- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

The millions of people who reside in the Kurdish safe haven carved out of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991 believe that they are today living in a golden age, thanks largely to the U.S.-imposed northern no-fly zone that has permitted an unprecedented flowering of democracy, pluralism and human rights. At the same time, they are worried about the effects of regime change in a post-Saddam Iraq, particularly the frightening prospect of a scramble for power in their region. Policy-makers should have similar concerns as they contemplate the forcible removal of Saddam; there is a serious risk that such a move could constitute jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, with potentially disastrous implications for foreign policy. Accordingly, policy-makers need to give serious consideration to the solution to the problem of destabilization in Iraq after regime change that has been embraced by virtually all of the Iraqi opposition groups federalism.
The Iraqi National Congress (INC) has consistently supported the creation of a unified, federal and democratic post-Saddam Iraq. Even the Tehran-based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has recently clarified its position on federalism, arguing that there is a precedent in Islam for this form of governance. In fact, one can make the case that federalism has already been established in Iraq. The Kurdish safe haven under the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is, for all intents and purposes, a federal political unit. Regime change will simply connect this entity to a new central government.
Federalism is a system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units. In some multi-cultural states like Switzerland, the constituent political units are defined not only geographically but also culturally on the basis of language, ethnicity, religion or tribe. Federalism as an organizing structure for governance can promote stability in multi-cultural states through the establishment of political units whose relationship to the center is defined in a governing document that provides written principles concerning structures and rules for governance, and appropriation of federal funds.
A key consideration for the Bush administration and Congress is Turkey's position on Iraq's Kurdish question and federalism. It is well known that Turkey has consistently opposed the creation of an independent Kurdish state. More recently, however, Turkey has put forth mixed messages on the question of federalism and autonomy for the Kurds in a post-Saddam Iraq. One message has been that Turkey will not oppose the reorganization of Iraq along federal lines, as long as Mosul and the oil-rich city of Kirkuk are not ceded to a permanent Kurdistan regional governorate. A second is that a Turkoman regional governorate, to include Kirkuk, should be established within historic Iraqi Kurdistan for Iraq's small Turkoman community.
Turkey appears to have positioned itself to intervene militarily in the event of a regime change in Iraq. Turkish tanks are positioned in areas well inside the Kurdish safe haven. In the Barwari area, the Turkish flag's crescent and star are carved into the mountainside below, where Turkish tanks are stationed. Turkey's defense minister, Sabahattin Cakmakoglu, recently declared that "Turkey considers northern Iraq to be under its direct care" and would not tolerate the region "being subjugated to the interests of others" the "others" being, of course, Iraqi Kurds who represent the majority community in Iraqi Kurdistan (northern Iraq) and the second largest ethnic group in Iraq. Whether the historically Kurdish city of Kirkuk is incorporated into a permanent Kurdistan regional governorate in a future Iraq and whether a separate federal region for the Turkoman is to be established are decisions best left to the Iraqi people.
Notwithstanding the fact that Turkey is a staunch and valued ally, it is clearly in the national interest to expand the debate on federalism as the appropriate organizing framework for a post-Saddam Iraq within the administration and Congress. A just and lasting resolution to the Kurdish question is essential to establishing stability in Iraq. Federalism, as an organizing structure for governance in pluralistic societies, can resolve the Kurdish question and thus promote stability a precondition for the development of democracy, human rights and a vibrant civil society in a future Iraq.
Why? The leaders of the key Iraqi opposition groups including Kurds view federalism not only as the key to the solution of the Kurdish question, but also as the best "insurance" against the rise of another tyrannical regime in the future. The Bush administration and Congress should expand the debate and examine the thesis that, as in America, federalism in a future Iraq will provide the necessary checks and balances to moderate the power of any future central government and, as in Switzerland, guarantee the rights of all communities, including the Kurds.

Carole A. O'Leary is the Scholar in Residence for the Middle East Initiative at the Center for Global Peace and an adjunct professor at American University's School of International Service. She conducted research in the Kurdish safe haven in June and July.

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