Day after day, Iraqi Kurdistan's financial crisis worsens with the government of the semi-autonomous northern region unable to pay salaries to employees. Construction and other projects have been stalled and generally locals don't believe the authorities are able to resolve this financial problem. As in the rest of Iraq, a lot of people in Iraqi Kurdistan are employed by the government and as a result of the lack of salary payments, people began protesting n the streets, striking and staging sit-ins. Teachers in some parts of the Sulaymaniyah province staged sit-ins and didn't go to work for several days, for instance. On October 9, demonstrations started properly and since then, people have gathered on the streets almost every day.
Over the past week, those protests have become violent. Demonstrators started attacking political party offices, especially those belonging to the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which is seen as the most powerful party in the region. These protests resulted in arson, with offices set alight, and protestors beaten by security forces as well as several deaths. There were also some serious political moves as a result, that saw members of the Change movement, or Gorran, ostensibly the region's opposition party, thrown out of the power sharing government – some say, illegally.
The political parties themselves have held a series of meetings. There have been nine meetings and the tenth one was held October 8. Unfortunately those who attended the meetings say they never got very close to discussing the region's financial problems or any of the reasons why protesters are actually on the streets. The main topic of conversation was always the presidency of the region.
The people here have a right to be angry. The politicians don't seem to be able to find a solution.
In 2005, Parliament nominated Iraqi Kurdistan's President, Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, to the job – in Iraqi Kurdistan, the president may only remain in power for two four-year-terms. Barzani's second term was supposed to end in 2013 but he clung to the Presidency through clever sleight of legislation that many considered illegal. That gave him another two years – and these two years ended at midnight, on Wednesday August 20, 2015. Since then, Iraqi Kurdish politics have been firmly focussed on this issue.
In fact there have been ten meetings about this topic since then. All of these meetings were about the presidency, says Abubakir Haldani, an MP for the Kurdistan Islamic Union. “The aim of these meetings was to find a solution to this one problem,” he told NIQASH. “But they could not. Instead the meetings made things even more complicated.”
“And we tried to bring up the problems that the people here have more than once,” Haldani insists. “But every time the meetings ended up finishing because of the tension and disagreement about the presidency.”
As for the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament itself, it had held only four sittings between June 23 and now. Two of the sittings were devoted to amending internal bylaws and the other two were devoted to discussing the presidency.
“The senior members of the government – the President, the Prime Minister and the President of the Iraqi Parliament – and the parties in power here are supposed to be solving people's problems,” says Kurdish MP Shirko Mohammed. “But instead of solving them, they have complicated them further. Massoud Barzani and the Cabinet are the ones mainly responsible for this. They haven't taken any serious steps to solve these problems.”
“The people here have a right to be angry,” says Kamran Mantak, a professor of political science at Erbil's Salahaddin University. “The politicians don't seem to be able to find a solution. They have come to a dead end. Another voice is needed to address that problem and that voice is coming from the street. There is also a lot of confusion between the financial crisis and the political crisis and other problems.”
The government has received money from oil sales but didn't want to use it to pay salaries.
For example, local teachers who have been striking because they have not been paid, point out that the government does actually have money. But that they are punishing the region's people for the presidential crisis by not paying it out. Mantak thinks they may be right.
And other indicators appear to back that argument too. Thanks to the conflict between Erbil and Baghdad about the Iraqi Kurdish share of the federal budget, the Kurdish started exporting oil produced within the region. Using figures about how much oil is allegedly being exported via the Turkish port of Ceyhan per day, simple arithmetic would indicate that the Kurdish government must have received around US$750 million in September. Yet the government still hasn't paid local salaries.
Kurdish MP and economist Izzat Saber, who heads the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament's Committee on Finance and Economics confirmed to NIQASH that the region had done a deal with an oil company that meant it received around US$850 million monthly for an agreed upon amount of oil. From what he knows, Saber says the government has received that money but didn't want to use it to pay salaries because of the financial crisis.
Another MP, Farsat Sofi, a senior member of the KDP, says that the financial crisis and the problems around the presidency shouldn’t be mixed – after all he argues, the financial crisis was started by Baghdad, when the Iraqi federal government refused to pay Iraqi Kurdistan it's share of the budget.
“The different parties involved should have solved the problem of the presidency,” Sophi says, “and they should have been able to work together in this broad-based, power-sharing government to not allow things to get to this level of tension.”