The Tangled Politics Of The Iraqi Kurdistan Region

A fair degree of simplistic thinking exists in the Western news media and political classes when it comes to the position of the Kurds in Iraq, and in particular the affairs of the largely autonomous Kurdistan Region. On the one hand you have the tabloid obsession with the supposed “natural” fighting abilities of the factional Peshmerga militias, while on the other there is the oft repeated if largely apocryphal claim that the one thing the insurgents of the Islamic State fear most is death at the hands of a female Kurdish soldier, an ignoble end which would deny them entry to Jannah, or heaven. Unfortunately though such tales make for great propaganda (and an excuse to publish clickbait photos of pretty girls in uniform which diminishes their contribution) they make for a poor basis on which to map out diplomatic and military policies. Frankly what the IS fighters fear more than anything else is a clear blue sky and the invisible, inaudible drones of the United States and its allies. So here from the Berlin-based news website, Niqash, is an in-depth look at the trials and tribulations of “free Kurdistan”, where the despotic tendencies which blight the politics of the Middle East may be about to poison the lifeblood of the infant Kurdish democracy:

“Thanks to the recent political stoush in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Parliament in the semi-autonomous, northern region has all but stopped work. It is an institution in name only and many of it’s members, locally elected MPs, have nothing to do.

The current stalemate has come about thanks to disagreements about what should happen with the region’s Presidency. The term of the Iraqi Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, was supposed to finish in August this year. But because Barzani and his party have been reluctant to give up this post, despite objections from almost all other political parties in the region, there were protests in one of the biggest cities here, Sulaymaniyah. These turned violent and Barzani’s party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, blamed an opposition party, the Change movement, for that. The KDP then declared that the Change movement’s part in a broad-based, power-sharing government, which included almost everyone in politics in Iraqi Kurdistan, should be curtailed. The KDP banned members of the Change movement from entering the region’s capital, Erbil, where Parliament buildings are based.

This included stopping the Speaker of Iraqi Kurdistan’s Parliament, Yusuf Mohammed, a member of the Change movement, from entering his office there.

For years Iraqi Kurdistan has been split into two broad zones of influence. The area around Erbil is controlled by the KDP and the area around Sulaymaniyah is controlled by another major political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, of which the Change movement is an offshoot.

While the two main opponents in this stand off are the KDP and the Change movement, who, respectively are the most and the second-most popular parties with local voters, the other parties in the region haven’t been able to change the situation either. Some MPs from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, and some members of the smaller Islamic Kurdish parties, do go to their offices in Erbil to work. Others only go to offices in Sulaymaniyah. And the only thing their parties have been able to do is criticise what’s going on.

In fact, this is not the first time that the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament has suspended its work. Nothing happened here between 1994 and 1998 either, which is when the PUK and the KDP were fighting each other.

For now, observers of local politics can only agree with their powerless MPs on two things. Firstly, although nobody knows when the democratic mechanism will start up again in Iraqi Kurdistan, they all believe that sooner or later it will. And the other thing they all agree on? That until that happens, this problem will continue to tarnish the name that the Iraqi Kurdish region spent so many years making for itself.”

On the question of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) returning to “politics as normal” I am somewhat less optimistic than the author and his sources. Though the recent cooling of relations between the KRG and Turkey following the latter’s decision to resume its war against its domestic Kurdish population (and that of Syria and Iraq) might encourage the need for greater unity at home. Of course the Turks have other challenges quite aside from the Kurds to worry about at the moment.

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