The Magazine

Erbil Remedy

Federalism is not a panacea for Kurdistan.

Jan 19, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 18 • By VANCE SERCHUK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

That said, some Kurdish leaders clearly do recognize the stakes at hand. "I do not like to see my people part of a never-ending political turmoil that would basically mitigate corruption and autocracy like the rest of the Arab world," insists Prime Minister Salih. "We need schools. We need hospitals. We need roads. We need jobs for our kids. These are the real issues."

Also encouragingly, the moderate Islamist party--the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU)--has focused its criticism of the KDP and PUK on their administrative failings. Hadi Ali, deputy secretary general of the KIU, explains: "Both the PUK and KDP are revolutionary parties. It's the source of their legitimacy--their bread and butter. But they have not been as successful in the cities as they were up in the mountains."

"The expectations for [the parties] are today very much greater," agrees Michael Howard, a reporter with the Guardian based in northern Iraq. "They can now no longer hide behind Saddam's presence to excuse failings of transparency and democracy. . . . What both the PUK and KDP have to do is withdraw from every aspect of life and begin to behave like normal political parties."

In essence, the KDP and PUK must come to grips with the peculiar irony that their pursuit of power--so long justified, even necessitated, in the name of defending Iraqi Kurdistan--may now pose the greatest threat to its prosperity and development. Far from being the region's perpetual losers, the Kurds have proven themselves in the last year to be among the most agile political operators in the new Iraq. Indeed, the future of their region now depends, for the first time in recent history, less on the machinations of their neighbors or the inclinations of the Bush administration (both of whom the Kurds have deftly thwarted in the past six months) than on the choices they make and the priorities they set for themselves.

Vance Serchuk is a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute. He traveled independently through northern Iraq in December 2003.