THE BLOG

Maliki, the Kurds and the Future of Iraq

17/06/2014 13:04 BST | Updated 16/08/2014 10:59 BST

Iraq will be on the verge of disaster if we do not see urgent action to reverse its fast-moving and bloody crises, which have been needlessly aggravated by the actions of its prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

Six years ago, I met Maliki in Baghdad on a Labour Friends of Iraq delegation to press the case for trade union rights. Maliki gave us warm words and organised a press conference to convey the same message. Nothing changed the cold reality.

This has been the wider experience of Sunnis, Kurds and many Shias as Maliki tactically swallowed his words to take and keep power but then reneged in favour of a strategic divide-and-rule policy on a sectarian and dictatorial basis. This has marginalised many Sunnis, now less fearful of Isis than of Baghdad's bombs.

His punishing economic blockade of the Kurds - denied $6bn in revenues from the national coffers in the last six months - and blocking of vital Kurdish oil exports has alienated the most efficient part of Iraq.

His support for Assad has allowed its civil war to spill over into Iraq. Isis was incubated in Syria and gained the momentum to overrun parts of Iraq. As the prime minister and commander-in-chief, Maliki forced American troops to leave entirely in 2011. He cannot blame anyone else for his clear failure to protect Iraqis.

That his supposedly strong army deserted without a shot being fired is testament to the pathetic inefficiency at the heart of Baghdad. He either cannot stay as prime minister or has to change entirely to unify Iraq against an existential threat.

First things first. The priority must be urgent assistance from the international community to help Kurdistan cope with a further wave of humanity crossing its borders to join hundreds of thousands of other refugees who see Kurdistan as sanctuary.

The other priority is to stop Isis from holding Mosul and taking further territory. The Kurdish security forces, known as the Peshmerga (those who face death) are the only effective state military force around for now. They will not run away but their priority must be protecting the Kurds and this now includes Kirkuk.

Many Iraqis now face life under Isis, a group so extreme that even al-Qaida disowned it. Many others have lost everything to live in refugee camps for possibly years, with a lost generation of young people denied a decent education.

This awful situation requires the greatest moral, political and diplomatic clarity. The Kurds now hold the key to saving Iraq from its own demons and external enemies. They are now the frontline and our allies. Second order disputes with the Kurds should be settled urgently in order to focus a unified effort on the humanitarian and security challenges.

It is a time of historic reckoning which could either disintegrate Iraq or reintegrate it on a more democratic and inclusive basis with or without Maliki whose warm words no longer tide things over.