- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Over the weekend, the people of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region went to the polls to elect their new Parliament. This achievement marked yet another milestone in the region’s development toward a democratic and transparent society. For that, we applaud the Kurds.

Much has been said about Iraqi Kurdistan, but one thing is certain: Through starts and stops, the Kurdistan Region has moved forward in fulfilling its democratic aspirations. Saturday’s election is just the latest example.

The newly elected Parliament has, among other attributes, more than 30 percent female membership. That percentage is greater than in any country in the Middle East, North America and most of Europe. Moreover, the Parliament has representation from every religious and ethnic constituency within the region.

Their journey has not been easy, and errors have been made along the way. However, the Kurds have risen from the ashes of tyranny and are building a thriving civil society in the heart of the Middle East.

It has been more than 17 years since the first glimmers of democracy began to shine in Iraqi Kurdistan. The first democratic elections in the Kurdistan Region were held in 1992, thanks in large part to the no-fly-zone protection offered by our nation, Britain and others after the 1991 Gulf war. The Kurds have used those years wisely in planting the roots of free enterprise and democratic principles within their society.

Among its notable feats, the Kurdish Region has rebuilt its devastated infrastructure and created a more secure environment in Iraq.

Nonetheless, our colleagues and we also know much remains to be done. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has acknowledged shortcomings in governance and transparency, including the need to address corruption.

To act on its good-governance pledge, the government earlier this month announced its Good Governance and Transparency Initiative, designed in partnership with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, to review how its government works and craft an action plan to address shortcomings. We applaud government officials for their openness and urge them to act on their intent to improve their governance and transparency.

Good governance goes hand in hand with the application of the rule of law. In 2008, the Kurdistan Region’s judiciary was separated from the executive and legislative branches of government to create an independent body. That judiciary is learning how to stand on its own feet, be objective and uphold the rule of law. Our government should help it in this important initiative.

There also remain challenges at a national level. Both the federal government of Iraq and the KRG must find common ground, respect their nation’s constitution and seek to resolve the outstanding issues of oil revenue sharing and the potentially explosive issue of disputed territories.

It is important to note, however, that extraordinary progress has been achieved on oil production. Since the first of June, 100,000 barrels of oil per day have been produced, and revenue-sharing is occurring between the Kurdish Region and the central government in Baghdad.

The regional government, its people and the federal government of Iraq must continue to reject extremism and aid allies in seeking out and defeating terrorist threats wherever they exist. Progress on these issues will enable its friends in America to continue standing by the entire nation.

There are no shortcuts to democracy, and the road ahead for the KRG is long. It is hard work, but the destination is rewarding, and our Kurdish friends have made great strides in a relatively short time.

In the wake of the region’s recent election, many — Arab Christians and Muslims, as well as members of other groups — already have voted with their feet by seeking shelter in the region’s security. Our Congress and the administration should reflect on just how important this progress is for all Iraq and avoid actions that would impede or diminish that progress.

Rep. Lincoln Davis, Tennessee Democrat, and Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, are co-chairmen of the 23-member Kurdish American Congressional Caucus.

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