Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Kurdistan’s democracy is a work in progress" …Thomas Friedman says
By Hemin H. Lihony

If you ask journalists and writers of Middle East in general and Kurdistan region in particular: Who is the most famous journalist in the world? Immediately, you will hear the US columnists, Journalist, and author Thomas L. Friedman.

The reasons that have made Friedman famous here are many. One of them ascribes to his extensive writing and analysis on the Middle East, and he plays an influential role on the decision makers in the US. He worked as a reporter for the New York Times in 1980s in Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, covering the Lebanese civil war, which won him two Pulitzer prizes of the international reporting. In 1994 he became the White House correspondent for the Times. Presently, he is biweekly op-ed contributor to the daily New York Times and has written many best-selling books.

Friedman, 56, after three months of continuous contact finally agreed to answer my questions without me having to offer $75,000, which is the amount he is paid per speaking engagement.

The "Liberal hawk" was criticized harshly because of his say-so of the Iraq war. He told the Guardian after 4 months of the war that:" Some things are true even if George Bush believes them."

What is striking, seven years of non-stop pricey violence of the war did not make Friedman pessimistic. "All I would say is that I still believe that there is a chance for a ‘decent’ outcome in Iraq" Friedman said. However, the word ‘But’ was not absent in the response. “But I am not sure that the outcome there will ever justify the cost paid by Iraqis and Americans these past seven years,” Mr. Friedman added. He further said, “but for the sake of those who have paid those costs, I hope that we have a decent outcome."

Per Friedman the decent outcomes of the war are “economic growth, political stability, rule of law and regular elections deemed free and fair."

According to many, there are numerous issues in Iraq that act as obstacles against "a decent outcome." Most of the US and Iraqi politicians consider "the Kurd–Arab" as most dangerous setback of Iraq. Nevertheless, Friedman views it at different and a wider angle: "The biggest problem is the lack of a spirit of citizenship by enough Iraqis – which means loyalty to the government and the national army, before loyalty to family, clan or region." Also he states that “you cannot have an effective government or democracy without citizens. Every Iraqi has to identify with their national government as much as they do their national soccer team." In return to this, Friedman believes that the government has to earn by truly reflecting the will of all the people in a fair way.

The June 30 withdrawal of the U.S. troops from all cities and towns has already started, and the full withdrawal from Iraq is to be completed by the end of 2011, a plan that makes Iraqis build fear of a civil war in the absence of the US troops. "Iraqis have to step up now and take responsibility for their own future. Seven years of American occupation and training wheels are enough." Friedman said.

He agrees with those who claim that the future of Iraq depend on Iraqis’ will to live together. Friedman believes that “Iraqis are capable of running their own country now – if they have the will to compromise and live together. If they don’t, then another two years of American occupation will make no difference."

One of the justifications of the Iraq war was the process of democratization in the Middle East, as former President Bush promised to make Iraq a ‘model’ in the region. The Iraq war, however, showed that security is more important for people than democracy. There are those who argue that this war hampered “the process of democratization” in the Middle East. Friedman argues that “it is too early to say.” He believes that “implanting democracy in a region that has never known [democracy] is a very difficult task." He believes that it takes a long time to imbed a democratic culture. “Maybe a generation or two," Friedman thinks.

Some experts and politicians (including the vice US president Joe Biden when he was a Senator) think that the "soft partition" is a quick remedy for Iraq. "We have a democratic context now in Iraq and let the Iraqi people make those decisions." Freidman commented on this suggestion.

Thomas Friedman is well-known for the fact that he goes where ever he wants. That is, he travels thousands of kilometers for writing a column or a book. During the time I was in contact with him sorting a suitable interview time, this was proved to me correct as I received replies from Kabul, Baghdad, Washington, and Kirkuk.

He is a journalist and has his voice and an opinion on most of the issues in the region. Throughout the questions, his diplomatic side appeared more as I approached him with a question regarding the future of the Keg-powder city, Kirkuk. “The communities there need US or UN mediation to help them find a fair power-sharing outcome," said Friedman.

In September 2007, Friedman wrote a column about the Kurds after his first paid visit to the Kurdistan region. Under the title "the Kurdish secret", he blamed the Bush administration for not telling Americans the "success stories" of Kurdistan region, the only stable part of Iraq. In response to the question that Freidman asked in the column "why is Iraqi Kurdistan America’s best-kept secret success?" He replies: "Because few people have visited there and because many people want to paint the whole Iraq war as an unmitigated disaster."

Calling Kurdistan in his op-ed as a "success story,” although some observers consider its democratic process as "undesirable" with gaps, two clans ruling and extensive corruption as Friedman mentioned in the column, Friedman still believes that “Kurdistan’s democracy is a work in progress and it still needs a lot of work if it is going to deliver for all the Kurdish people the kind of governance they need and deserve."