Barzani clings on to power

Masud Barzani

KT News and Comment:

President Barzani currently looks set to stay in power for at least another two years, despite his previous promise that there would be presidential elections this year. For what seems like tactical reasons he did not formally accept the two-year extension which MPs from the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) voted through parliament – and he also claims not to have known about it in advance. However, he did not reject the extension before today’s deadline and so it likely has now come into effect.

Presidential elections are constitutionally meant to be held every four years and, although this extension is supposed to be for two years – to minimise public outrage – at some later stage there may well be attempts to increase it to four years, at the stroke of a pen, to make it seem somehow aligned to the law and constitution.  This would be another misleading of the public and usurpation of democracy.

In a speech on Tuesday Barzani also said that he will refer the constitution back to the next parliament. But he didn’t make it clear whether parliament would be able to vote on constitutional amendments or whether it would put the current constitution – without any review and change – to a referendum. It seems like he is buying time, delaying the process and hoping that his KDP will have the upper hand in the next parliament, so that he can get his way over the constitution.

This is an embarrassing rebuff for the PUK, which has claimed to have an agreement with the KDP for a parliamentary review of the constitution. Indeed Mulla Bakhtyar (head of the PUK politburo) has been on national TV claiming that the constitution has already been returned to parliament!

Despite this, however, Barzani acted and sounded more like the protector of the PUK-KDP Strategic Agreement than the president of the nation – even though the KDP and PUK hold a slim majority of 59 out of 111 seats in parliament. His speech put his legitimacy further in doubt.

Overall, events have probably not worked out quite as Barzani wanted. The way in which the presidential extension was passed through parliament, without a change in the constitution, has weakened his legitimacy in the eyes of the public and it has provided a gift to the Opposition.

The opposition parties today issued a joint statement condemning the presidential extension. They are also threatening to boycott upcoming elections if the provincial and parliamentary votes are not held together under a free and fair process. The high electoral commission recently delayed the provincial elections to an unknown date.

The Opposition now has several options:

  1. Withdraw from parliament.
  2. Refuse to recognise Barzani as a legitimate president and do not abide by his decisions.
  3. Resort to public and mass demonstrations.
  4. Continue with the current media campaign against the ruling parties and seek to use public outrage for electoral benefit.
  5. Reject the entire system altogether and ‘go underground’ (this is highly unlikely under current circumstances, especially given the interests and machinations of Iran, Turkey, the Iraq central government and Western powers).

At present the Opposition seems likely to persist with option four and their media campaign against the ruling parties – seeking to belittle and discredit Barzani and his coalition government and gathering strength for the elections, if they are conducted freely and fairly and both together.

Copyright © 2013

3 Responses to Barzani clings on to power
  1. Ari Ali
    July 17, 2013 | 23:56

    This is one of the most strange things ever happen to any nation . This is a guy who have hijacked power , with american blessing/support , he has no respect or regards to any law or legislation or the constitution . He is behaving exactly like saddam hussain not only in his heavy handedness but also in hiring journalists like foud ajmi to polish his image in washington . For the benefit of the readers me think Michael Rubin latest peace just sums up every thing : Michael Rubin | @mrubin1971 07.07.2013

    A visit to Iraqi Kurdistan is truly a humbling experience. Both 13 years ago, when I first visited the region, and now it’s easy to be impressed with all that the Iraqi Kurds have achieved. Indeed, Fouad Ajami—who recently spent a couple days in the region—wrote eloquently about his most recent visit, with a paean to policymakers in Washington to side with the Kurds in their dispute with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad.

    I seldom disagree with Ajami, but his praise of Kurdistan seems incongruous with his previous work. In effect, he comes perilously close to embracing dictatorship over democracy, especially coming alongside regional President Masud Barzani’s announcement delaying elections on the curious logic that he need not adhere to his two-term limit if his second term never formally ends.

    Ajami is correct to note what an oasis the American University of Iraq-Sulaymani has become, but he ignores the grumbling of many locked outside the gate: AUI-S has taken tens of millions of dollars in Kurdish government funds as public universities in the region are increasingly starved for cash. In effect, AUI-S represents the opposite of Robin Hood: Stealing from the poor to give to the rich. Nor is AUI-S as free from Kurdish politics as some of its students and supporters once hoped.

    I was troubled by Ajami’s praise for Stran Abdullah, whom he describes as “one of Kurdistan’s most informed and talented journalists.” Mr. Abdullah may be a good journalist and an honorable man, but it is strange to omit that Abdullah works for Kurdistan Nwe, the official organ of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, not an independent newspaper. There is no mention of the dozens of Kurdish reporters working for independent newspapers that face harassment, arrest, and, in some cases, even death. Praising Abdullah exclusively is akin to praising a reporter for Pravda, rather than the stringer for Radio Free Europe.

    Regarding Kirkuk, Ajami writes:

    Kirkuk alone should suffice to sober up those who rush into the breach—it is a city as rich in oil as it is in political troubles. One doesn’t have to be terribly imaginative to foresee catastrophe in that tinderbox: ethnic cleansing, a Kurdish victory in Kirkuk matched by the eviction of Kurds from the Sunni Arab side of the dividing line.

    Kirkuk, however, is thriving. It has been remarkably calm over the past couple years, as Najmaldin Karim, its governor, has shown that politicians who spend the resources allocated to them to the benefit of all communities bring good will, and the resulting local confidence amplifies economic development further. Indeed, Kirkuk has transformed itself from trouble spot to proof that Iraq can work when its leadership does.

    Ajami reserves his true animus for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki when he writes:

    The Kurds remain the most pro-American population in this swath of broad Middle Eastern geography. Yet Washington spurns the Kurds as it courts a strongman in Baghdad who has cast his lot with the Iranian theocracy and the Syrian dictatorship. In December 2011, as President Obama boasted of his strategic retreat in the region and of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, he held up Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as “the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq.” Never mind that Mr. Maliki was hard at work intimidating the opposition, consolidating power and warning the Kurds that all oil proceeds must run through Baghdad.

    Maliki’s government faces many challenges—and certainly the prime minister is an imperfect man—but Ajami is not being accurate when he characterizes Maliki as a strongman and Barzani as some sort of democrat. If Maliki is a strongman, then he is a curious sort: Maliki governs over an unwieldy cabinet that constantly checks him as he tries to implement his agenda. His picture may hang in a few government offices, but on the streets of Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk, and any other major Iraqi city, it is often absent. Investors enter the Iraqi market without being forced into partnership with Maliki. In the last elections in Baghdad and Basra, Maliki’s man lost out to the opposition and, in both cases, stood down gracefully. Contrast that with the “democrat” Barzani: His photograph is ever present in Kurdistan; he has appointed his nephew prime minister and his son presides over the security services and national security agency, and people quickly find themselves in prison for criticizing the great leader. The last journalist killed in Kurdistan? His crime was questioning Barzani nepotism. U.S. policy should be to pressure for transparent elections not only for Maliki, but also for Barzani. Alas, only Barzani believes that he need no longer bother with public accountability.

    As for Iranian influence? The amount of Iranian outreach to both Iraq proper and Iraqi Kurdistan is troubling. The recent summit in Erbil between Barzani and Maliki was not done at the behest of America, but rather on the instructions of Qods Force commander Qasem Suleimani, a man whom Iraqis jokingly refer to as Iran’s “real president.” That said, if Professor Ajami has the opportunity and desire to travel through the entirety of Iraq rather than simply the Iraqi Kurdish cities of Sulaymani and Erbil, he will find that Iranian commerce is much more overt and plentiful in Kurdish Iraq than in southern, Shi’ite Iraq.

    The United States should not be indifferent to Kurdish aspirations, but the best possible way to do so would be to confront the reality of Kurdistan’s declining human rights, not pretending it to be Xanadu. And while many of us are and have been friends with prominent Kurdish politicians, it is important to recognize that everyone in Iraq has an agenda, even in Kurdistan.

  2. Mohammed Hussain
    July 18, 2013 | 00:07

    I wonder how you know that his legitimacy is weakened “in the eyes of the public and it has provided a gift to the Opposition”. Do you have statistical evidence or have you conducted any research to find out what the percentage of approval and disapproval is of his presidential extension in public? How can you make an argument without providing such evidence? You should not try to convince your readers by making too much assumption. Besides that, your article does not also attract academics as it is purely one sided. Therefore, it can only be likened by those who do not analyse what they read.

    • Ari Ali
      July 28, 2013 | 12:11

      Mohammed Hussain … Baathists were saying that there is 99.8% approval to Saddam Hussain . They could present to you with all sort of nice numbers . When the day of reckoning came , he was left alone and people like you who were chanting and shouting disappeared and after few weeks changed side.

      The issue here is not about numbers and statistics , approval and disapproval . Rather it is about constitution that prohibit the incumbent president of running , and winning in case of masod , third term.

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