Over the past three years, the Iraqi Kurdish politicians representing Kurdish parties in Baghdad have been quietly side-lined. The role of a Kurdish MP in Baghdad now appears to be to act as an observer.
For example, when Iraqi Kurdish delegations came to Baghdad in the recent past to resolve issues around oil and the Kurdish military, the Kurdish MPs in Baghdad only found out about it thanks to the television news. Nor were they aware of senior Iraqi Kurdish politicians coming to Baghdad to meet senior Iraqi politicians to talk about the ill-fated Kurdish referendum on independence.
Another example: For the 2018 federal budget, the Iraqi government decreed that the semi-autonomous Kurdish region should only receive 12 percent of the country’s income, rather than 17 percent the Iraqi Kurdish had formerly been allocated. The Kurdish MPs protested but nothing happened until senior politicians from the Kurdish region intervened.
When there is some sort of problem between Baghdad and Erbil, the MPs have been known to boycott sessions of parliament in Baghdad. But as soon as the problems are resolved – usually via negotiations between high ranking Kurdish politicians from up north and their counterparts in Baghdad – the Kurdish MPs simply give up the boycott and return to parliament. But increasingly it’s clear that their boycotts achieve next to nothing.
In a country where senior ministers and political parties control the parliament, there can be no rule of law.
It’s obvious that the Iraqi Kurdish representatives that people voted for, to take up Kurdish causes in the federal parliament, have little to no chance of getting anything much done.
One of the MPs in Baghdad, Zana Rostai, believes all this is partially due to the lack of communication and coordination between Kurdish politicians in Baghdad and Kurdish politicians in Kurdistan. This missing connection means that nobody can benefit from the Kurdish presence in the federal parliament. For example, Rostai told NIQASH, the Baghdad MPs had made several attempts to try and meet senior Kurdish politician Massoud Barzani while he was the president of the region but they had mostly been unsuccessful.
“Many delegations come to Baghdad [from Kurdistan] but they usually don’t bother to involve the MPs in those meetings,” Rostai explained. “The regional government used to meet with the heads of the different political blocs but even these meetings have been cancelled or postponed, when they closed the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament. So the Kurdish MPs were unable to play any kind of role, having been marginalized by Erbil.”
The relationship between Baghdad and Erbil has been in such a state of flux over the past three years that it has made Iraqi Kurdish MPs in Baghdad reluctant to speak out, suggests Nawzat Rasoul, another Kurdish MP in Baghdad.
Kurdish MPs have been criticized for their silence on important issues, Rasoul admits. Some of them were even accused of not being able to speak Arabic properly – this was the reason they weren’t speaking up in Baghdad, where Arabic is the native language, critics have suggested.
Having said all this, the situation is not much better for Kurdish MPs in the Kurdish parliament up north; the semi-autonomous northern region has its own parliament, military and legislature. But there too, the people’s elected representatives have effectively been side-lined as deals are done and decisions made over their heads.
The Iraqi Kurdish parliament recently re-opened after being closed for around two years, after a fight between the major parties. Returning MPs promised their constituents they would try to improve the situation, ending wage cuts that have been necessary due to the region’s financial crisis. But in the around three months since parliament reopened they haven’t managed to get much done.
Even before the mid-October political crisis that the referendum on independence caused in Iraqi Kurdistan, and which saw the Kurdish withdraw to earlier territorial boundaries, the Kurdish MPs didn’t seem to have much say in the big decisions. After the crisis, they appear to have even less. With every new round of negotiations between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish authorities, local MPs are hardly even involved.
“The Kurdish parliament has not been able to play its role properly,” Kurdish MP Farhan Jawhar, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, told NIQASH. “It has not become an institution that can make vital decisions and that’s because it is too partisan.”
Meanwhile Abdulrahman Ali, a senior member of the opposition Change movement, defends the region’s MPs, saying they have been prevented from being able to implement change by the more senior politicians.
“In a country where senior ministers and political parties control the parliament, there can be no rule of law,” Ali complains. “We can’t respond to people’s demands because of the suspension of parliament.”
Writer and political commentator Jarjis Gulizard has another explanation. He says that Kurdish politicians are generally inexperienced; he calls them “political teenagers”.
“A lot of these MPs are more like actors or TV stars,” he says. “They only want to be featured on TV and when they get on screen they act more like news anchors than politicians.”
Additionally, Gulizard adds, political parties don’t set very high standards when they are selecting who will represent them. Nepotism plays a big role in their selection,” Gulizard concludes. “The political parties put people in parliament who don’t have any kind of seniority within the party. That’s why the MPs have no professional standards.”