(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, is threatening to declare independence if the dysfunctional Shiite fundamentalist-dominated government in Baghdad continues to refuse to share power with the country's elected political forces.
In an oft repeated quote, he stated: "What threatens the unity of Iraq is dictatorship and authoritarian rule. If Iraq heads towards a democratic state, then there will be no trouble. But if Iraq heads towards a dictatorial state, then we will not be able to live with dictatorship."
He warned that Iraq is facing a "very dangerous political crisis" and said this must be resolved by September when Kurdish voters could vote on secession in a referendum.
While some analysts argue that Barzani is simply uttering this threat to force Baghdad to accept the Kurdish region's separate dealings with foreign oil companies exploring the north or exploiting its oil resources, others believe the issue is much larger than the dispute over oil. They contend that Barzani objects to the sidelining of political rivals by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, as well as his blacklisting of ExxonMobil from bids for contracts to develop oil fields outside the three-province Kurdish region because the firm has concluded deals with the Kurdish government.
Maliki retained his post after his party came in second in the 2010 parliamentary election, because he outmanoeuvred his main competitor for the top job, Iyad Allawi, head of the Iraqiya secular coalition. Maliki appealed to Tehran, which used its influence to convince the Kurds and the followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr to back him.
Since then, Iraq's foreign policy has been subjugated to that of Tehran. This has alienated the Sunnis, who generally support Allawi, a secular Shiite, and, to a certain extent, the Kurds who prefer to have a functioning government rather than the current faltering, inept, openly sectarian administration.
The issues which have particularly angered Allawi's backers are the accusations of "terrorism" levelled by Maliki at Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi, a Sunni who was forced to seek refuge from prosecution in the Kurdish region, and the persecution of Iraqiya heavyweight politician Saleh Al Mutlaq for accusing Maliki of being a "dictator".
Fugitive Hashemi responded to Sadr's initiative by saying that Iraq has "reached a crossroads", and called for a "tailor-made political solution" to the crisis. He argued that "Maliki is becoming the core of the problem" and reiterated the accusation that he has, despite the growing crisis, continued to consolidate his grip on power. Hashemi threatened a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister.
The Hashemi-Mutlaq problem has divided the Kurds, with Barzani standing with Hashemi, Mutlaq and Allawi, while Iraqi national President Jalal Talabani, Barzani's long-standing rival, has tilted towards Maliki. Tensions over Maliki have been exacerbated by the competition for regional influence between Turkey, favoured by Barzani, and Iran, Talabani's longstanding ally.
A week ago, Sadr travelled to Irbil, the Kurdish capital, in a bid to defuse the crisis between Barzani and Maliki. The primary aim of Sadr, who is for the present also allied with Iran, is to maintain the Shiite-Kurdish coalition that has kept Maliki in power since late 2010.
Sadr travelled to Irbil after meeting Maliki in Tehran, demonstrating once again that Iran has considerable influence on Iraq's internal politics.
While in Irbil, Sadr made the points that Iraq's minorities, including Kurds and Sunnis, must not be sidelined. They must, instead, be brought into governance of the country.
Sadr said that the policy of "neglect and marginalisation" must end, and observed that that the defence and security ministries, temporarily held by Maliki, must be filled. His control of these ministries has given rise to accusations that he seeks to keep all the levers of power in his hands.
Sadr's visit to Irbil appeared to have a positive outcome. He, Barzani and Talabani called for a "comprehensive national programme" to resolve political disputes. They were joined in this call by Allawi and parliamentary speaker Usama Nujaifi. However, it is unclear how the current crisis can be resolved unless Maliki agrees to share power, reversing his gradual assumption of increasing authority ever since being parachuted into the premiership in 2006.
The internal political tussle has been deepened by the regional dimension. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also accused Maliki of monopolising power, and Saudi Arabia showed where it stands by hosting Hashemi while Maliki insisted that he should return to Baghdad and face prosecution on charges believed to be politically motivated. Sadr's intervention, who acted with the blessing of Tehran, was clearly meant to try to defuse the crisis which has injected venom into the regional competition for influence between Shiite Iran and Sunni powers.
Another aspect of this destructive competition is the struggle for power in Syria, where Tehran is backing the government, and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates are supporting the opposition and the rebels.