Next Wednesday it will be a year since the gears of the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament ground to a halt. It was on October 10, 2015, that Yusuf Mohammed, the Speaker of the Parliament in the semi-autonomous region, which has its own borders, legislation and military, was not allowed to enter Erbil, the region’s capital where all the government buildings are.
This led to a breakdown in the political relationship between the region’s largest political party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the Change movement, the party to which Mohammed belonged and which had, until then, been part of a broad based power-sharing government. Eventually Iraqi Kurdistan’s other major party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, also fell out badly with the KDP. The region’s democracy is in tatters. The regional presidency has been the cause of much of the current stoush with KDP leader, Massoud Barzani, insisting he should hold the job for longer and opponents in the Change movement and the PUK disagreeing.
During the year there have been a variety of attempts to mend those relationships. But a series of meetings have not been successful. Now it seems the various parties to this argument are seeking external assistance to resolve the region’s political woes.
There is a precedent for seeking outside help: In the 1990s, when the PUK and the KDP were engaged in what is best described as a civil war, the former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, facilitated the signing of a peace agreement.
The EU's plan involves maintaining the status quo, allowing Massoud Barzani to stay on as President until 2017.
This may be why the Iraqi Kurdish politicians have recently sat down with officials from a number of European countries and the US.
“International parties have been trying to convince the different forces in the region to resolve their differences for a while,” Ahmed Kani, a senior member of the KDP, told NIQASH. “They have stressed that these conflicts do not serve the best interests of Iraqi Kurdistan.”
On September 28 Mohammed travelled to Switzerland where he met with senior Swiss politicians. In a statement issued after the meetings Mohammed said there were negotiations ongoing between the different Iraqi Kurdish parties and that he hoped that the situation would be less tense upon his return; Mohammed also asked that other countries help the Kurdish to reconcile.
On September 20, Clarisse Pásztory, the head of the office of the European Union’s delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan, met with Mohammed too. A source inside Mohammed’s office said that Pásztory had a suggestion to solve the political problems. It involved three things: Holding early elections for the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament and for the Iraqi Kurdish presidency. Pásztory’s plan involved maintaining the status quo and allowing Barzani to stay in the job until 2017. Things would stay the same and the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament would go back to work so politicians could try and negotiate new solutions to the presidency problem, including amending laws around it.
“During the meeting [with Pásztory] the Speaker of the Parliament stressed that the reason for all these problems is the presidency,” Kamaran Subhan, media adviser to Mohammed, told NIQASH. “He said that when that problem is resolved then he would be ready to give up his job, for the good of the people.”
Mohammed also posted a statement about the meeting on his Facebook page. It said that Pásztory had told him that the European Union wants the political parties here to overcome the impasse they’re facing because the situation was an obstacle to many of the projects the EU wanted to implement in Iraqi Kurdistan.
During their visit, Silliman and Gross met with senior members of the PUK including Barham Salih, Kosrat Rasoul Ali and Hero Ibrahim Ahmad along with Mohammed Tawfiq Rahim and other senior members of the Change movement. A statement from the US consulate in Erbil said the Americans had encouraged the parties to work together to solve problems affecting Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq.
But it seems that the same old story is continuing. Whenever the various senior politicians meet with representatives from other countries, they say they are enthusiastic about resolving their problems.
Rahim told NIQASH that the Change movement supports “any attempt to solve these problems and we have shown our willingness to normalize relations”.
The KDP announced that it always supports suggested negotiations. “But it will not countenance a coup against it,” spokesperson Kani said.
As economic conditions continue to deteriorate in Iraqi Kurdistan and the region’s political projects remain at a standstill, locals have only one choice: To continue to watch their leaders talking on TV and on Facebook and hope that one day, their words will actually mean something.