First joint Forum UoS-SPU Universities Saulaimani

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Dr. Haider Saeed

Keynote speeches

Born 1970 in Najaf, Iraq. Studied 1988-1992 in college of Arts in Baghdad University, Ph.D. Linguistics 2001. Works as scientist at Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha, Qatar. Editor-in-chief of the Siyasaat Arabiya Journal. Contributed to the “National Report on Human Development in Iraq” 2008  and 2014. Author of: Social Sciences Iraq 2008, end of National State’s Culture 2009, Arab Shia 2019. Main research interests: Iraq and its divided societies.


Summary Haider Saeed: Rethinking Iraq as framework

Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum
Much has been written about the crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan and the independence referendum conducted by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in September 2017, with most discussion focused on the structural element without highlighting its nature as a systemic crisis, and not simply a crisis of one or several elements of the system. The structural element is certainly one of the aspects of today’s crisis. However, the crisis has intensified in all its aspects, and as such sustaining the system requires serious structural reform.

2005 constitution
The relationship between the Federal Government in Baghdad and the KRG is set forth by the Iraqi Constitution of 2005, but without a common understanding or clear formula, each party making do with an implicit and un-declared understanding.

Transitional phase to independence
Enjoying a special status since 1991, the Kurds have continued in a transitional phase towards the establishment of the foundations of an independent Kurdish state.

The Arabs (and the Shiite political elite in particular) believe that this formula was hastily drawn up under US pressure, despite an incomplete vision of how the political system was to take shape. As a result, the strategy of the Shiite political elite has been to modify this system was working.

Cantralism with specific region (Kurdistan)
Specifically, the Shiite elite sought for the federal system in Iraq not to involve an integrated federal state as in the United States or Germany, but rather a centralized state with a specific region (Kurdistan) given a special status. They also wished to narrow down what they considered to be “gains” won by the Kurds in a rushed moment.

Considered a failed 2005 formula
Consequently any departure from this formula, and any attempt to modify it, likely will entail its collapse. Any Arab attempt to narrow what is considered a failed 2005 formula of the Constitution, advanced by Kurdish politicians, will provide an excuse for a Kurdish call for independence.

Transitional versus permanent
On the other hand, if independence seemed natural to Kurdish politicians, who considered the 2005 Constitution to be transitional, the Arabs saw in this endeavor a reversal of a contract that they considered to be permanent (albeit allowing for modification), however transitional in the short term.

Contract of 2005 not sustainable
Here, exactly, is the systemic crisis that I am talking about: the contract formed in 2005 was not sustainable. It could not be continued because both parties sought to move beyond its framework, and the end result has been the absence of common understanding, a package of unified mutual assurances, and public confidence.

Need for formula change
This paper argues that it is no longer possible to maintain this same formula for governing the relationship between Baghdad and Kurdistan, in light of the Kurdish effort over the past year and after the referendum, attempting to return to the moment before the referendum, the status quo ante, as if nothing happened. Such a path would only re-produce the crisis.

Kurds and Arabs to rethink Iraq as framework

I think that Iraqis all, Kurds and Arabs, need to rethink adherence to Iraq as a framework, not just at the level of political arrangements, which are certainly important, but also at the level of “trans-political nexuses”. One could possibly say here: “national nexuses”, but I am afraid that this might be understood as intending the dissolution of the Kurdish national feeling, and diminution of their nationhood within a supposed Iraqi nationalism. My intentions is here to build cultural nexuses and shared narratives for Kurds and Arabs, as Iraqis.

Kurdish referendum crisis
The referendum crisis has revealed the depth of Kurdish division regarding the idea of the Kurdish State; the debate is not so much on the principle of establishing a Kurdish State, but it is all about details (leadership, uniting the security forces and bureaucracy, authorities and its distribution, etc).

New debate looking into foundations of entire system
In my estimation, there was a public Kurdish feeling that what happened was not a failure in a step, but rather a failure of the whole package of policies and power relations. Therefore, I trust that it is necessary to launch a public Kurdish debate, not solely confined to politicians, but including intellectuals, academics, civil activists and others. Debate must review what has happened in a spirit of radical critical inquiry, and look into the foundations of the entire system.

As an Arab intellectual, it is difficult to know beforehand the outcome of Kurdish public debate about the referendum crisis. One of the chronic problems in Arab-Kurdish relations is a perception that Arabs are not interested to learning about the internal Kurdish debate.

This explains the paucity of translation of material from Kurdish culture to Arabic, aggravated by a culture of Arab-centrism that has dominated Iraq, and informed the cognition of its elites.

Given that that Arab-Kurd relations are devoid of public dialogue between intellectuals and elites, whereby both might review the foundations of modern Iraq, to then build together a common if not unified discourse, allowing for differences, it is normal that both sides entertain contradictory narratives of their common history. Instead, Kurdish-Arab dialogue is limited to political negotiations – largely informed by politicians and their interests and ambitions.

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