As the anniversary of Iraqi Kurdistan’s political crisis draws near, the differences of opinion between the political parties and between their various followers is growing ever wider.
Despite efforts to resolve the problem, there doesn’t seem to be any chance of reaching a consensus anytime soon.
The political crisis pits most other Iraqi Kurdish political parties against the region’s largest party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP. The leader of the KDP, Massoud Barzani, says that he should be the region’s President. All of the other parties disagree, saying his time is over.
Most of the locals who support one of the parties that disagree with the KDP – and these are the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, the Change movement and Iraqi Kurdistan’s smaller Islamic parties – believe the KDP is at fault.
And the protests are growing louder. On September 27, there were demonstrations throughout the region protesting the local government’s ineffectiveness at getting even the simplest things done. One of the biggest problems for ordinary people is that the political crisis is accompanied by a financial crisis: Salaries are not being paid.
If this happened in any other place, the government would be removed and another would be formed to replace it.
The question is: Who exactly is the government in Iraqi Kurdistan at the moment? The KDP is seen to be monopolizing all of the most important roles – including in the oil industry, the Iraqi Kurdish military, the judiciary and foreign relations. On the other hand, none of the politicians from those parties opposing the KDP, who were previously part of the broad-based power sharing government that fell apart year ago, have resigned their positions either. So strictly speaking they are still part of the government that locals are protesting about.
Calls for a meeting that all parties to the dispute attend have not been answered. And most of the time it seems the different politicians are just sending one another messages through the media.
The Change movement is probably the party most outspoken about its opposition to Barzani and the KDP. And although the senior members of the Change party who were given important jobs in the Iraqi Kurdish government – finance, trade, the military and Speaker of the Parliament – have not been able to do their jobs for almost a year, they have not officially left the government.
That is despite pressure from their supporters. “The KDP has led a coup against Iraqi Kurdistan’s legitimate government,” says Dana Abdulkarim, a senior member of the Change movement. “It is the KDP’s fault that the region is living as though it is in a state of emergency. From both a legal and political perspective, we consider this a coup. And it doesn’t make sense to withdraw from the government when there is a coup,” he said, justifying his party’s position.
The much smaller Kurdistan Islamic Union, or KIU, says it is actually planning to withdraw from the government but it is waiting until it hears back on a last-ditch proposal it has submitted for reconciliation. The proposal was submitted in mid-September.
“If the government wants to resolve this crisis, that would be good,” Mohammed Ahmad, a senior member of the KIU, told NIQASH. “Otherwise we will talk about our withdrawal.”
Like the other parties, the KIU is annoyed about how the ministerial and other senior positions were given out when the broad-based government was originally formed; everyone says the KDP monopolised the decision-making from the start and didn’t distribute the top jobs properly.
“We were supposed to be partners not participants,” Ahmad says. “But that didn’t happen. Really, the only partners were the PUK and the KDP.”
As yet, how the PUK feels about withdrawing from the government remains unknown. It holds the most seats in the Iraqi Kurdish parliament after the KDP. Certainly some of its members and the media outlets it sponsors act as though they too are in opposition to the KDP.
“When the government was formed, it was a broad-based government,” says Fareed Asasard, a senior member of the PUK. “But it’s certainly not one now. The current government is only halfway legitimate. If that happened in any other place, the government would be removed and another would be formed to replace it.”
Meanwhile Akram Saleh, a senior member of the KDP, had nothing but disdain for the other parties, who are talking about leaving the government; this kind of attitude tends to be common among KDP politicians.
Saleh argues that those criticizing the KDP are just doing this to please their voters. “And if you are not partners in the government, why are you participating?” he said, addressing his opponents. “If I do not feel like I am a partner in a certain area, then I would not participate in it.”
“Parliament is supposed to give the government legitimacy,” says Kamran Mantak, a professor of political science at Erbil's Salahaddin University. “If Parliament is suspended, then the government loses that legitimacy. Today the KDP has all the power. The other parties are losing their identities because they are not in power, yet they are not in the opposition either. None of the parties have a clear message. If they were in power, they would rule. But if not, they should withdraw. It’s hard to know where they stand and how to define them.”