Iraqi Parliament member from Kurdistan Coalition list Mahmud Osman analyzes the current political process in a phone interview.
Osman says Kurds should unite for the January parliamentary elections and that Erbil-Baghdad negotiations are likely to resume after the elections. He added that Kurds should reject any special case for elections in Kirkuk, and the United States wants to delay any settlement of disputed areas. He also expects more seats for Kurds.
Will Mahmud Osman nominate himself for the next elections?
No; I want to dedicate myself to some duties. They will, of course, ask, or even they will insist, that I be nominated again. I have to wait and see. It is not my own desire; I will do what is necessary. This is the issue of a nation whose problems are still not settled. But so far, I have not been asked.
Speaking of the elections, what has happened with the election law?
The law is supposed to be amended and passed within these two weeks. The [Electoral] Commission requires four months [for technical preparations] once the law is passed. Thus, the law must be amended by October 16, allowing the commission to organize its works.
What kind of changes are supposed to be inserted into the law?
First, Parliament must decide whether to adopt open or closed lists. Second, it needs to decide whether the election in Iraq is to be run in one electoral constituency or each province in a constituency. Age of candidates will also be discussed and may be reduced to 35 as suggested by the government. We think that age should not be high so as to let younger people have the right to be nominated. The Kirkuk issue also is going to be discussed in the law. Some blocs want a special case for Kirkuk or some demand for not renewing registration of voters’ names. We are against that opinion; we want Kirkuk also to commit to the same law without special cases.
A number of voters’ names are not found in registry lists in Khanaqin. What is Kurdistan Coalition (KC) list’s attitude about that?
Not only in Khanaqin, but in many other places a lot of names are missing. Also, there are problems with other voter names including the displaced and immigrants who number nearly 2 million. We are attempting to settle these issues with the commission. These problems existed also in the previous elections. One other important issue is that the commission says that out of 18,900,000 people who have the right to vote, only 700,000 voters have checked their names. Although these are the commission’s affairs, the KC has to work to solve the problem in places Kurds are found.
Will the KC seriously attempt to solve this issue?
Yes, but sometimes our problems are that our attempts come late. I hope this time the attempts come in time and are not forced in the last days. There are four months ahead, and it is enough.
As KC, do you prefer one or several electoral constituencies and also a closed or open list?
I personally prefer one constituency and an open list—never a closed list. If Parliament decided on an open one, the KC list wouldn’t hinder it. Some sides think of closed lists like in the previous election, but most opinions now are toward the open one. As for electoral constituencies, we want Iraq to be in one electoral constituency, thus all votes are counted and no vote--wherever in Iraq--will be lost. But if every province is a constituency, it will be like the previous time in 2005 when we lost votes and seats.
How should Kurds participate in the election?
Every party has its own opinion and they cannot be forced how to enter elections. But if possible, they [Kurdistan parties] all agree on a program in one list, it will be good. If that is not possible and they are in several lists—this is more likely—then they should plan to coordinate in the next Parliament. They must unite attitudes on decisive issues relevant to Kurdistan, such as the Kurdistan Region Constitution, Kurdistan economy, federalism, the region’s border, and similar issues. As for Kirkuk, they need to be more united. As the Kirkuk issue is so sensitive, several lists [of Kurds] in Kirkuk might not be a proper idea.
In a previous interview, you told the “Globe” that KC’s works are messy. What do you think about the next round, especially when they are in several lists?
According to my experience, the works of the KC and the other lists also should be in a way that they don’t hasten in the beginning and delay discussion under the excuse that they have much time ahead. When it comes to the end, they rush. This is not proper, because with rushing comes mistakes. As for now, leading up to the elections, there is enough time and the Kurdistan list should do the same as the other list—it must prepare and decide whether to be in one or several lists. Now, they need to select their candidates. They should select people based on competence, not based on party background—people who are able to do the work must be identified. Past experience reveals that some candidates who came based on party were not able to become active Parliament members.
Let’s talk about Erbil and Baghdad. A delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was supposed to visit Baghdad—why hasn’t this happened yet?
What is felt is that the Baghdad government was not really welcoming the delegation, although they had asked for their visit. Baghdad government’s policy always is that they don’t hurry to solve these issues. Now, they try to calm the issues—and they even deliver positive statements. [Prime Minister] al-Maliki recently said they will not let the Kurdish-Arab conflict prevent them from having good relations. In fact, they want to delay discussing the issues until after the elections. Also, they have a belief that they might become stronger in the future and have the issue lean more toward their side. Also, as for the Kurdistan side, for a while they were busy with [regional parliamentary] elections and now they are forming a regional government. Explosions and the security situation in Baghdad also affected the visit. Delay is never positive. Even if the delegation visits now and starts discussions, they might not reach positive results as both sides look to delay.
Might delaying these issues complicate them more?
Maybe not, because some problems are almost stable—like foreign policy. For example, the Region says that al-Maliki is working abroad without counseling with the KRG, and also Maliki says that the KRG is acting like a state. As for the Peshmarga and Iraqi army issue, now the Americans are mediating. The situation now is calmer; no media statements against each other exist. Yet, these issues must be settled sooner as far as we are a part of this country….
About deploying Peshmarga/Iraqi Army/American forces in disputed areas, do you think this could be successful?
It is not a matter of “successful” or not; it is a temporary process that gathers [Kurdish] Peshmarga and [Iraqi] Army with the presence of Americans in those areas. If Peshmarga and the [Iraqi] Army are there alone, it may create sensitivity between them; but the American presence helps for more coordination between the forces. However, this does not solve the problem [of disputed areas], but keeps the situation calm until a solution is found.
You say that it is the Americans who can keep the balance between Peshmarga and the Iraqi Army?
Yes--partially. They protected the situation in some areas.
What do you think about talk that hints of an armed Kurdish-Arab conflict?
I don’t think this will happen. Historically, confronting Kurds with Arabs or vice versa, or Kurds with Turkmen and so on, has been tried a lot. This time, the differences are only among the political leaders and haven’t moved down to the people. There are efforts on this [settling differences]; al-Maliki recently stated they won’t allow violence between Kurds and Arabs. He says that they will solve everything through dialogue and according to the Constitution. The recent statements that didn’t exist in the past now calm the tensions. However, essential solutions are needed for the problem and I think that it can come after the elections.
When do you think the referendum will be held on the disputed areas? How long will it take?
Holding the referendum means implementing the last part of Article 140 [of the Constitution]. The first part of the article concerning normalization has yet to be completed. Many obstacles hinder the implementation. Also, there are many attempts to delay it.
Where are those attempts to delay it coming from?
From the Iraqi government and Iraqi powers, and generally Turkey, the United States, the United Kingdom, and from everywhere. This is because they don’t want the issue to end in favor of Kurds--they don’t agree that Kirkuk should become a part of Kurdistan Region. Thus, they delay it and hinder the referendum in those areas. Another reason comes from some components there; for example, the extremist Turkmen and extremist Arabs know well that the results will show a majority of Kurds whenever a referendum, census, or election is held in Kirkuk.
Could you explain why the Americans also want to delay that issue? In Kurdistan, Americans are regarded as friends.
It is true that Americans have friendly relations with Kurds, but their relations with Turkey are more crucial. They regard Arab countries more than Kurds; they consider the central government much more. They want a solution to satisfy every side, and this is not easy. They think that by delaying, the situation may change.
Parliament was supposed to issue a law for parties. What happened to it?
For years, a law for political parties was debated and nothing happened. It seems the parties were not happy about a law being passed. The major parties like to freely practice their activities. A law limits their budget—it also organizes party authorities and militia affairs. They don’t want be limited. The small parties also don’t wish for a law. There are hundreds of parties now in Iraq. If the law is issued and executed, two-thirds of the [small] parties won’t remain because they don’t have legal conditions to be a party.
Why has the process of questioning ministers stopped?
The process started warmly and began with [questioning the] Trade Minister. This case ended uncompleted. After that, the process stopped due to political pressure on Parliament’s presidency. Several meetings were held between the Iraqi presidencies—Republic Presidency, Council of Minister, Judiciary Agency, and Parliament—resulting in an unannounced agreement to soothe the process from fear of crises occurring. Any minister Parliament wants to question belongs to a party, and the parties dislike the questioning. Thus, after then no other minister has been summoned to Parliament. I don’t say the process is totally over, but it moves so slowly.
But this “soothing” helps corruption in the country.
Yes, it services corruption and reduces Parliament’s role in observing government. It contradicts the Constitution and the internal system of Parliament. But political agreements in Iraq between the parties rule important affairs and hinder constitutional articles from being executed.
Could you explain in one point what the crucial mistake of Kurds in Baghdad has been over the past years?
It is hard to explain in one point. According to my point of view, there was a big mistake. We strongly took part in al-Maliki’s government, and that was good at that time. At first he gave many promises, but gradually he escaped from fulfilling them—such as executing Article 140. We always had demands, but they were only words—not actions. Two years ago, we had a good opportunity when most of the ministers—of Sadr, Sunnis, and Allawi blocs—withdrew from al-Maliki’s Cabinet. Only the Kurds remained with him. I think we should have used the withdrawal card at that time or set conditions to fulfill our demands. With our withdrawal, the government would have collapsed. I think this was our major mistake, because when you do politics with another side, everyone keeps his own interests.
Will Kurds retain the number of seats and the presidency post in the next election?
I hope for more. The current seats [Kurds occupy] are not enough; the seats of Parliament are supposed to increase to 310 seats, thus Kurds should take more seats. If the election was held in one electoral constituency, our chances would also increase. It also depends on voters’ rate of participation. Whether Kurds take part in one or several lists also matters.