The Kurds Can Fight: Now They Need to Govern

By Bilal Wahab

Bilal Wahab is a 2016-2017 Soref fellow at The Washington Institute, where he will focus on governance in the Iraqi Kurdish region and in Iraq as a whole. He has taught at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani, where he established the Center for Development and Natural Resources, a research program on oil and development. He earned his Ph.D. from George Mason University; his M.A. from American University, where he was among the first Iraqis awarded a Fulbright scholarship; and his B.A. from Salahaddin University in Erbil. Along with numerous scholarly articles, he has written extensively in the Arabic and Kurdish media.

Iraqi Kurdistan has been relatively stable in an otherwise troubled region. Unhappy with Iraq as their home, Kurds have fought successive Iraqi regimes since being annexed to the new state in 1926. The war against ISIS has produced a new crop of young military commanders, emboldened both by their bravery and international military support. Yes, the Kurds can fight, but can they govern as efficiently? The next generation of leaders should not just be picked on the basis of its war record, but instead for its ability to fight “the other war” against lack of economic opportunity and development. 

Kurdistan’s governing record pales in comparison to its fighting record. The semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) emerged from elections held in 1992, in a Kurdish safe haven provided by the international community. The leaders chosen in the first Kurdish election derived their legitimacy from having fought the Baath Party. Freedom fighters were rewarded with significant government positions, such as city mayorships and hospital manager positions.

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