Perhaps Jalal Talabani hasn’t been the ideal president for Iraq over the past four years but nobody can claim that it is because he is a Kurdish president that Iraq’s ties with Arab states are deteriorating. Tariq al Hashimi, one of two Iraqi Vice Presidents, whose term is coming to an end, suggested not appointing another Kurd to the presidential post so as not to hinder reconciliation with the Arabs. This remark could be described as racist, especially coming from a politician who is complaining about detestable sectarianism and its elements in Iraq and who based his electoral presentation on the idea of an Iraq for everyone.
Let us suppose that the Arabs really do not want another Kurdish president to head the Iraqi republic but an Arab; would it be right for the Iraqis to bow down to an order like this? Nobody outside [of Iraq] has the right to dictate to the Iraqis who they should choose as a president or to fill presidential positions unless the nominated candidate is hostile against other Arabs, in which case the decision remains in the hands of the voters.
If the Arabs are proud of historical leaders such as Salahaddin al Ayoubi and are not critical of Ayyubid rule of half the Arab world, then what harm will it cause them if another Kurd rules Iraq, especially as it is the Arabs who are against the idea of Kurdistan seceding from Iraq and insist on a united Iraq with Kurds and Arabs. In this case, the Kurd becomes Iraqi and it is his right to assume any position his people choose him for.
The leader of the Kurdistan region Massoud Barzani sought to justify Talabani’s suspicious visit to Tehran by saying that he was not invited to the Arab Summit – suggesting that there is some kind of Arab racism against the president because he is Kurdish – and that Talabani responded to their boycott by visiting Iran. I am not sure that the Arab Summit held in Sirte, Libya deliberately neglected Talabani and failed to invite him. I believe that the problem is an internal Iraqi one that relates to the fact that there are two principal positions; prime minister and president. According to the rules, the invite should have been extended to the Iraqi government. The evidence is that the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who is also Kurdish, was present at the Arab Summit and represented Iraq. When he planned to withdraw because the Libyans were receiving expelled Iraqi Baathists, all the Arabs present tried to dissuade him. This is how Minister Zebari continued to participate in the conference.
The problem with the two principle positions also exists in Lebanon and the two positions also clash over invites to the summit. Let me remind you of the chaos that ensued at the Arab Summit in Oman when both the then Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and the late Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri insisted on attending the summit. Both sat down and were at odds. The same thing happened at the Beirut Summit.
My interpretation of the Arab aloofness is that the Arabs are searching for an excuse to keep away from Iraq’s shifting sands. The Arabs don’t care about who becomes president as long as he is not hostile towards them. Despite his disturbing closeness to the Iranians, President Talabani did not antagonize any Arab or Arab government. Also, the Arabs did not boycott Iraq because the president is Kurdush; in fact they boycotted when [Ghazi] Al Yawar, who is of Arab origin, was head of state. Matters have changed since. Today, Arab-Iraqi ties are less divided and everyone is waiting for the security and political situation [to improve] and the situation will not change much regardless of whether there is a president or a prime minister.