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Obama: the view from Iraq

By Bashdar Ismaeel - posted Thursday, 13 November 2008

Barack Obama has swept to victory in the US presidential elections, marking a momentous day in American history.

The appointment of the first black US president represents more than just this iconic and ground-breaking significance. The world, gripped with the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, facing a growing threat of fundamentalism, and reeling from cynicism caused by recent US foreign policy, has been crying out for fresh impetus and new hope.

Perhaps no individual has greater expectations right now than those on Obama's broad shoulders. Obama may well represent the energy that the globe is lacking, but he is no miracle worker. Obama can only work with the tools at his disposal and manoeuvre within constraints that the political stage allows. So Obama would do well to get people's feet back on the ground and quell a level of expectation that, ironically, if unchecked may cripple his tenure before it has even started.


As the world's attention turned to the heated and historic US presidential contest between Barack Obama and John McCain, proceedings were observed with as much interest in Kurdistan as anywhere in the world. But it was Obama's appointment that certainly stole the world's gaze.

The Republican legacy in Kurdistan and the more clear-cut promises of Republican, John McCain, on the US course in Iraq meant Obama, arguably, was not the first choice of the Kurdish people.

The name "Bush" in Kurdish folklore

If George Bush Senior can be viewed by the Kurds with eternal gratitude for the establishment of the no-fly zone and onset of Kurdish liberalisation from tyranny in 1991, it is perhaps the actions of his son George. W. Bush that is forever etched in Kurdish folklore.

Conceivably, in later generations, Kurds may view the decision by Bush Junior to oust Saddam Hussein from power as being as significant as the tale from Newroz folklore where Kawa the blacksmith defeated Zehak the evil ruler to free the nation held in captivity thousands of years ago. The significance of the new dawn for Kurdish existence cannot be overestimated.

The Kurds have been betrayed far too many times, particularly by successive US governments, to take future American support for granted, but the change of fortune during the last 17 years, and particularly in the last five since the liberalisation of Iraq, has been truly remarkable for an ancient, battle weary, and emotionally scarred people.

Not all US government policies have boded well for the people of Kurdistan; and US presidents have so far stopped short of a full-fledged backing and support for the Kurdish nation: however, the symbolic nature of the support afforded to the Kurds has given them their first opportunity to steer their future down a new, prosperous and unmolested path. It will never be forgotten by the ever-grateful Kurds.


The Kurds were cold-heartedly sliced into pieces as a by-product of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and they have waited many decades to be rid of mass oppression at the hands of their occupiers.

Kurdish anxiety

Kurdish trepidation and weariness at seeing their hard-fought gains vanish is all too common, especially when their gains have not quite been encapsulated in protection and guarantee. Such mistrust, particularly towards their former Arab rulers in Iraq, cannot simply vanish in a short period of time.

Pain and mourning are not concepts that just disappear, least of all from mentally scarred citizens who have lost many a loved one and witnessed the razing of their villages. So when the end of an era arrived in America - a country now on the path of ground-breaking political change - Kurdish anticipation of the electoral results was understandable.

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About the Author

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance writer and analyst, whose primary focus and expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq and Middle Eastern current affairs. The main focus of his writing is to promote peace, justice and increase awareness of the diversity, suffering and at times explosive mix in Iraq and the Middle East.

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