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political games
iraqi MPs take to football field to thrash ministers

Zanko Ahmad
Iraqi Kurdish politicians have organized a grudge match that will see football teams from the local government face off. But local commentators are betting the game will end the same way all other political games…
1.11.2012  |  Sulaymaniyah

The Minister of Culture passes the football to the son of the Iraqi President. He kicks it to the Prime Minister of the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. And the Prime Minister shoots! He scores!

This is the sample commentary written by the Iraqi Kurdish TV channel that will broadcast a Nov. 19 grudge match between local MPs and members of the local executive branch. The semi-autonomous region has its own military, legislation and government, and it is members of the latter that are due to compete on a local football pitch.

The event was announced several weeks ago by Shirdal Tahseen, a member of the committee on Sports and Youth inside the Iraqi Kurdish parliament. Any profits generated by the event would go to local charities, Tahseen said.

Interestingly the executive branch, or cabinet, of the Iraqi Kurdish government immediately announced their team line up (see below). They were confident, it seemed. However the parliamentarians announced they would be keeping their line up secret as they wanted to surprise the opposition on the day. Apparently the MPs will form two teams, one to be held in reserve. Both teams will be made up of six politicians from opposition parties with the rest from pro-government parties.

The only female minister in the regional government, Assos Najib, Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, has been made responsible for the formation of the executive branch’s team, as well as with training and preparation.

Kurdistan\'s parliamentary spokesperson, Tariq Jawhar, told NIQASH that all 111 members of the Parliament of Iraqi Kurdistan had been told about the match and asked to take part but that as yet it was not clear how many of the 42 female MPs in Iraqi Kurdistan might take part.

Meanwhile the referees would come from the judiciary in Iraqi Kurdistan.

And of course, as yet, nobody knows what the outcome of the match might be. But what Iraqi Kurdistan’s politicians do know is that the way the system works here has seen the executive branch score plenty of points over MPs in the local Parliament.

Writer and political observer, Abdullah al-Rashawi, agrees, noting that when it came to political game playing, the executive branch has always managed to defeat parliament.

“All the attempts of Iraqi Kurdish MPs to question cabinet ministers on any issues have failed,” al-Rashawi said. Every time an incident like this comes up the cabinet minister in question simply leaves the hall, to applause from pro-government politicians and the ineffectual anger of opposition MPs.

Members were first elected to the Iraqi Kurdish parliament in 1992 but most observers of the political scene say things didn’t really start to heat up until 2009 when stronger opposition parties emerged. That was when the Change movement, a party that broke away from one of the major ruling parties, won 25 seats; two Islamic parties also won 10 seats.

The group was able to oppose the region’s two major parties - the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

However all of the major cabinet positions are held by members of the two large parties – and this is why, al-Rashawi explains, the local cabinet always defeats the local parliament. It’s also why he’s placing his bet on the cabinet’s football team in the upcoming match.

Meanwhile parliamentary spokesperson Jawhar doesn’t think who wins or loses is all that important. “What is really important is bringing the two together [in sport] and collecting some money for charity,” Jawhar notes.

And what do the ordinary people of Iraqi Kurdistan think of the whole thing? Some say it’s a joke that they couldn’t care less about. Former Change party MP Zana Raouf criticised the grudge match on his Facebook page, complaining that the game was taking attention away from more important local issues.

“Why are you playing?” Raouf wrote online. “Why do you need another game to play? You need to take a rest. After all, you’re always playing - with laws, resources, oil, health, agriculture. And I feel sure that the result of this game will be no different than the results of all the other games that Parliament and Cabinet play.”

The Iraqi Kurdish government’s team for the November match:

Goal Keeper – the Minister of Finance, Bayez al-Talabani.

Defenders – Fuad Hussein, chief of staff for the Iraqi Kurdish President, the Minister of Municipalities and Tourism, Dilshad Shahab, the Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, Ali Saeed and the Minister for electricity, Yassin Abu Baker.

Midfielders – The Foreign Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Falah Mustafa, the Minister for Culture and Youth, Kawa Mahmoud.

Forwards - Iraqi Kurdistan’s Prime Minister, Najirvan Barzani and his deputy, Imad Ahmad as well as Qubad al-Talabani, the region’s long time envoy to Washington who is soon to head the new Department of Coordination and Follow Up.