Success stories of state-building in the Middle East have been few. The United Arab Emirates has certainly been one. Qatar, and to an extent Bahrain and Jordan, are now featuring high on good governance indexes. Yet the most impressive of all has been Iraqi Kurdistan.While the analogy is not exact, the lesson that the author seems to be saying is that, for people who want to be free, official statehood is not the only option and that most of the benefits can come from autonomy and compromise. Furthermore, the hardheaded insistence on a state naturally leads to terrorism and is counterproductive to those who want true freedom and democracy.
Less than 25 years ago, Iraqi Kurds suffered one of the Middle East’s worst genocides of modern history. In 1986, Iraq’s former president Saddam Hussein ordered Operation Al Anfal, killing close to 150,000 Kurds over the course of three years. That number exceeds all the deaths resulting from more than 60 years of conflict between the Arabs and Israel, which has seen at least half a dozen wars. [Actually, it is about triple the numbers killed in Arab-Israeli wars. - EoZ]
In the aftermath, Iraqi Kurdistan has emerged from civil war to become one of the Middle East’s most promising regions. One can only hope that the way Iraqi Kurds did it might inspire the Arabs.
The Kurds understood that the international status quo would force them to reconnect with Baghdad. Thus, they moved to their second best option: they rejoined Iraq but made sure it would be a federal union that would give their northern region enough cultural, economic and political independence.
Since then, the Kurds have not wasted time in crying foul over surrendering their historic quest for independence. Instead, they founded a new formula: Iraqi Kurdistan would remain part of Iraq as long as Baghdad has democratic rulers. The emergence of a dictator would force the Kurds to go their separate way, fair and square. This position won the Kurds further kudos in the capitals of the world.
More importantly, unlike some Arab leaders and their signature policies of double talk about Israel – promising peace in English and talking war in Arabic – Kurdish leaders have preached to their people that the autonomy or rights they had earned, whether in Iraq or Turkey, were the best they could get.
Meanwhile, the Kurd’s quest for an independent state has all but vanished. This means that Kurds would not be blowing themselves up, and that their leaders would not be insisting on independence in a populist manner like several Arab and Iranian leaders often do regarding Palestine.
This newfound Kurdish wisdom has penetrated all the way into Kurdistan, as Iraqi Kurds held free and fair elections for their regional parliament last year, when a considerable opposition bloc emerged. Mr Barzani himself was re-elected Kurdistan’s president with 68 per cent of the vote, a percentage that makes many Arab presidential elections, with poll numbers exceeding 90 per cent, look silly.
Democracy, still not ideal, is now taking root in Iraqi Kurdistan.
And with democracy comes good governance and economic prosperity. For that, the Kurds have been tapping their human capital assets from their diaspora. Again, compare that to most Arab countries where brain drain has become an unstoppable trend.
The Kurdistan state-building experiment in northern Iraq, even if only within the limits of autonomy, is far from perfection. Yet it is one of the most impressive in the Middle East. It should certainly serve as a model for several Arab countries to emulate.
However, this argument makes sense to Palestinian Arabs only if the point of a "Palestinian state" is to protect the lives of PalArabs, to end decades of misery,to build institutions and preserve an identity and bring freedom.
But given the negotiating pre-requisites of the "moderate" Palestinian Arab leaders, it is clear that their real goals have little to do with helping their people. Their goal, as it has been since 1948, is really only to destroy Israel, and as a result the wise advice that is given here will fall on deaf ears.