America is on the Cusp of Passing a Constitutional Amendment to Ensure Gender Equality

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Photo credit: Flickr

*My article originally contains misleading information about the ERA’s ratification process.  Please take a look at the clarification at the bottom of the article.*

The fight over the replacement for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy may decide the future of women’s rights in America but a silent war for equality has been fought for over forty years and that fight may soon be won.  If we really want to protect women’s reproductive rights, if we really want to ensure equal pay for equal work, if we truly want to end gender discrimination, we simply cannot entrust the courts to continuously interpret the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment as applying to women.  While it may seem outrageous to pragmatic, logical minded people, constitutional fundamentalists including the late Supreme Court Justice and conservative hero, Antonin Scalia interpret the 14th Amendment as it was interpreted when it was written in the late 1800s, an interpretation which holds that women are not legally “persons” and thus not protected under the amendment.  While this radical opinion is not widely held, beliefs that the 14th Amendment does not fully prohibit sex discrimination are fairly widespread.  These opinions, when held by judges, can hamper reproductive freedom by allowing draconian restrictions on abortion and contraception.  In addition, the 14th Amendment alone does not fully prevent wage discrimination.  The rights of the LGBTQ community are also at risk when there is ambiguity on the legality of sex discrimination.

The only way to truly protect our society from sex-based discrimination is the passage of a constitutional amendment known as the Equal Rights Amendment or ERA.  The main section of the amendment reads as follows: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”  The ERA would make it nearly impossible for insurance providers to deny women access to contraception under the guise of religious beliefs.  Abortion rights would be significantly more protected under this amendment.  Discriminatory, anti-transgender “bathroom bills” would also likely be struck down as a result of the ERA if it is ratified.  Enforcement against discriminatory wage practices would likely be much stronger under the Equal Rights Amendment that it is now.

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A map of states which have and have not ratified the ERA.  Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica

While to many, the ratification of a constitutional amendment in the current political climate may seem like a distant pipe dream, in the case of the ERA, that could not be further from the truth.  The most common path for the ratification of an amendment to the US Constitution is laid out in Article V of the document.  In this path, amendments must pass a resolution with a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress before being approved by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states.   Currently, this means a total of 38 states must have approved any amendment for full ratification. The ERA passed Congress in 1978 and has since been ratified by 37 states.  That’s right, if one more state approves the Equal Rights Amendment, then it will become part of the Constitution.  The states yet to approve the ERA are listed below.  If you live in one of these states, call or write your state legislators and tell them to support the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.  Also, wherever you live, if you are eligible to vote, make sure you are registered to vote and be certain to vote up and down the ballot on November 6th.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Virginia

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Demonstrators in Virginia pushing for the ratification of the ERA.  Photo Credit: equalrightsamendment.org

 

Correction:

My article originally states that the ERA will become part of the Constitution as soon as the next state ratifies the amendment.  However, it is not actually that simple.  The resolution that passed Congress in 1978 contained a deadline for the amendment’s ratification which passed in 1982 when 35 of the required 38 states has approved the ERA.  However, in 1992, the 27th Amendment, which was originally introduced in 1789 was ratified when Michigan voted to ratify it.  In 2018, both Nevada and Ilinois ratified the ERA, after the 1982 deadline.  Many believe that Congress can retroactively extend the deadline on the ERA’s ratification, so despite the deadline passing 36 years ago, the Equal Rights Amendment still has a strong chance at passage into the Constitution.

 

 

My Progressive Guide to the 2018 California Primanies

 

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The 2018 midterms will have a monumental impact on the future direction of America and the primaries are just as important as the general election.  The following is my guide for who to vote for in California. I also have my preferences for local candidates in Santa Clara County listed. My preferences are based on how progressive a candidate’s positions are, what they already have achieved, how their campaigns are financed, and whether I like those who have endorsed the candidate or proposition.  Elections that apply to the whole state are underlined.

The California primary is on Tuesday, June 5th!

Make sure you get out and vote for a better California!

 

Governor of California:

I support Gavin Newsom, the current Lieutenant Governor.  He has a proven progressive record on gun control and has progressive positions that break with the current governor.  He opposes fracking and supports medicare for all and free community college.

 

Lieutenant Governor:

Jeff Bleich has my support.  He is endorsed by numerous strong progressive individuals and groups including Sierra Club and Congressman Ro Khanna.

 

California Secretary Of State:

Alex Padilla has done a good job so far.  He has my support.

 

California State Controller:

Betty Yee has not messed up so far at her job.  I believe that she will do a good job in a second term.

 

Treasurer:

Vivek Viswanathan is running a clean campaign without corporate donations and has a progressive platform of increasing funding for education and healthcare.

 

Attorney General of California:

Xavier Becerra has done a great job suing the Trump Administration to keep California’s environment protected and to keep immigrants safe.  He will continue doing great in a second term.

 

Insurance Commissioner:

Ricardo Lara is the main supporter of medicare for all in the California State Senate.  Putting him in charge of medical will help us along on the path to universal coverage.

 

Member of State Board of Equalization for District 2:

Malia Cohen has a progressive platform for a fairer tax code.  She has my support.

 

United States Senator from California:

Kevin De Leon, the President Pro Tem of the California State Senate is much more progressive than the incumbent, Dianne Feinstein.  De Leon has supported criminal justice reform for his whole career, unlike Feinstein who only started supporting reforms to racist practices last year and who took until just a month ago to support marijuana legalization.  De Leon also supports medicare for all and tuition-free public college, two positions which Dianne Feinstein still opposes. Kevin De Leon has progressive credentials including sponsoring the bill which made California a sanctuary state.  California deserves a better senator than Feinstein and Kevin De Leon will be that senator.

 

Congress:

I support all Bay Area incumbents except for Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco.  

 

If you live in District 12, please vote for Stephen Jaffe, a strong progressive berniecrat who supports medicare for all and an end to money in politics.  Pelosi gives democrats everywhere a bad name and with all due respect to her, is not at all progressive enough for San Francisco.

 

State Assembly:

Marc Berman in District 24 has a strong progressive record.  I have spoken with him in person about several issues and he has my support.

 

Recall of Judge Aaron Persky:

Yes!

Judge Persky has proved himself to be unworthy of his role as a judge.  He has on multiple occasions allowed extremely lenient sentences for sex-offenders while he judges other crimes based on specific circumstances.  Persky handed down the infamously weak sentence in the Brock Turner case and also sentenced a man convicted of child pornography to only four days in jail.  Aaron Persky has shown that he is incapable of taking sex crimes seriously. The recall of Judge Persky will not affect the independence of the judiciary. Instead, it will only send a message to sex offenders that neither they nor their enablers will be tolerated.  The recall of Judge Aaron Persky is supported by several prominent law professors and by elected officials including Congressman Ro Khanna and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

 

Judge to succeed Persky if he is recalled:

Cindy Hendrickson is currently the Assistant District Attorney of Santa Clara County.  She has important experience and will be a good judge if elected.

 

Superintendent of Public Instruction:

Tony Thurmond has a progressive record on education in the state legislature.  He supports tuition-free community college and increasing funding for public schools.  Thurmond also supports banning for-profit charter schools and has a detailed plan for breaking the school to prison pipeline.

 

Ballot Measures:

 

68:

A measure to authorize bonds in order to fund projects relating to water conservation, parks, protected areas, and climate change ready infrastructure.

Yes

 

69:

Requires that state revenue from transportation (tolls, gas taxes) be used for transportation infrastructure.

Yes

 

70:

Requires a supermajority vote in the State Legislature in order to uses funds from cap and trade laws.

No

 

71:

Ballot measures will come into effect within five days of the Secretary of State certifies the results of the election.

Yes

 

72:

Tax exemptions for rain capture systems.

Yes

 

Regional Measure 3:

Increases bridge tolls by $3 over time in order to fund improvements to public transportation and reduce traffic congestion.

Yes

 

Democrats Need Your Help to Win

Rohin Ghosh

May 6, 2018

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An event last week at my local Democratic Volunteer Center

Republican house seats won’t flip themselves.  The only way for Democrats to actually win elections in contested districts this November is if concerned citizens actually do the hard work of convincing the electorate to get out and vote.  Candidates like TJ Cox in California’s 21st Congressional District and Andrew Janz in the 22nd and hundreds more across the nation are on tight budgets.  These candidates are showing that they won’t be corrupted by corporate influences by refusing to take donations from corporate PACs but that does make running an effective campaign just that much harder.  The Democrats’ lack of funding combined with Republicans being bankrolled by very wealthy donors means that our candidates need all the help they can get.  If we want to see Republicans like Devin Nunes and David Valadao ousted from their seats, we Democrats need to step to the plate and volunteer for progressive candidates in whatever capacity we can.  If you care about winning back the house, senate, and state legislatures and governorships, find your local Democratic party office and get involved by phonebanking, writing postcards to voters, or even traveling to the districts themselves.  Democratic victories in November are not foregone conclusions.  The disaster that is the Trump presidency was able to happen because not enough Democrats were able to put in the time and effort to ensure victory in elections.  Let us make sure that the 2018 midterms are not a repeat of 2016.

Progressive Democrats have a Real Shot at Winning in Texas this Year

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Congressman Beto O’Rourke is mounting a serious challenge to incumbent Senator Ted Cruz in Texas.

This is huge!

Congressman Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat challenging Ted Cruz for his Texas Senate seat is raising more money than Cruz, an incumbent who has name recognition everywhere and the Koch Brothers on his side.  O’Rourke’s campaign raised 6.7 million dollars so far this year with not a single dime from corporate PACs. Beto O’Rourke is using a new strategy to campaign and is visiting small towns and rural areas that are often overlooked by both Democrats and Republicans.  He has drawn large crowds to his events even in places where Democrats haven’t won in decades. Texas is one of the few states that are already majority minority. This means that the non-white population is larger than the white population. If everyone in Texas voted, Democrats would win every election but many young or immigrant Texans either can’t or don’t vote.  In this next election, if everyone in Texas finally makes their voice heard, we have a real chance of putting a true progressive in the Senate from Texas. Beating Ted Cruz will be a very very tough fight but Democrats have a real chance.  

 

Why it is Time for a New Senator to Represent California

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California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein (photo credit: Flickr)

This year, California Senator, Dianne Feinstein is up for reelection.  While the senator is widely popular and has supported several progressive causes, It is my firm belief that she is not the right senator for California.  

During her tenure in the Senate, Feinstein has been a strong advocate for sensible gun reforms and has also helped uncover CIA torture and pass legislation prohibiting it from happening again.

On other issues, however, Feinstein’s record is much more moderate or even conservative.  Senator Feinstein was one of the chief architects of the Patriot Act and she repeatedly voted to continue allowing government surveillance without judge issued warrants, something which many Americans maintain to be a violation of their fourth amendment rights.  Feinstein also continues to support the prohibition of marijuana while still advocating for failed drug war policies.

On the issue of healthcare, Feinstein has stated that she not ready to support Medicare For All and right after making that statement, the senator was at a conference with lobbyists for pharmaceutical and health insurance companies.  Senator Feinstein receives only about three percent of her campaign finances from small donations of less than 500 dollars.

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Democrat Kevin De Leon is the President Pro-Tempore of the California State Senate and is challenging Senator Feinstein for her US Senate seat. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

While Feinstein boasts a mediocre record, her main Democratic challenger has had a strong progressive record as President Pro-Tempore of the California State Senate.  Kevin De Leon has successfully gotten the State Senate to pass a Medicare for all bill to guarantee healthcare to all Californians. De Leon also helped the Disclose Act, a bill to require political ads to fully disclose all funding, pass into law.  Kevin De Leon was also the leading force in turning California into a sanctuary state and is now suing the Trump administration for abuses of power by ICE. Unlike Feinstein, De Leon supports drug policies which emphasize treatment and decriminalization, not police and prisons.  In the state senate, De Leon voted to legalize, regulate, and tax recreational marijuana in California.

These are just a few of the many great progressive accomplishments of Kevin De Leon and he has a similar record on so many issues.  From fighting to eliminate student debt to reducing income inequality to enacting common sense gun laws to fighting sexual harassment in the capitol, De Leon has proved that he believes in progress and has the energy and courage to stand up for what’s right.   

So, when the primary elections roll around on June 5th, we Californians should ask ourselves, do we want a senator who occasionally fights for our values but is often compromised by corporate lobbyist money and has been in office since the early nineties, or do we want a senator who will bring a true California progressive vision of the future to Washington and stand up to the Republicans and the special interest lobbyists.

The US Military is Involved in a Region you Rarely Hear About

 

 

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A map of the Sahel countries in North Africa. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Sahel has a large American and European military presence but is seldom covered in American news media.  When the region is in the news, it is often due to militant groups like Boko Haram committing horrific acts of terror.  More recently, the Sahel and Niger, in particular, were in the news due to the deaths of four American Army Rangers.   The Sahel is the region of Africa on the southern edge of the Sahara desert, comprising of the countries of Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso as well as the northern part of Nigeria.  This article focuses on events in Chad, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, and regions of Algeria and Libya which border Sahel countries.

Many countries in the Sahel have faced instability since they gained independence from British and French colonial rule in the 1960s.  Much of this can be attributed to colonial powers drawing borders without regard for ethnic and religious divisions.  As a result, several countries in the Sahel have faced ethnic strife which has bred civil war.  The Sahel also lags far behind the rest of the world in most measures of human development.  Mali, Chad, and Niger along with Northern Nigeria and Burkina Faso are some of the worst countries in the world in terms of literacy rate, infant mortality, and access to basic services.  Unstable governments and widespread corruption have also plagued the Sahel and most countries have had one or more coup d’etats since independence.  

Low levels of education, poverty, ethnic and religious strife, and weak governance all have contributed to a significant presence of several militant Islamic extremist groups including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram, and affiliates of ISIS. Islamist insurgencies have existed in the Sahel since the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s however these groups really began to grow in prominence after the 9-11 attacks.  In 2002, the Algerian Civil War ended but the Islamist insurgent groups continued to fight with the goal of establishing an Islamic state in Algeria.  An organization known as the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria or GIA had fought in the Algerian Civil War and became an insurgent group based in the remote deserts of southern Algeria close to the border with Mali and Niger.  For several years afterward, the GIA committed small-scale terror attacks on civilian and military targets and kidnapped citizens of western countries.  Countries around the region began using military forces to combat jihadists in the desert regions bordering Algeria in Mali, Niger, and Mauritania.  The regional coalition fighting against the GIA had backing from the United States, the UK and several European Union countries including France.  In 2006 and 2007, the coalition was successful in forcing the militants to disperse into the Sahara Desert.

In order to compensate for their loss of territory and fighters, the GIA allied itself with Al Qaeda in 2006 and renamed itself Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM.  AQIM also allied itself with another small radical Islamic fundamentalist group in Nigeria, Boko Haram.  Under its new name, AQIM continued attacks against civilians in Algeria, Mali, and Niger until everything changed in 2011.

In the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions, the dictatorship in Libya was overthrown and the country descended into chaos.  Groups aligned with Al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups including AQIM began seizing territory in Libya.    Chaos in Libya spilled over into neighboring countries.  At the same time, ethnic tensions in Mali and Niger came to a head when the nomadic Tuareg ethnic group declared an independent state in the deserts of northern Mali and Niger and in southern Libya and began an armed rebellion against the governments of these countries. To add to the chaos,  there was a military coup in Mali in 2012 which is largely blamed on the army’s discontent with the government’s handling of the situation in the north of the country.  In the same year, AQIM and other Islamist militant organizations including Ansar Al-Sharia infiltrated the Tuareg rebellion and took over a vast portion of Mali including the important cities of Gao and Timbuktu.  In 2013, a coalition of regional and French-led NATO troops began fighting in support of the Malian army in response to international attention to the situation there.  A regional coalition also formed with the intention of restoring stability to Mali.  That coalition was led by Chad and included several Sahel countries of Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Mauritania.  The NATO coalition led by France mainly included European countries such as Germany and Sweden, however, the United States played a large supporting role in training regional forces and airdropping supplies for coalition troops.  Finally, in 2014, Malian and coalition forces were able to push Al Qaeda out of most of the towns in Northern Mali and the Malian government signed a peace agreement with the Tuareg rebels.

 

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French soldiers boarding a US Air Force plane in Mali. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

While the full-scale war in Mali was resolved in 2014 and 2015, many Al Qaeda fighters stayed in the region.  Some AQIM affiliates went back to committing kidnappings and small-scale terrorist attacks while others began working with other extremist groups in the Sahel, including the budding militant group in Nigeria, Boko Haram.

In Nigeria, an Islamic extremist militant group known as Boko Haram existed since 2002, however, violence really escalated after 2009.  Boko Haram’s name roughly translates to “Western Education is Forbidden”.  Nigeria’s population is almost equally split between the Christian south and a Muslim northern region.  While the south of Nigeria has enjoyed economic growth since independence from the UK, the north has been slow to catch up and faces many problems common in the Sahel including drought, food shortages, illiteracy, and ethnic strife.  Boko Haram used discontent among Muslim Nigerians to sow divisions and encourage people to join their ranks and commit acts of terror and violence against what the group considers “western influences”.  Boko Haram also collaborated with other violent jihadist groups in the region and around the world.  Many of Boko Haram’s leaders fought with AQIM in Mali.  Boko Haram also has pledged allegiance to ISIS.  Boko Haram’s tactics include using children as suicide bombers and committing massacres of civilians.  The group gained international notoriety in 2014 after kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls in northern Nigeria. Since then, Boko Haram has become the most deadly terrorist group in the world in terms of the number of people the group has killed.  

Boko Haram’s influence spread into countries neighboring Nigeria including Niger, Chad, and Cameroon as the organization’s campaign of violence continued.  These countries, supported by the United States have since been able to force  Boko Haram and other extremist groups into hiding in remote areas of Northern Nigeria.  Insurgent groups with ties to Al Qaeda and Boko Haram, still operate in remote areas of several Sahel countries. 

 

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Soldiers in Niger being trained by American special forces. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

While US involvement in the Sahel has helped several countries overcome terrorist threats, it has severe consequences for the region.  Many civilians in Sahel countries see the presence of American troops as a breach of their country’s’ sovereignty.  Many of the governments supported by the US are also dictatorships with bad human rights records.  Supporting these governments contributes to short-term stability but often overlooks problems of repression that come to a head when people who are discontented with autocratic regimes see insurgent groups as alternatives.  While Western countries have invested in some development in the Sahel, most of the American presence in the region is a military presence.  Improved security often doesn’t last in areas with almost no economic growth and widespread corruption.  Ethnic and religious divisions have also caused conflicts to spring up even after peace agreements have been reached.  Western involvement in the Sahel may help countries solve security issues but the underlying issues which cause many of the Sahel’s conflicts remain and will likely take decades to solve.   

 

 

The Kurds may Finally Realize their Dream of an Independent Kurdistan

 …but at what cost?

October 6, 2017, Rohin Ghosh

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The flag of Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurdish movements all over the Middle East. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Kurds are the worlds largest ethnic group without their own country.  Northern Iraq, Northwestern Iran, Southeastern Turkey, and Northeastern Syria are home to large Kurdish populations.  The Kurds have their own language and cultural traditions which are similar, yet distinctly different from their Arab, Persian, and Turkish neighbors.  While most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, religion plays less of a role in Kurdish culture than in Arab or Iranian culture.  A sizeable minority of Kurds are members of other religious communities such as the Yazidi religion. Kurds have faced centuries of being oppressed by their larger neighbors.  At the end of the First World War, the Kurdish homeland, known to Kurds as Kurdistan was broken up between the countries of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria.  More recently, the Kurdish people have faced genocide in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and continuous political and cultural repression in Turkey.  Through all of this adversity, many Kurds still have a very strong sense of Kurdish nationalism and a dream that one day, all of Kurdistan, the Kurds’ historic homeland will be reunited.

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The Kurdish homeland and Iraqi Kurdistan. (photo credit: frontnews.eu)

In Turkey, Kurds have a political party which advocates for autonomy for the Kurdish majority region of southeastern Turkey.  Since the breakout of the Syrian Civil War, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab tribes in northeastern Syria has carved out a semi-autonomous region.  There are also several Kurdish insurgent groups and militias, including the PKK in Turkey.  The Kurdish insurgent groups often clash with the governments of Iran and Turkey.  Most of the armed Kurdish groups are considered terrorist organizations by the countries they seek independence from.

In Iraq, the Kurds have had an autonomous region in the north of the country.  Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdish autonomous region, has its own government which acts with little interference from the Iraqi government in Baghdad and its own military called the Peshmerga.  In collaboration with Iraqi army and tribal forces, Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq have dealt lasting blows to ISIS operations, retaking important cities such and Sinjar and Kirkuk as well as taking back oilfields, thus cutting ISIS’ funding.  Much of the time, Kurdish forces have directly worked with the Iraqi Army.  However, with each victory, the Kurdish people of Iraq and all over the Middle East have been inching closer to independence, a goal Kurdish leaders have been dedicated to achieving.  The government of Iraqi Kurdistan is known as the Kurdistan Regional Government or KRG. It is based in the city of Erbil and was lead by Massoud Barzani, the former President of Iraqi Kurdistan.  While the KRG controls most government affairs in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Erbil government does have to split oil revenues with the government in Baghdad and does not have full control over airports and border crossings.

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Former Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Kurdish Regional Government President Barzani announced in June of 2017 that there would be a referendum to decide whether or not Iraqi Kurdistan would declare independence from the Iraqi government in Baghdad.  The referendum was originally supposed to be held earlier but was postponed until the major city of Mosul was taken back from ISIS by Iraqi and Kurdish forces.  Calls for an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq have been growing since over a century ago when the Middle East was divided by European powers with little regard for ethnic and sectarian differences.  The vote to decide the future of Iraqi Kurdistan finally took place on September 25.

In the run-up to the referendum, leaders in countries struggling with their own Kurdish separatist movements such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned the attempt at independence by the KRG.  Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi repeatedly denounced the referendum as illegal and dangerous to regional stability and security.  Days before the referendum, the Iraqi Supreme Court ruled the vote unconstitutional.  The move toward independence by the Iraqi Kurds was discouraged by the US and most European countries on the grounds that the entire region could fall apart.  One country, however, did declare support for Kurdish independence.  Israel, a country seen as an enemy by most regional powers has long supported a Kurdish state.

When the vote finally took place, 93 percent of voters cast their ballots in favor of independence.  Voter turnout was fairly high but lower than expected at 72 percent.

Soon after the referendum, Turkey threatened to shut off the flow of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan to the Turkish ports, thereby shutting off the main source of revenue for Iraqi Kurdistan.  Iran and Turkey have already placed economic sanctions on Iraqi Kurdistan.  The Iraqi Government in Baghdad has closed airports in the Kurdish cities of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah and is restricting travel to Iraqi Kurdistan.  Iraq, Iran, and Turkey conducted joint military exercises near the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has so far refused to negotiate directly with KRG leaders until the results of the referendum are declared null and void.  According to Rudaw, a pro-independence news agency based in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, former KRG President, Massoud Barzani had stated that he was willing to negotiate with the Iraqi government in Baghdad and that the results of the referendum were not binding.  While the war of words between Baghdad and Erbil has escalated, Iraqi troops have retaken Hawija, a city adjacent to land disputed between Iraqi Kurdistan and the Baghdad government. Several Iraqi and Kurdish politicians have attempted to start negotiations over the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan, however, so far, none have succeeded in resolving outstanding conflicts.  Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al Abadi has also refused to negotiate Several western countries including the US and France have offered to mediate between the KRG and the Iraqi government.

In October, Iraqi forces captured the disputed city of Kirkuk from Kurdish forces.  Armed clashes between Kurdish Peshmerga troops and the Iraqi army continued until a ceasefire restored some semblance of order.   Kirkuk is currently controlled by the Iraqi government and is a contentious topic during negotiations due to its vast oil reserves.

Massoud Barzani has resigned from his role as President of Iraqi Kurdistan, citing his age and desire to pass leadership on to a new generation.  His successors have taken a more conciliatory approach to negotiations with the Iraqi government, even stating a willingness to void the referendum results and return Iraqi Kurdistan to a similar status as it had before the move for independence.  In spite of this, however, progress in negotiations with the Iraqi government has been slow.  Both Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq will hold elections soon.  Iraqi Kurdistan will be voting for a new president and for members of Parliament in November.  Steering Iraqi Kurdistan toward independence without violence or unrest will guarantee former President Barzani’s party victory even though Barzani’s term limit ran out this November.  The KRG is currently being led by his son.   Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi is trying to navigate the complicated world of Iraqi sectarian politics.  He cannot afford to alienate the Kurds or Iraqi Sunni Arabs, many of whom support Kurdish independence, as this may risk further Iraqi civil war and unrest for years to come.  On the other hand, Abadi, himself a Shia like the slim majority of Iraqis will lose his 2018 election if he alienates hard-line Iraqi Shia Arabs such as the cleric Muqtada al Sadr.  Many of these hardliner Shias are supported by Iran and most oppose Kurdish independence.  Abadi cannot afford to appear too soft on the Kurdish move toward independence, however, he can’t afford stirring up ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq.

There are clear arguments to be made for the creation of an independent Kurdish nation.  The Kurds have never been truly represented by their Turkish, Iraqi, or Iranian governments.  In fact, quite the opposite has happened on several occasions.  The Kurdish people need to control their own destiny and their homeland being divided up into five parts is a recipe for only more strife and unrest.  On the other hand, a unilateral move towards independence may result in an already war-torn and volatile region descending into even more war which may last decades.  So far, the leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq have avoided violence, the question is can they bring themselves to sit down, negotiate, and find a solution before it’s too late?