish redlines.
The report advises against holding a referendum on the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which Kurds want to be incorporated into their northern Kurdistan region.
“As long as the Kirkuk issue is postponed, Iraq will not witness stability,” Barzinji warned.
Iraq’s constitution, approved by the country’s majority Shi’ites and Kurds, has set a three-step roadmap to “normalize the situation in Kirkuk” and hold a referendum on its fate by the end of 2007.
The report urges the White House not to support devolution of Iraq into three semiautonomous regions “as a policy goal or impose this outcome on an Iraqi state.”
Experts in Kurdistan fear that would restore Iraq to the old era of strong central regimes in the country.
“A strong central government for Iraq, as recommended in the report, is in opposition to a federal-regional structure, which is a major Kurdish demand,” said Azad Aslan, a history lecturer from Arbil’s Salahaddin University.
“In fact, this report is nothing but an acknowledgment of the defeat of the United States in Iraq,” he added.
The national constitution facilitates the creation of semiautonomous regions in Iraq. But Sunnis, mainly concentrated in central and western parts of the country, worry that powerful federal regions for Kurds in the north, and Shi’ites in the south would leave their relatively barren areas impoverished.
Larger roles for regional powers like Iran, Syria and Turkey “to contain sectarian warfare” in Iraq, as prescribed by the report, implies limited role for Kurds, they worry.
The three neighboring countries have sizable restive Kurdish populations, who have been influenced by developments in Iraqi Kurdistan. Last year, a major opposition party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iran, adopted federalism for Kurdish areas in Iran instead of limited self-rule that it was calling for before.
“If the U.S. is going to leave Kurds in the lures as in 1975, then they should know that Kurds can make U.S. business not only in Iraq but also in neighboring countries harder than any Sunni insurgency can do,” Aslan said.
In 1975, Iran and Iraq reached an agreement in Algeria in which Iraq gave up its claims to some islands in the waters between the two countries in return for Iran’s withdrawal of support for the Kurdish revolt against the Iraqi government. That led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Kurds to Iran and the collapse of the Kurdish self-rule system in northern Iraq.
The issue, however, is not only confined to Kurds: Iraq’s Shi’ites have not welcomed the report either.
The leader of Iraq’s largest Shi’ite party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, rebuked the report for its “impreciseness” and bluntly said, “I disagree with them (ISG).”
He dismissed a link drew by the Baker-Hamilton group between Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as “non existent,” stressing that “Iraq’s dossier has its particularities.”