Remember Iraq? You know, that place that use to be on the news ALL the time? They took another step into the future last weekend when folks in the northern Kurdish areas went to the polls to elect their regional government.
Kurdistan has a large degree of autonomy within Iraq and even has its own parliament, which until last weekend was totally dominated by a union between its two largest parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The two-party union will still be in control when the new Kurdish parliament is seated (they together took 57% of the vote), but a new third party called the Change list made a pretty respectable showing, gathering nearly a quarter of the vote.
This is one of those glass half-full/half-empty situations. The positive view of the election is that Change's surprisingly good showing is an indication of democracy fully taking root in Kurdistan and Iraq; the negative view is that a basically unknown party was able to do so well because the Kurds are fed up with the corruption of the KDP-PUK union. Many Kurds say that unless you are a member of one of the two parties, you can't get a job, others are upset with their regional leaders confrontational relationship with the national government down in Baghdad. And many of the seats in the Kurdish Parliament lost by the KDP-PUK union came from the PUK side, prompting some thought that the KDP could decide they don't need to continue their relationship with the PUK. That could cause real problems for Kurdistan since the two sides nearly fell into a civil war during the 90's over control of the Kurdish region.
Kurdistan holds the key to Iraq's future; if Iraq does fall apart it will probably be because of Kurdistan. The biggest issue in Iraqi politics today is control over the city of Kirkuk. Kirkuk was once a Kurdish city, but during his reign, in an effort to eradicate the Kurds, Saddam Hussein 'encouraged' tens of thousands of Iraqi Arabs to move into Kirkuk, drastically changing the demographics of the place. The Kurds think the city should go back to its historic designation as a Kurdish city, while Iraq’s Arab majority thinks that the city should stay allied with Baghdad and not be part of the Kurdish Autonomous Region.
What makes this not just an academic debate over demographics is oil, and lots of it. The fields around Kirkuk may hold as much as 4% of the world's remaining oil reserves, much of which is currently untapped, meaning there are billions of dollars to be made. Of course the Kurds think those billions should flow to their capital, Arbil, while the Iraqi Arabs think it should go to Baghdad. Iraq's politicians, showing the type of leadership they likely learned from the US Congress, have dealt with the Kirkuk situation by doing their best to ignore it.
That's a fine solution to a problem until the day when you actually do have to deal with it, a day that for Iraq is rapidly approaching.
3 days ago