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The Replacements:
How Likely Is A New Government Really In Iraqi Kurdistan?

Histyar Qader
Since the ill-fated Kurdish independence referendum, critics have been calling for the current government of the region to be replaced. But, as some critics say, nobody is serious about this prospect.
7.12.2017  |  Erbil
Can they be replaced now? Senior members of the Iraqi Kurdish government pose for pictures in Erbil.
Can they be replaced now? Senior members of the Iraqi Kurdish government pose for pictures in Erbil.

The semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan has had a rough few months. Since the region held the referendum on Kurdish independence, asking whether the zone should secede from the rest of the country, Iraqi Kurdistan has been under pressure from the federal authorities in Baghdad in many ways.

As a result, there have been many calls for the dismissal of the current Iraqi Kurdish government and the appointment of a new one.

On November 23, the opposition Change movement, also known as Goran, submitted a list of demands to the Kurdish authorities – the most significant of these was the proposal to form an interim government that would be in charge of affairs in Iraqi Kurdistan until the next elections.

The Change movement had already asked the group of Islamic parties in Iraqi Kurdistan and a new party formed by prominent local politician, Barham Salih, to form a government with them for this reason.

The parties are not really serious about their demands for the dismissal of the current government. All parties share the blame for the failure of the Kurdish parliamentary system.

“In our last meeting with the delegation from the government we were told they were not in favour of this idea, but they didn’t reject the idea outright either,” Dana Abdulkarim, a senior member of the Change movement, told NIQASH. “They told us they would discuss the idea and inform us of any results.”

However, Abdulkarim added, his party believes that the region’s most popular party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, is “stonewalling” the proposal. They don’t want change, he says. “But we will continue to demand an interim government be formed and we will launch a media campaign in this regard too.”

The KDP is in control of the Iraqi Kurdish government and has long held onto the presidency even though many of their critics say this is illegal.

The Iraqi Kurdish region is basically split into two zones. One half is under the control of the KDP party. The other is controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK. The Change movement, a break off party from the PUK, has remained largely on the outside, acting as an opposition party.

In reality, the semi-autonomous region is split between areas that traditionally fall under KDP or PUK control, dubbed the “green” and “yellow” zones - after the colours of the parties’ flags – and they informally maintain total command over the armed forces in each respective zone.

Even though the KDP leader, Massoud Barzani, has taken a sideways step and officially given up the post of president – although he has not necessarily given up power – it seems unlikely that the KDP would be willing to give way to an interim government made up of their political foes.

The region’s prime minister is KDP member Nechirvan Barzani and at a Nov. 20 press conference he stated that the current government should be considered the interim government. “The formation of a new government will take time,” Barzani said.

Still, insiders say that Barzani had been willing to discuss the idea. “Nechirvan Barzani wants a decision to be made after a meeting at which all five major political parties meet,” the source said.

This would mean a decision was made by the KDP, the PUK, the Change movement and two Kurdish Islamic parties. Any useful outcome seems unlikely – the region doesn’t have a positive history when it comes to meetings where all five parties are supposed to come together on a serious topic like this.

Eight governments have been formed in Iraqi Kurdistan since 1992 and none of them have been dismissed, despite political, economic and security-related crises, including, during the 1990s, an intra-Kurdish civil war.

In 2011, the Change movement made a similar demand, insisting that the government be changed. The PUK and the KDP described it as an “attempted coup”.

So, despite the problems that the independence referendum has brought to Iraqi Kurdistan, it seems unlikely that the two major parties, who hold all the power partially because they have military power in their respective zones, will change their minds about being in government now.

“We do not support the idea of dismissing the current government,” Dler Mawati, a senior member of the PUK, told NIQASH. “It is better to change some of the ministers and some of the faces,” he noted.

“We are against the dismissal of the government because this will just lead to problems,” Mahmoud Mohammad, a senior KDP member, said in a press conference on Nov. 28.

Ali Hussein, a spokesperson for the KDP, explained this further. He says there is simply not enough time to dissolve the government and form a new one before the next elections. “It is unrealistic and illogical especially because the term of the current government will end in just a few months,” he argues.

This is a good point. The formation of a new government now would require several rounds of negotiations on which party takes which ministries and how much power each group gets. Additionally, it’s hard to know who would want to inherit all the problems the current government is facing.

“No one would want such a heavily indebted administration,” Mawati adds. 

There are several ways that a government can be dismissed in legal terms, explains local legal analyst and former politician, Ahmed Warti. Half of the ministers resign plus one, parliamentary procedures are suspended by half of the MPs themselves plus one, or the end of the parliamentary session, or the resignation of the prime minister.

So how realistic is it that an interim government is formed in Iraqi Kurdistan? Not very, says Shorish Hassan, a lecturer in political science at the University of Sulaymaniyah. He believes the calls for this are mainly about electioneering. Elections for a new Kurdish government are slated to be held around the middle of next year.

“The PUK and KDP don’t want to be pushed aside which is why they are against dismissing the current government,” Hassan explains. “And the other parties are not really serious about their demands for the dismissal of the current government. If they were they would have withdrawn their ministers completely. All parties share the blame for the failure of the Kurdish parliamentary system,” he argues. 

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