11 July 2009, Saturday
WLADIMIR VAN WILGENBURG ARBIL
Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is a successful example for Iraqi Kurdish politics as elections approach in northern Iraq, a Kurdish Islamic opposition leader has said.
Salah al-Din Baha al-Din, leader of the Kurdistan Islamic Union, also said Turkey's Kurds have had “the best period for a long time” under the AK Party government, rejecting criticism that it is not doing enough to improve Kurds' rights and expressing optimism that the AK Party government may bring a lasting solution to Turkey's Kurdish issue.
Erdoğan was the first Turkish politician to publicly admit the existence of a “Kurdish issue” in Turkey in 2005, but he was later criticized for backtracking amid growing political tension with the Democratic Society Party (DTP), Turkey's largest pro-Kurdish party. Erdoğan refuses to engage in dialogue with DTP leaders, saying the party should first draw a clear line between itself and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), classified as a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
The Kurdistan Islamic Union says it has good relations with many of the Turkish political parties, but none with the DTP. “The DTP is another version of the PKK, and we don't want to talk with extremists. We hope that the DTP becomes representative of the Kurds instead of representative of the PKK,” Baha al-Din said in an interview with Today's Zaman.
Baha al-Din's Kurdistan Islamic Union is one of the four parties that make up the Service and Reform List, one of the biggest opposition groups competing for seats in the Kurdish regional parliament with the secularist Kurdistani List of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by the Kurdish region's president, Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Elections for the Kurdish parliament are due to be held on July 25.
The Kurdistan Islamic Union, said to be closely tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, describes itself as an “Islamic reformation party.”
Baha al-Din says his party is not anti-secularist and has formed an election alliance with two socialist parties in the Service and Reform List. “We want to end infighting between [extreme] secularism and Islamism,” he said.
The four-party coalition is against a ban on wearing headscarves, like in Turkey and France. “This is a violation of human rights. Forcing women to wear it is very bad, but forcing them to take it off is also very bad.” He also had a message for French President Nicolas Sarkozy: “Tell him to be smart and to not get involved in people's private lives.”
Baha al-Din also praised the faith-based Fethullah Gülen movement in Turkey for opening schools in Arbil and Sulaimaniya provinces in northern Iraq and said it was an educational, rather than political, movement. “They have an extremely successful education system,” he said.