When Paul Bremer headed the Coalition Provisional Authority, he made no shortage of mistakes. One of the less often mentioned and more unnecessary errors involved the new Iraqi currency, popularly labeled the “Bremer Dinar” after it came out in late 2003. As ruler of Iraq at the time, Bremer could have made a very simple, no cost gesture at the time: he could have made the new Iraqi Dinars bilingual, with Kurdish in addition to Arabic.
He failed to do this, of course, just as he failed to pursue many policies that could have lessened the Iraqi pain of the post-2003 period. Perhaps this should come as no surprise, since Mr. Bremer and much of his staff had little knowledge of Iraq, much less Kurdistan, before they arrived and started signing edicts and declarations on behalf of the Iraqi state.
Now American troops have withdrawn from Iraq, however, and Iraqi sovereignty lies with the people of Iraq. Today’s Iraqi government recently announced that it plans to replace the current “Bremer Dinar” with a new dinar – deleting several zeros from the denomination in the process. More strikingly, Baghdad agreed to add the Kurdish language to the new notes, along with three well known Kurdish icons (the waterfall of Geli Eli Beg, displaced Fayli Kurds and the image of a Kurdish farmer).
When it comes to questions of identity and recognition, symbolism is everything. As far as I know, this will be the first time in modern history that an internationally recognized currency displays the Kurdish language and Kurdish symbols. The move towards the new dinar would, in other words, prove historic.
The Arabic-Kurdish (and English, apparently) dinar would also serve as another indicator that Iraqi Arab attitudes towards the Kurds continue to evolve. Although Arabs and Kurds often find themselves wrapped up in debates about power struggles between Erbil and Baghdad over revenues, disputed territories, petrol, constitutional powers and other things, they should not forget the positive developments around them. For Kurds, everyday that an officially recognized autonomous Kurdistan Region continues to do business with Baghdad and the rest of the world is a victory.
Iraqi Arabs share in this victory as well. On every visit I make to the Kurdistan Region, I see more and more Arabs from Mosul, Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere visiting as well, enjoying their vacation in a cooler climate, free from security concerns. Others come in ever larger numbers to work and open businesses in Kurdistan, which generally benefits everyone. In the process, Iraqi Arabs see for themselves that Kurds have their own language, culture and manner different from others. As they witness the difference and grow more comfortable with it, the political recognition of Kurdish autonomy becomes all the more undeniable. These days, it’s hard to find so many people in the rest of Iraq arguing that Kurds need to assimilate to Arab culture and identity – the mantra of not so long ago.
Just as Iraqi Arabs grow increasingly comfortable recognizing the Kurdish reality with each passing day, so too does the region and the rest of the world. Some two dozen consulates have sprouted in Erbil, and Kurdistan’s trade and education fairs draw ever growing international attendance. Where they were once barely tolerated rebels or patronized “secret-friends” at best, Iraqi Kurdish leaders are now welcomed in the world’s capitals with full honours.
With the recognition of the Iraqi Kurdish reality, it becomes increasingly difficult to deny the Kurdish reality in Syria, Turkey and Iran as well. In the process, every little step forward becomes part of the momentum of change. Biji (long live) the new Dinar...
* David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since August 2010. He is the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and author of The Kurdish Nationalist Movement (2006, Cambridge University Press) http://www.rudaw.net/english/science...ists/5099.html