Barzani’s latest attempt at reform and his ‘bold strategy’

By Mufid Abdulla:

The 26th March announcement by Masud Barzani, President of Kurdistan, of the main elements of his strategy for reform and fighting corruption in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been received by the people with caution. This time last year the president declared his 2011 plan for reform with an investigation into, as he put it, ‘irregularities’ in land leasing. For three months the KRG halted most investment projects in Erbil, under the pretext of an investigation by the audit office, but this produced no results.

This year Barzani is making a fresh effort by announcing a ‘bold strategy’, the success of which, he says, must comprise several factors, which I quote:

  1. “ Transparency, people’s participation, reform from top to the bottom
  2. The reform comprises: political reform and lawmakers
  3. Law accountability and the independence of the judiciary system
  4. Management reform
  5. Peshmarga forces and security officers
  6. Civil organization
  7. Money and finance”.

First of all, let us be clear that the key political objective of Barzani’s statement is to separate the anti-corruption movement from the opposition and show everyone that he is in charge. The statement is also designed to divert attention from the KRG’s chronic problems. But no one is confident in the outcome. His proclaimed strategy is not a remedy for Kurdistan’s ills. It does not come from fertile minds. In fact his statement coincides with the challenges he faces both within his party, the KDP, and from the opposition.

Obviously, this statement by the President of Kurdistan reflects a widespread concern that corruption – lying at the heart of and at all levels of government – has become a threat to Kurdistan’s economic development and national security. However, Barzani is approaching this challenge with the wrong priorities and values. We all know that he is seeking to crack the hardest of nuts and there is no evidence that his presidency is capable of planning ahead and implementing effective solutions.

Despite last year’s announcements he failed to remove any of the barriers to implementing policies that would end morally repugnant corruption. Today he speaks of a bold strategy but has almost no room for maneuver. The KRG needs proper institutions to carry out reforms. What Barzani calls reforms, I would call an attempt at political development beyond the tribal level of organization that has been the basis of the KRG. Samuel Huntington defined institutions as adhering to “valued, stable, recurring patterns of behaviour” and he identified four criteria for measuring the degree of development of these institutions: (1)  adaptability-rigidity; (2) complexity-simplicity; (3) autonomy- subordination; (4) coherence-disunity (Samuel Huntington, cited in Fukuyama,2011).

Up to now the main burden of corruption and crippled reform has been borne by the mass of the people in the south of Kurdistan. This latest statement is an audacious gamble by the artful Barzani, like his previous one in March 2011. However, it is more of a political wager than an economic one. What the president has is mind is the exact opposite of what ordinary people have in mind.

The people want:

  1. Substantial and immediate change which serves the long-term interests and aspirations of the nation.
  2. Dissolution of the strategic marriage of convenience between the PUK and KDP which involves sharing out the wealth and finances of the KRG to these parties’ members and cronies.
  3. Sacking the entire cabinet and dissolving the current parliament and encouraging the participation of the people.

The mentality of the leader does not allow him to take on board opposition proposals which are in the national interest.  What we have seen from the president for the past 13 months is a ‘self-seeking principle’ which has not worked and will not work: “the most crucial problem with a strong self-seeking principle is that it will not be able to commit itself to policies with any credibility” (Wiggins 1991, and Williamson 1985).

Political observers have noted that Barzani’s popularity ratings have plummeted. In the past he was known for talking less and doing more. But now the realities of Kurdistan politics have exposed the real nature and weakness of the leader. Existing literature suggests that numerous variables define a leader’s effectiveness. Studies have proved that a key indicator is a leader’s effectiveness in driving change. If Barzani is seeking change and reform in Kurdistan he must realize that this is impossible without change in his inner circle: “Organizational change does not occur unless member groups and individuals change” (Gilley et all 2011). Despite our sincerest hopes, the president of Kurdistan has not changed much since the time of the 1991 uprising.

We need good leadership. This is what we lack in Kurdistan. The essence of good leadership is an ability to interact with people with conflicting goals, values and ideals (Barker, 1994). What we have seen from the KRG is hollow talk and vacillation rather than effective measures to fight corruption and implement reforms.


  1.  Barzani’s speech is nothing but part of his political game.
  2.  He has failed to grasp the logic of strategies: change is brought about by a change in diagnosis.
  3. The dominant view among the mass of the people is that the current rulers are too weak and incapable to carry out real change.


Fukuyama.F (2011) ‘The Origins of Political Order’, Profile Books Ltd, London, page 450

Wiggins (1991) ‘The Economics of the Firm and Contracts: A Selective Survey’, Journal of institutional and Theoretical Economics , CXL VII,603-661

Gilley. A, McMillan H.S., Gilley J.W (2011) ‘Organizational Change and Characteristics of Leadership Effectiveness’, Journal of leadership & Organizational Studies, Volume 16, Number 1, Aug 2009, page 38-47

Barker R.A. (1994) ‘The Re-Thinking of Leadership’, The Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol 1, No 2.

Copyright © 2012

2 Responses to Barzani’s latest attempt at reform and his ‘bold strategy’
  1. Azad Ezzat
    March 30, 2012 | 16:13

    The biggest challenge to reform for president Barzani lies within his family and party. People can’t take all this reform rhetoric seriously anymore if it is not translated to reality. Maybe Mr Barzani should start off with all the corrupted government officials, do a public investigation, and question everyone about their wealth and assets, and YES he can include all the current opposition leaders as well. Show the general public where all the oil resources are going, question the officials about all the land, property, and assets they have acquired through and during their government posts. Lay everything on the table. That is the real financial reform.

    Then for political reform, maybe president Barzani can come out in public and declare that his son will not have life-time unlimited power over the security forces. And how about making the Peshmarga a nationally and officially led force instead of party and gangster-style ruling. Show us where the oil and Ibrahim Khalil money is going and open investigations. Bring all corrupted citizens and officials, including those from thenBarzani, Talabani, and all other tribes alike. Punish everyone equally.

    Is this kind of reform possible? YES! But not probable. Kurdistan lies at dangerous crossroads now, with dictatorship ruling on the horizons and an unwillingness of the 2 ruling parties to share power and resources. There is so much to be said, but very little that will ever be done, unless enforced by the general public themselves.

    Both the government and the people are to be blamed for the current corruption. The officials are a sample from the general public, and whenever people stop clapping for every ruler and making them unquestionable figures, like prophets, then and only then can we assume the beginning of reform, because when people are good, they demand good, nd no power can stand in the way of the will of people.

  2. Kamran Barzani
    March 31, 2012 | 04:27

    I am fed up with these politicians’ constant propagandas and fabrications. What is even more disgusting is that they believe people are fool.

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL