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Reading Between The Lines:
In Iraqi Kurdistan, Politicians’ Holiday Greetings Indicate Depth Of Division

Maaz Farhan
The Eid holiday should be a time for rivals to wish one another peace and harmony. This year in Iraqi Kurdistan has been different though and the rancorous Eid messages show just how angry everyone is.
21.06.2018  |  Sulaymaniyah
Eid in Iraqi Kurdistan: It's usually a time to forgive past wrongs. But not this year. (photo: حمه سور )
Eid in Iraqi Kurdistan: It's usually a time to forgive past wrongs. But not this year. (photo: حمه سور )

In past years the various political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan would always send each other a letter of greeting at Eid al-Fitr, the festival that ends Ramadan, a month of religious commemoration. For Europeans, it’s a little like sending a Christmas card to one’s business colleagues and rivals.

But this year, the letters that political parties in the semi-autonomous, northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan are sending one another are just a little different – mainly this is because of an increase in antipathy and a breakdown in relationships after, firstly, the referendum on Kurdish independence last September, and secondly, the Iraqi elections, held May 12 this year.  

Things have become so tense that even common courtesies have ended.

Reading between the lines of the Eid greetings, they differ from previous years: usually they talk about solving problems in the period following the religious holiday. This year, the seasonal greetings are more critical – and that’s if they were sent at all.  

The region’s largest opposition party, known as the Change movement, didn’t send anything to the other large parties in the region, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK. In its Eid message, the party said that they hoped Eid would herald a new phase for the Kurdish people, and that there would peace, serenity and justice. “Since the day it was created, and as it has ever since, the Change movement extends its hand in cooperation and harmony, to any party or democratic project, that serves the best interests of our people and coexistence,” the party wrote.

Senior local politician, Barham Salih, who headed a new group in these elections, the Coalition for Democracy and Justice, posted a letter on his Facebook page, that included a subtle message about the recent accusations of electoral fraud in Iraqi Kurdistan; smaller parties have accused the KDP and PUK of electoral fraud after the smaller parties got far fewer votes than they expected in May’s federal elections. “BY respecting the will of the people and protecting citizens’ votes, the path is corrected and the cycle of crisis comes to an end,” Salih’s letter said. “It is time for Iraqis to live in peace.”

The head of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, Ali Babir, broadcast a message on his party’s TV channel, praying for the people of Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq and hoping they would be able to find a way out of the current situation.

“On this occasion we have to reconcile with ourselves, with our people and with our God,” Salahuddin Bahauddin, the head of Kurdistan Islamic Union, said during an Eid service in the city of Sulaymaniyah. “Influential people and parties need to admit they have made mistakes. Life cannot go on this way and our people deserve better.”


Eid greetings in Iraqi Kurdistan (Photo: Hama Sur)


Senior PUK and KDP politicians also posted season’s greetings but, unlike their angry opponents in the smaller parties, there was no hint of any meaningful political message in them. They were more like the standard greetings of years past. Massoud Barzani, the leader of the KDP, simply congratulated the Muslims of the world on Eid.

“The relationships between the KDP, PUK and Change movement are bad,” agrees Mardin Ibrahim, a political studies expert at Cihan University in Sulaymaniyah. “Things have become so tense that even common courtesies have ended.”

The relationship between the Change movement and the PUK has reached another low. The Change movement was close to the PUK at one point – the opposition party is actually an offshoot of the PUK, which split off and began campaigning on an anti-corruption platform. But there have been no official meetings between the two for several months now and the senior members did not visit one another during Eid. When one of the founders of the PUK, Adel Murad, passed away in mid-May, shortly after the federal elections, the Change movement did not send anyone to represent them at the PUK memorial, saying that members of the PUK had attacked their Sulaymaniyah headquarters on May 12 and had also committed electoral fraud.

The reasons behind this deterioration in relations are varied, Ismail Namiq, a senior member of the Change movement, told NIQASH. “Pre-existing political problems, the monopoly of power that the PUK and the KDP have, their lack of flexibility when dealing with other parties, their arrogance and the way they think they own Kurdistan, their bad management – also the way they undermine other parties and do not consult them on anything,” Namiq said, as if he were auditing a bad marriage.

According to my information, most of the Kurdish parties exchanged Eid greetings – especially in Kirkuk. But perhaps the media have not covered this issue.

“When they call for unity, they only mean that everyone else should do as they say, ”Namiq continued. Our vision is fundamentally different, he added, before saying again that the Change movement felt that the PUK had attacked them. “Our relationship with the PUK is extremely bad right now,” he concluded.  

According to my information, most of the Kurdish parties exchanged Eid greetings – especially in Kirkuk. But perhaps the media have not covered this issueThe hostility is so bad right now that everyone is ignoring any common goals they may once have had, Ariz Abdallah, a senior member of the PUK, told NIQASH.

“Conflict and disagreement is normal in politics but when one reaches a point where even common goals are ignored, then everyone gets hurt,” Abdallah argued. He isn’t too worried however. “Our relationship with the Change movement has its ups and downs,” he says. “But in the end, we can always reach an understanding.”

The KDP has had a bad relationship with the Change movement and other opposition parties for months now and recent events haven’t done anything to improve that. In fact, perhaps the only party that the KDP is a little closer to at the moment is the PUK, their traditional rivals. After the ill-fated independence referendum, the PUK and KDP slung insults and accusations at each other, with both blaming the other for the loss of Kurdish control over certain areas as a result of the referendum. But the federal elections have forced them to put aside those differences somewhat, as both have sent delegations to Baghdad to take part in the formation of the next Iraqi government. Kurdish politicians often fight at home but then present  a united front in Baghdad, when they have to deal with the rest of Iraq.

Contrary to what other politicians in Iraqi Kurdistan are saying, the KDP doesn’t appear to think there is a problem. “As the KDP, we do not have any abnormal relations with any party,” Mohammed Khorshid Tawfiq, a senior member of the KDP, says.

Before Eid, the KDP had ongoing contact with other parties and after Eid, it has sought to bring all Kurdish parties together, Tawfiq insisted, especially in order to go to Baghdad united. “According to my information, most of the Kurdish parties exchanged Eid greetings – especially in Kirkuk. But perhaps the media have not covered this issue because of the current situation,” he suggested. Tawfiq also blamed the breakdown in relations between the PUK and the Change movement. “Whenever that happens, they always add the KDP’s name to the discussion,” he said.

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