Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni politician of the Iraqi Islamic Party, and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan sit for a Transitional National Assembly meeting in Baghdad in October 12, 2005. Photo: Mohamed Mesara | AFP via Getty
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — With the Kurdistan Region holding a referendum on independence that Baghdad has deemed to be unconstitutional, a US diplomat who played a role in drafting the 2005 constitution recalls that Kurds were "very clear" about accepting and abiding by it if the central government respected it.
Robert Ford was in Baghdad during the drafting of the current constitution after the US-led invasion and ousting of the Baathist regime where he served as head of the political office in the Embassy. He was later posted as the US Ambassador to Syria.
In an opinion article in the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat published on Saturday he says the Americans were urging Masoud Barzani (leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party) to accept compromises, if the Kurdish leadership including Jalal Talabani (leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and co-signed the new state.
Ford explained that Barzani had to "accept comprises for Iraqi Kurdistan to be part of a federal Iraq."
"If the Baghdad central government respects the new constitution, the Kurdish regional government will remain in a united Iraq," Ford recalls, describing Barzani as "very clear about the conditional agreement."
Ford remembers the negotiations primarily involving the Kurds, and Tariq Hashemi (then leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party), the late Abdelaziz Hakim (then leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) and (then Prime Minister of Iraq) Ibrahim Jaafari.
"I remember that in 2005 the Kurdish political leaders were nervous that the Baghdad government under Prime Minister Jaaferi and a Shia majority parliament would not respect all the constitution obligations," wrote Ford. "The American government promised it would help ensure the constitution was respected."
The American also claimed the constitution has repeatedly not been followed:
- With Article 65, no second parliamentary house was established
- With Article 92, no national supreme court was established
- With Article 84, no law to govern the intelligence services was passed
- With Article 80, top military officers are being appointed by prime ministers without the mandated approval of the Council of Representatives
- With Article 9, militias are forbidden, but the government pays the Hashd al-Shaabi which "are often political"
- With Article 140, the disputed territories should have been resolved in 2007
- With Article 112, the oil law "gives both parties a role, but they still haven't negotiated how to manage the oil sector."
- With Article 85, no Council of Ministers was established
Ford highlights that the Kurds "won recognition" in the talks for the constitutionality of having their Kurdish Peshmerga per Article 121.
Regarding the disputed areas, Ford says even after 2007, the Americans had a "perfect chance" to facilitate a solution.
"There were thousands of American soldiers in the area of the disputed territories," wrote Ford, adding that Christopher Hill was then US Ambassador to Iraq and had experience negotiating settlements in the Bosnian civil war.
Then a few years later, Ford explained, "Washington pledged to help ensure respect for the constitution and a power-sharing deal between [PM Nouri al-Maliki], the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs."
The 19-point agreement negotiated in 2010 by then US Vice President Joe Biden "urged Barzani to support Maliki's second mandate as Prime Minister."
As ISIS gained power, the Americans were largely silent and didn't exert "serious pressure" on Maliki until the spring of 2014.
The Americans again brokered "power-sharing in order to win Kurdish votes for Prime Minister Abadi." Ford claims the deal has since been broken because Article 85 still remains unimplemented.
"And the Council of Representatives with its Shia Islamist majority last week tried to fire the governor of Kirkuk even though the constitution does not give them this authority," wrote Ford.
As tensions build between the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government backed Hashd al-Shaabi fighters and the Kurdistan Regional Government with its Peshmerga, Ford emphasizes that it's important for "channels of communication" to remain open
"It will be important for everyone to use calm words and thinking, not anger and threats," wrote Ford, who is now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, a D.C.-based think-tank.
Erbil claims Baghdad has violated 55 articles of the constitution, while the Shiite National Alliance claims the KRG has committed 100 violations. On Monday, PM Abadi ordered Iraqi forces into the disputed or Kurdistani areas, claimed by both capitals.