Threats to Kurdish democracy

The leader of Iraqi Kurdistan has been extending his rule as the autonomous region fumbles its way towards democracy,
writes Salah Nasrawi

The problems faced by Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region have been mounting recently, with worries that its leader, Massoud Barzani, is cancelling the presidential elections in autumn and is set to remain in power for another two years despite strong opposition from rival parties.
Last week, Barzani ended weeks of speculation by accepting a decision by the Kurdistan region’s parliament, which is controlled by his party and its allies, to extend the term of his presidency, which ended this month.
Barzani’s decision apparently torpedoed efforts by the opposition groups to limit his tenure to two terms and change Kurdistan’s political system from an insular and intolerant autocracy dominated by two political parties to a more democratic government.
On 30 June, the Kurdish parliament decided to extend Barzani’s presidency for two more years, following an agreement by the two ruling parties, Barzani’s own Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraq’s Kurdish President Jalal Talabani.
Between them, the parties hold a majority of the seats in the regional legislature.
Barzani did not sign the extension decree as required by law to turn a bill into legislation, apparently to give the impression that he was not seeking the extension. Instead, he waited for the 15-day period required by law to let any parliamentary bill automatically go into effect.
Opposition groups have been pressing Barzani to comply with the region’s law, which places a limit of two four-year terms on the post. They accuse Barzani, whose KDP and family members have dominated Kurdish politics for more than half a century, of becoming increasingly authoritarian.
The opposition also believes that behind Barzani’s decision lie his ambitions to stay in position for life and eventually pass the post to his son Masrour. The latter, a powerful member of Barzani’s party leadership and the head of its intelligence organisation, is widely believed to be being groomed by his father for the job.
However, the pro-reform Change Movement, or Goran, and two Islamist opposition parties rejected Barzani’s move and described the extension as unconstitutional. They warned that the move would spark a new crisis in Kurdistan.
The parties pledged to resort to all peaceful methods to reject the extension of Barzani’s tenure, including boycotting the parliament and taking the case to the country’s federal court in Baghdad.
“The Iraqi constitution states that Iraq is a democratic country, which means that there should be peaceful rotation of power. What we see today is that Barzani is trying to cling onto power even though his two terms in office have expired,” said Goran spokesman Mustafa Latif.
In a further setback, the Kurdistan Elections Commission has asked the government to postpone local elections in the region from 21 September to November.
The commission also decided that counting the ballots cast in the next elections would be done at the commission’s offices rather than at polling centres.
The opposition parties said the postponement of the elections would create a legal and constitutional vacuum, expressing fears that the election would be fraught with irregularities and possibly rigging.
For years, Iraq’s Kurds have been entangled in internal bickering over the regional political system.
The opposition parties have been pressing to amend a number of key items in the region’s draft constitution, such as changing the region’s governing system from a presidential to a parliamentary one, reducing the powers of the president, and the passage of a constitution that guarantees the president can only be elected twice.
The region’s draft constitution was passed by the regional parliament in 2009, but the two parties, the KDP and the PUK, that share power in the region never put it to a referendum.
On 23 May, Barzani announced that he would call for a referendum on the draft constitution despite opposition demands for amendments. His announcement sparked criticisms that he was tying to circumvent the opposition’s efforts to reform Kurdistan’s political system and make it more democratic.
The opposition groups demand that the constitution be sent back to parliament for amendment before any referendum is held.
Barzani, who has served the maximum of two terms in office, has not yet declared his candidacy for a third term, but his supporters argue that he can stand for re-election because he was initially appointed by the Kurdish parliament in 2005 and then re-elected in a public vote four years later.
His move to cancel the presidential elections and his refusal to send the region’s draft constitution to parliament for a debate has reinforced speculation that Barzani is seeking a third term in office despite objections by his opponents.
His defiant moves have raised fears of a setback in Iraq’s autonomous northern enclave, which has been dubbed an oasis of democracy, political stability and economic growth in a violence-torn country.
The reality, however, indicates that the Kurdish leader is building on his popularity as a guerrilla leader and on his party’s ability to mobilise mass support in favour of his agenda to hold onto power in disregard of opposition voices.
To that effect, Barzani is mobilising the Kurdish street against the opposition by portraying it as undermining stability and prosperity in the region.
In his latest public address he criticised the opposition groups for allegedly triggering a political crisis and for not heeding calls for a consensus to resolve the region’s political deadlock.
Kurdistan’s constitutional crisis is expected to go on brewing even after Barzani’s defiant move, and the controversy may soon escalate as the opposition to his autocratic tendencies shows no signs of fading away. 
In February 2011, thousands of protesters came out onto the streets in several of Kurdistan’s main cities in what was called the “Kurdish Spring” that rivalled the pro-democracy uprisings that toppled three Arab dictatorships.
They were demanding an end to corruption and to the monopoly of power by Barzani’s and Talabani’s parties.
Now the opposition says that all options are open in its bid to defeat Barzani’s intentions to hold onto power.
Barzani’s long-term political ally, the PUK, whose partnership has remained the bedrock for peace in Kurdistan for years, is showing increasing signs of discontent, with many of its members criticising what they see as Barzani’s lust for power.
The PUK, which fears competition from Goran, has expressed concerns about Barzani’s reluctance to send the draft constitution to parliament for amendment.
On Sunday, Adel Murad, head of the PUK’s central council, told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that his party had agreed to extend Barzani’s term on condition that he would return the draft constitution to parliament for amendment.
“The KDP has reneged on its promises and commitments,” Murad said.
Yet, there has been no sign that Barzani is ready to relax his hold on power. On the contrary, he has used his leadership style and a common touch that courts the Kurdish populace to steer the on-going crisis his way.
In a bid to drum up public support, he recently increased the rhetoric about the Kurds seeking full independence from the rest of Iraq if attempts to resolve the disputes failed.
Last month, he made a rare visit to Baghdad for talks with Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki on the Kurdish region’s lingering disputes over resources and land with the Shia-led federal government.
The visit, and the attendant patriotic rhetoric, seemed to be intended to divert the Iraqi Kurds’ attention away from the political crisis in Kurdistan.
This week Barzani invited Kurdish leaders from Turkey, Iran and Syria for a National Kurdish Conference in Erbil in a bid to agree on a unified strategy “to achieve the rights of the Kurdish people”.
Many Iraqi Kurds say this is just another way of sidetracking debate about the region’s constitutional crisis. 
Like many autocrats masquerading as democrats, Barzani is doing everything he can to cling onto power. But his desire to do so could mean the end of Kurdistan’s much-touted democracy.

What about Iraqi federalism?

Roughly 10 years after it was declared a federal state, Iraq is not yet on course to become a stable, peaceful and united nation, writes Salah Nasrawi
Iraq’s parliament is expected to debate divisive laws soon that could escalate the struggle over power, territory and resources among the country’s multiple ethno-sectarian groups.
The move, which has renewed discussion of federalism in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, comes amid a new wave of sectarian violence and a chronic political crisis that has paralysed the country following Saddam’s ouster by the US-led invasion in 2003.
Among the proposed legislation is a new law to redraw the frontiers between Iraq’s 18 provinces that has already sparked fears of partitioning the war-torn country.
The controversial law is being pushed for by the autonomous Kurdish enclave in the north of the country, but it is vehemently opposed by Sunni Arabs, ethnic Turkomans and many Shias.
It was originally proposed by the Kurdish President Jalal Talabani in 2011, but was not tabled for debate by parliament. Many members had argued that Talabani, who is a ceremonial president, had no right to suggest legislation. It was then vetoed by Shia Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.
The Kurds hope that the proposed law would solve a dispute over territories which they claim were ordered by the Saddam regime to be annexed by neighbouring Arab-dominated provinces.
The mainly Sunni Iraqiya List described the proposed law as a recipe to undermine peace in Iraq. “It will have huge demographical consequences because it will cut land from some provinces and give it to others,” the group said in a statement.
The Shia Sadrist Movement, believed to have a strong political presence in the oil-rich Kirkuk province and other disputed territories, also voiced reservations about the new law.
The Turkomans, who are considered Iraq’s third-largest ethnicity, also rejected the proposal which they said would allow the Kurds to seize territories populated by Turkomans.
Arshad Al-Salehi of the Turkomans Front, the community’s political arm, said a Turkoman province should be established first in Tuzkhormato where the ethnic community is in a majority.
Like the Arabs in the disputed territories, the Turkomans say they want to maintain the unity of Iraq and save Kirkuk from being annexed by the Kurdish region.
The Turkomans also accuse the Kurds of being behind a series of blasts in their areas recently in efforts to force them to leave their territories.
Even a parliamentary committee that should make recommendations for the bill seems to have doubts about its viability.
“It is fraught with disagreements,” said Mansour Al-Timimi, deputy for the committee’s chairman.
The Kurds, meanwhile, argue that the law, if adopted, will strengthen Iraq’s unity and prevent its partitioning.
Arif Tayfour, a Kurdish deputy speaker of the parliament, accused Arabs opposing the bill of being chauvinistic.
Surprisingly, there has been no public discussion on the suggested law. Many Iraqis believe that redrawing the provincial borders is an incendiary issue that could lead to further deterioration in security and instability.
Iraq’s post-Saddam constitution states that the country is a federal state. But while the Kurds have raised federalism to the status of a national mythology because it is tied to their aspirations for independence, Arab Sunnis, Turkomans and many Shias seem not to be ready to learn to live with its problems.
Indeed, for many Arabs federalism is seen as synonymous with partition, and they fear that federalism could eventually lead to Iraq’s partition.
But many Sunnis are disgruntled with the US-orchestrated political process and the constitution which they believe has empowered Shias and Kurds at their expense.
Some Sunnis have started talking in recent months about federalism as a solution to their perceived marginalisation by the Shia-led government in Baghdad.
But most Sunnis remain opposed to federalism and hope that by continuing their protests and resistance to the political system they will be able to regain prominence a decade after the 2003 US-led invasion of the country toppled Saddam’s minority Sunni regime and propelled Iraq’s majority Shias to power.
“Federalism is the gateway for partition,“ said prominent Sunni cleric Abdel-Malik Al-Saadi, who is widely seen as a spiritual leader of the Sunnis, on Thursday in a statement.
The other controversial piece of legislation that the parliament is set to debate is a law that will set up a supreme federal council.
Under the Iraqi constitution, there should be a Federation Council, an upper chamber of parliament that represents regions and governorates. This should be composed of representatives of the regions and all governorates that have not joined a region.
The council’s main goal is to enhance the separation of powers, serve as a buffer between the executive branch and the lower legislative chamber, and afford the regions and governorates and their constituents a greater voice within the central government.
But the idea of the council has never been activated due to a lack of consensus among Iraqi factions on its composition, powers and procedures.
The Kurds have also been pushing hard to establish the Council, which they hope will function to safeguard the privileges of their region from excessive overreach by the federal government.
While it remains highly unlikely that the parliament will pass the bills, plenty of Iraqis doubt that the new laws will provide the proper medicine for their country’s gridlock.
Last month, the parliament endorsed legislation to amend the provincial administration law which would give local governments great powers. The legislation was aimed to give the provinces incentives and contain autonomy movements by giving them alternative self-governance arrangements.
Under the new law, elected provincial councils will have wide-ranging powers in decision-making related to the administration of the local governments.
It gives local governments the right to supervise all the activities of state departments in the provinces, including the security forces, in order to ensure the proper execution of their duties.
The law also increases the petrodollar shares in the oil-producing provinces from $1 to $5 per barrel.
The controversy over the proposed laws, however, has sparked fears that the dispute over federalism could further deepen ethnic and sectarian groups’ lack of confidence in Iraq’s political system and in the prospects for peace.
Since the start of the holy month of Ramadan on 10 July, violence has spiked and attacks have killed and wounded dozens of people, most of them near mosques.
The new acts of violence have raised fears that Iraq is heading toward an apocalyptic sectarian war reminiscent of the one that peaked in 2006 and 2007. More than 2,600 people have been killed since the start of April.
Among the worst areas affected by the violence are cities and towns in disputed territories, highlighting the precarious situation in these areas.
In a country scarred by violence and facing an uncertain future, it is imperative for Iraqi politicians to reexamine the political system they forged under the US occupation, including the constitution and federalism, in order to move toward some degree of stability.
Given the mixed feelings of Iraq’s ethno-sectarian groups towards federalism, Iraqi politicians are faced with a hard choice — between leaving Iraq’s unity hanging in the balance and reforming the political system.
If it comes to this decision, they should not ditch the unity of the country.

قوة الحشود

قوة الحشود
الاهرام 6 يوليو 2013

في معرض احد تعليقاته الأخيرة حول الانتقادات الموجهة لادارته بشأن طريقة تعاملها مع تطورات الاوضاع في مصر علي ضوء خروج الملايين من المصريين المطالبين برحيل رئيسهم قال الرئيس الامريكي باراك اوباما ان سياسة الولايات المتحدة الخارجية لا تتغير بالاستناد الي عدد الرؤوس المشاركة بمسيرات التظاهر.

كلام اوباما, بطبيعة الحال, والذي بدا وكأنه يتحدث عن رؤوس في مزرعة بصل, كان يعكس دون مواربة, وايضا بفضاضة, نظرة التندر او حتي الاحتقار, التي تنظر فيها السياسة الخارجية الامريكية للحشود الجماهيرية والارادة الشعبية في عملية التغيير, علي الرغم من ان الانتفاضات والحركات الجماهيرية استقرت منذ زمن طويل في الفكر والعمل السياسي باعتبارها اداة اساسية من ادوات النضال والتغير.
هذه النظرة الامريكية الاستعلائية ليست جديدة فصناع السياسة الخارجية والاعلام في واشنطن دأبوا منذ زمن طويل علي توجيه النعوت السلبية والشتائم, كالغوغاء والرعاع والحثالة, للحشود الجماهيرية التي لا تأتي تطلعاتها او مطالبها علي هوي التوجهات والسياسات الامريكية, لاسباب يطول شرحها هنا, لكن يمكن اختصارها بكراهية هؤلاء للطابع الثوري والوطني الذي عادة ما تنطبع به هذه التحركات ازاء المصالح الامريكية وتجاه حلفائها المحليين.
في الادبيات المتعلقة بالثورات فان ما من ظاهرة تاريخية اهملها التاريخ الغربي كما يقول المؤرخ البريطاني والمرجع في تاريخ الثورات جورج رودي مثل ظاهرة الحشود التي يراها صانعة التغير الحقيقي من اسفل.هذه الملاحظة بشأن تجاهل الحشود تنطبق بشكل خاص علي الطريقة الاستشراقية التي تتناول بها السياسة والاعلام في الغرب شئون الشرق الاوسط, كما رأها الباحث الايراني يرفند ابراهميان وهو يسجل تاريخ الحشود في بلاده التي نجحت بالاطاحة بنظام الشاه عام.1979
يجدر التنبيه هنا بأن الحشود كوسيلة تعبيرعند الجماهير من اجل التغير وكبنية اجتماعية متماسكة ومتوافقة علي اهداف وطنية هي غير اعمال العصيان او الشغب العفوية او حملات الشحن والتعبئة الهستيرية التي تندرج ضمن استراتيجيات التهيج الجماهيري التي اعتادت عليها الانظمة والحركات الشمولية والفاشية في تجيش انصارها او العوام مستثمرة سيكولوجية القطيع في معاركها وفي تصديها للمقاومة, في حين ان التحشيد هو فعل ادراكي واستراتيجية ايجابية للتغير والنهوض.
لكن بغض النظر عن الموقف الامريكي, الذي لا تخفي عنا دوافعه, فان السؤال الذي يواجه المحللين اليوم, وبالتأكيد المؤرخين غدا, هو هل ان الحشود المصرية التي توجت سلسلة انتفاضاتها منذ ثورة25 يناير بالهبة الجماهيرية الكبري الحالية هي فعلا شيء مجرد وانها لا تصنع سياسة بقدر ما تثير الكثير من الهياج وما يصاحبه من غبار قد يحجب الرؤية الحقيقية للوقائع, ام انها فعل ثوري حقيقي مؤسس للسياسة والتاريخ.
أهمية هذا السؤال تأتي ايضا من السجالات والمحاججات التي انطلقت مباشرة بعد اعلان القوات المسلحة المصرية عن عزل الرئيس السابق محمد مرسي, وخاصة في الاعلام الغربي وبالذات الامريكي, عما اذا كان ذلك انقلابا عسكريا ضد رئيس منتخب ديمقراطيا في مسعي للنيل من الشرعية الثورية التي مثلتها مطالب التحشيد وفي تأجيج ردود افعال مضادة.
لعل نظرة فاحصة للجهود التي خططت ونظمت وادارت الهبة الجماهيرية التي فجرت الموجة الجديدة للثورة المصرية في30 يونية, واقصد بذلك حركة تمرد, تبين لنا انها كانت تراهن بالدرجة الاولي علي حشد الجماهير ودفعها للنزول للشارع للدفاع عن ثورتها وانقاذها قبل فوات الآوان.بالتأكيد ان تاريخ الثورات العالمية سيدون ذلك في سجلاته ولكننا نحن الاحياء قد شهدنا كيف ان المصريين بكل انتماءاتهم وخلفياتهم قد توحدوا في كتلة صلبة, وفي ظروف شديدة التعقيد, في عملية تحشيد جبارة كانت هي الوسيلة الوحيدة المتبقية للتعبيرعن وجودهم.
ان اللجوء للحشد الجماهيري في الحالة المصرية الاخيرة كان الخيار الاخير بعد حالة الاستعصاء التي واجهتها العملية الانتقالية بسبب محاولات الهيمنة التي مارسها الفريق الذي اعتبر ان نجاح مرشحه بانتخابات الرئاسة هو بمثابة تفويض شعبي للتمكين من كامل السلطة في الدولة والمجتمع, كما انه كان مسعي ضروريا لادامة الروح الثورية واستكمال تحقيق اهداف الثورة.
والحقيقة ان الحشود الجماهيرية كانت الاسلوب الامثل والانبل الذي اتبعته الثورة المصرية منذ البداية كأداة جديد وفريدة في حركات التغير والنضال في مصر وفي المنطقة عموما في نهج مغاير لذلك الذي استحكم في الفكر والعمل السياسي العربي لعقود طويلة والذي كان دائما ما يلجأ الي التغير من اعلي كالتغير بالغلبة او بالانقلابات او حتي بالغزو الاحتلال الاجنبي وليس التغير من اسفل من خلال المشاركة الجماهيرية.
ما قامت به عملية التحشيد في الثورة المصرية في صفحتها الثالثة هو تأصيل مشروع الثورة ليس باعتبار ذلك صراعا علي السلطة بين حكام ومحكومين, بل باعتباره ايضا صراعا علي روح وهوية وقيم المجتمع المصري التي واجهت جميعا تهديدا وجوديا علي يد التيار الذي تمكن من الحكم في الفترة الانتقالية والذي لم يخف نيته في تغير كل ذلك وفق برنامجه الذي كان بالتأكيد مغايرا, ان لم يكن نقيضا لاهداف الثورة وبرنامجها.
وما لا يقل اهمية عن النجاح الباهر الذي حققته الحشود في تحقيق هدفها المعلن في اسقاط الرئيس هو اسقاط اخطر مشروع للمنطقة وللعالم كانت عرابته الولايات المتحدة الامريكية وذيولها والذي كان يستهدف اعادة صياغة المنطقة بما يمكن من صعود تيار الاسلام السياسي الي سدة الحكم ليس حبا فيه بل كاستراتيجية جديدة يأتي علي قمة اهدافها تدجين هذا التيار والحاقه بالتبعية الامريكية ودمجه بجهود ما يسمي بعملية السلام مع اسرائيل وتحويله بالتالي الي حارس لاسرائيل وضامن لامنها.
ان خير دليل علي فعالية الحشود وقوتها في هذا السياق هو ان الولايات المتحدة التي استهانت في البداية بحملة تمرد وسخر رئيسها من عدد رؤوس المشاركين في الزحف الذي خرج يوم30 يونية هي التي عادت بعد ثلاثة ايام الي تغير موقفها بعد ان ادركت ان وراء هذه الحشود ارادة شعبية عارمة لن يفل عضدها اي شئ الا بعد ان تنتصر وتضمن تحقيق مطالبها.
هناك كثيرون سيدعون فضلا فيما جري خلال الاشهر والاسابيع والايام الماضية الا ان الحقيقة الاكيدة هي ان الملايين من المصريين التي لبت نداء نزل الي الشارع هي التي استطاعت بالتالي اسقاط مرسي والمشروع الذي جاء به برمته.هناك حقيقة اخري يؤكدها المؤرخ البريطاني جورج رودي في كتابه االحشد في التاريخ وهي تتعلق بموقف الجيش والذي علي اساسه يتحقق مصر الحشد, وهو ما اثبته الجيش المصري حين انحاز للحشود ولخياراتها.

Iraq’s early celebrations

Iraq’s early celebrations

Even if Iraq manages finally to exit from the sanctions imposed after the first Gulf War, their wrecking effects will live on for generations to come, writes Salah Nasrawi
Shortly after the news came through from the UN Security Council last week that its 15 members had decided unanimously to ease some of the international sanctions still in place against Baghdad, a jubilant Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki appeared on state-run television to declare victory for Iraq.
Soon afterwards, fireworks lit up the Baghdad sky and soldiers fired bullets in the air to celebrate what a chorus of Al-Maliki government officials described as a “historic and a joyful day” for all Iraqis.
A flurry of celebratory statements also came from rival political leaders, probably to avoid being thought of as unpatriotic, though some voiced scepticism about whether the new resolution would offer a solution to Iraq’s many troubles, including deteriorating security, lingering political conflict and ethno-sectarian in-fighting.
On 27 June, the Security Council decided to bring Iraq one step closer to ending the international sanctions imposed on Baghdad more than two decades ago after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.
The sanctions have had momentous effects on the Iraqi people, though at the time they were imposed as a way of forcing Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait.
Under the new resolution, the council terminated provisions in earlier texts relating to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait that have remained in force despite the toppling of Saddam in 2003 after the US-led invasion.
Iraq has already complied with most of these crippling provisions, including disarmament, new border demarcations and the paying of huge reparations.
The council decided that the remaining issues of missing Kuwaiti nationals and property would now be handled under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, which calls for the peaceful resolution of disputes.
Another key provision of the new resolution was the council’s decision to transfer the mandate formerly assigned to the High Level Coordinator for Iraq-Kuwait Missing Persons and Property to the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq.
UN Security Council Resolution 2107 stated that council members were acting under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which allows for the military enforcement of any measures taken.
However, the Iraqi government insisted that the new resolution removed Iraq from Chapter 7 and hailed this as a historic turning point for a country that had gone through carnage after the US-led invasion in 2003.
It did not come as a surprise that Al-Maliki and his allies would try to take advantage of the new resolution by presenting it as a victory and a political boost, as the embattled prime minister struggles to stay in power in the face of mounting opposition inside the country and isolation outside.
However, Iraq is not the winner under the new resolution. The sanctions were the most comprehensive and devastating of any established in the name of international law, and they brought about the near collapse of Iraq’s infrastructure and compromised the basic conditions necessary to sustain life.
More than one million Iraqis, including half a million children, died in Iraq as a result of the UN sanctions, which were enthusiastically imposed by Kuwait and its two main allies, Britain and the United States.
The sanctions had far-reaching impacts on Iraq’s food, health, water, sanitation and education sectors. The trade embargo destroyed Iraq’s main economic sectors, including industry and agriculture. Because of the sanctions, the Iraqi civilian population was exposed to punishment for something it had not done, while Saddam was allowed to continue to rule over a crippled nation.
Thus far, Kuwait has received about $40 billion in reparations as a result of Iraq’s seven-month occupation of the tiny emirate. Billions of dollars of Iraqi money have also gone to expatriates working in Kuwait to compensate them for the loss of their jobs.
This money was badly needed in Iraq itself to rebuild the war-devastated nation and make up for its wrecked infrastructure.
Under the harsh provisions of the UN resolutions, Iraq lost hundreds of square km of its land, including ports, oil fields and farms, to Kuwait. UN demarcation of the borders and territorial waters ignored Iraq’s desire for greater access to Gulf waters.
Most significantly, the UN resolutions were used as a pretext for using military force against Iraq and subsequently for its invasion and occupation by the United States for nearly 10 years.
Despite all this, the UN has not fully lifted the sanctions against Iraq even 10 years after the toppling of Saddam in 2003 and after Iraq had complied with most of the Security Council’s resolutions related to the invasion.
Iraq is still subject to a UN arms embargo and asset-freeze on individuals and entities linked to Saddam. The country is also still held accountable for finding missing Kuwaiti persons and property, and it is still liable for some $11 billion in reparations to Kuwait.
Kuwait’s claims have raised questions as to whether they are justified, and the issue of the sanctions has repeatedly resurfaced, especially after the US-led invasion and the ousting of Saddam.
Among the Iraqi public, there is little acceptance of Iraqi responsibility for the invasion and little sense that the Iraqi people were responsible for it. Many Iraqis say that the claims arising out of Saddam’s invasion should have been written off once he was toppled.
Accordingly, there has been growing resentment among many Iraqis at the reparations and other measures, which have been perceived as unduly harsh and imposed as a punishment and not as a matter of justice.
Many Iraqis believe that Iraq’s post-Saddam governments should not have to assume the obligation for the entire debt represented by the reparations, since these governments cannot be held responsible for the invasion of Kuwait.
They also believe that Kuwait should accept some of the responsibility for the occupation because the US and other foreign troops invaded Iraq through Kuwaiti territory during the war.
Such disagreements have cast shadows over relations between the two countries and brought back ghosts from the past. Kuwaitis find it hard to forget that Iraq invaded their tiny country and annexed it, calling it Iraq’s 19th province.
On the other hand, many Iraqis claim that Kuwait is indeed a part of Iraq, having been carved off as a result of British colonialism. This notion was used by Saddam to justify his invasion of Kuwait and its subsequent annexation.
Two of Iraq’s rulers before Saddam, King Ghazi and Prime Minister Abdel-Karim Qassim, also maintained a similar stance.
Even after Saddam’s ouster, relations between Iraq and Kuwait remained cool, signalling difficulties over ending outstanding issues. Tensions have escalated along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border many times over the past ten years, and the consequent political developments have cast long shadows over efforts to normalise relations.
Iraqis have frequently demonstrated at the border and hit back over what they see as Kuwait’s “land grab”. In 2011, clashes erupted between Iraqi protesters and Kuwaiti border guards and rockets were fired from inside Iraq against Kuwait.
In 2011, the two countries were locked in a bitter wrangle over the construction of the Mubarak Al-Kabeer Port by Kuwait that Baghdad says violates the two countries’ UN-demarcated border and encroaches on its territorial waters.
Iraq may now have unloaded most of the burden of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, but the question remains of why Kuwait has finally agreed to help Iraq in clearing the hurdles to exit the remaining UN sanctions after nearly two decades of refusing to do so.
Many analysts believe that Kuwait, which has used the UN provisions as a Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of politicians in Baghdad, has acted under the dictate of new regional political realities.
According to these analysts, the removal of Iraq from Chapter 7 provisions was long overdue and keeping the humiliating sanctions on its northern neighbour amid continuous sectarian turmoil in Iraq and a shift in the regional political landscape would have done Kuwait more harm than good.
A broader analysis shows that Kuwait is worried by the escalating tension in the region over Syria and the rising possibility of a closer Iraqi-Iranian alliance that could pit the Arab Sunni governments in the Gulf against the two Shia-controlled countries.
Given the high risk involved of Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations erupting into another regional flashpoint, Kuwaiti strategists might have preferred to adjust their long-held policy of using the Chapter 7 provisions as a coercive and precautionary measure to stifle any possibility of Iraqi belligerency to opening up to the Baghdad government.

As Iraq still remains shackled by the inhibiting effects of the UN provisions, it remains to be seen, however, if Baghdad’s celebratory mood towards its southern neighbour and Kuwait’s new conciliatory approach will help the two countries overcome their bloody and acrimonious past, or whether it is just another lull in their long-standing dispute.