Dr. Barham Salih, the sole Kurdish candidate of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan for president of the Republic of Iraq, is perhaps the only hope for rebuilding Iraq. He has strong international and diplomatic experience and the credibility to lead Kurdish coalition in Baghdad and assist the formation of next Iraqi government.
Salih is widely respected for having bedrock principles, a moral compass, vision – and most important of all, the ability to build a consensus among Iraq’s Sunni, Shi’a, Kurds and other sectors. These strengths will assist him to achieve his vision for democracy, rule of law, justice and a strong liberal economy. He will be instrumental in uniting and rebuilding post-ISIS Iraq.
The rival Kurdish Democratic Party of Kurdistan has nominated Fuad Hussein for the presidency, but Hussein has little chance of winning, as the KDP is not favored by Iraqi MPs for having unsuccessfully led last year’s Kurdish referendum. Salih has always defended the unity of a federal and democratic government, whereas Hussein was in the team that wanted to divide and partition Iraq.
In Kurdistan Rising, Michael Rubin, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, describes Salih as the most talented Iraqi Kurdish diplomat in Washington. During his premiership, the Kurdistan region of Iraq was booming with a robust economy and real estate development. Hundreds of thousands of people rebuilt their homes, thousands went abroad to continue their studies and many people started small entrepreneurial projects thanks to his good governance.
Salih’s name in Kurdistan is always associated with campaigning for justice, equality, rule of law, transparency and fighting corruption. That is why the slogan of his recently founded party is “Justice and Democracy,” principles that he is well known for. A Western-educated technocrat with a PhD in statistics and data, he has held several key government and diplomatic positions.
SALIH IS indispensable for rebuilding post-ISIS Iraq. All Iraqi MPs should support him; there is no better alternative for president. Even though the position of the president of the Republic of Iraq is largely ceremonial, the office is endowed with certain executive powers in Iraq. The constitution specifies many of the characteristics that exist in Salih; namely he must be of good reputation and political experience and well known for his integrity, righteousness, fairness and loyalty to the homeland.
He can become the symbol of the unity of the country and represent its sovereignty. He will safeguard the constitution and the preservation of Iraq’s independence, unity and security.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is the only obstacle for Salih, as they are contesting his candidacy. Contrary to some media reports, Salih has not won former president of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani’s blessing because of the age-old rivalry and animosity between the PUK and KDP. In the next few days new things will be unfolding as the Council of Representatives will elect, from among the nominees, the President of the Republic by a two-thirds majority of its members.
Both Iran and America want someone to lead Iraq as a mediator, rather than someone nationalistic, sectarian and or populist. They believe that Salih is the only politician and statesman who can deescalate the tension between Erbil and Baghdad, and between the Sunni and Shia people as well. Salih has the power and wherewithal to weave the social fabrics of all Iraqi society. He was the true student of Jalal Talabani, who united Iraq and prevented further conflict, but during Talabani’s rule, Salih never wanted to outshine the master.
Salih meets all the qualifications that the regional allies want in a Kurd to become president. As a technocrat well versed in governance positions, he will perform better than a politician. The Kurds need a strong representative in Baghdad to guarantee the fair implementation of the constitution. Iraq also needs someone to prepare the ground for good governance, reconstruction, reform, change, development, security, stability and the provision of basic public services for the people. With strong regional and global diplomatic connections, he will become a powerful representative for a prosperous and pluralistic Iraq, serving the interests of all Iraqis in this critical time.
In a Financial Times article last year, Salih outlined his vision for good governance in Iraq. He argued that the political system installed after overthrowing Saddam Hussein has entirely failed and is far from the liberal democracy many – himself included – hoped for. Iraq is a near-kleptocracy, riven by partisan and ethno-sectarian division. He envisions a meaningful dialogue and negotiations between the KRG and Baghdad. He maintains that Baghdad, not Tehran or Washington, should decide the nature of the government and future of Iraqis.
During the height of Kurdish activism for independence, he advised the Kurds to see the merits of remaining part of a new federal Iraq. He advised Kurdish leaders to work seriously to resolve the political, economic and governance crises afflicting the region. He believes that the Shi’ite parties dominating Iraq should share power with the Sunnis and that no component of Iraq should be marginalized or subjugated. He argues that the disenfranchisement of Sunnis will be an incubator for future terrorism.
In terms of oil and economy, Salih argues that the large oil wealth of Iraq should translate into a better standard of living for the population. The government must reduce the bloated public sector payroll, coordinating public and private investment and partnership. He believes that reform is necessary to improve security and economic conditions, and in order to implement his vision he needs the support of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, with US and other global powers, like the EU and Russia, who are other stakeholders in the local, national and regional stability.
Implementing his vision to resolve the Iraqi crisis will lead to fixing much of the troubles afflicting the Middle East. The Iranian official IRNA media group published that Tehran supports Salih for president of Iraq, arguing that Salih deserves this support because he opposed the partition of Iraq and Barzani’s attempts to secede through the referendum. America also prefers Salih for the Iraqi presidency. International and regional allies supporting Salih is important, but it is not as important as the support of Iraqi MPs and lawmakers, as Iraq is a sovereign country and its people should decide who to rules the country.
The author is a former national consultant with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq in Sulaimani. He has worked for several think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute. As an independent adviser, he assists international organizations in Iraqi and Kurdistan Region. He has a PhD in cultural studies and the war against terrorism at Brunel University, London. Since 2005, he has taught at several universities in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
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