Does Demonstrating Have Any Value in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region?  

Aras Ahmed

By Aras Ahmed Mhamad: 

A wave of demonstrations has started once again in many cities and towns, especially in Sulaimaniya province. After the increase in gasoline prices from 500 Iraqi Dinars to 900, locals are outraged and demand that Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) officials act effectively and decrease the price.

From the beginning of 2014 until May 1, rarely did one day pass without demonstrations in the Kurdistan region. Demonstrations, gatherings, protests and rallies were continuously held across the region in Hawler (Erbil), Slemani, and Duhok. The question is: do these civil activities carry any value? I argue that they are about to lose their strength since almost no demonstration has brought any accused person to justice, or when they are brought, the court ironically and officially proves their innocence and in some cases even accuses or attacks the family members of the deceased.

In the past period, civic servants of the KRG, including teachers, protested against delays in their monthly payments, investors and contractors gathered against a lack of cash in the banks, civil society activists and NGOs rallied against honor killings, rape and sexual harassment of females, citizens protest against not having enough national electricity, lack of services and corruption and favoritism in governmental establishments and the occupation of their lands by Party officials. These are the characteristic features of events in the past months.

Just a quick reflection shows that the citizens of the Kurdistan region demand the very basic needs for a respectable life. But when, for example, governmental officials in the city of Saidsadiq, 70 km from Sleamni, inform companies to leave their projects because of the budget, 300 houses are left without access to water, and human respect is under threat.

The disputes between Baghdad and Hawler over oil exportation to Turkey would eventually harm the employees because no governmental official would ever think about not having electricity or delays in salary. In fact, their malls, companies, cars and apartments tell the story of the luxurious lives they lead. Conversely, delays in monthly payments for the past nine months have led to more social problems and clashes between security forces and the citizens.

As the demonstrations begin, the officials start to find pretexts for their failures in administrating their offices and sometimes accuse citizens of being unpatriotic. They compare Kurdistan with Syria in the best kinds of scenarios to hush people, without considering the fact that Syria has been in civil war for the past three years and bloodshed, explosions and suicide become the headlines of the mass media worldwide, whereas Kurdistan as they (until recently) claim is at peace only for them to pop up more skyscrapers. But when they face danger, they resort to the citizens to seek support.

Besides, in Garmyan/ Kalar, relatives of Anfal victims demonstrated for the arrest of the perpetrators of the Black Anfal Campaign or those mercenaries who are still sheltered by Party officials.

The Kurdistan Parliament has so far failed to arrange the Party‌ budgets, MP’s retirement pensions, expenses of the Ministries, and other related governmental establishments, and there are NGOs that claim to be independent while the officials created them to mask their wrongdoings and legalize their corruption.

There are about 400 retired MPs and each is given six million Iraqi Dinars, which is around $4000 each. A newly-elected MP receives eight million Iraqi Dinar. This obviously burdens the national budget compared to a ten-year-employed teacher who receives around $700.

The KRG is in dire need to create a strong, systematic economic policy to prevent economic crises, which are more likely to happen if things do not change soon. The KRG needs to stop blaming the Federal Government over withdrawing the Kurdish share of the budget and start implementing its own policy to serve the citizens of the region as the region is considered one of the richest, not only in the Middle East but also in the whole world. The independence is yet another choice!  According to unofficial polls, 97% of the population in the region wholeheartedly supports independence.

If the KRG officials continue to blame Baghdad, nothing is going to change. Kurdistan is a youth-dominated society according to statistics and its youth’s warm blood serves Kurdistan, they therefore need to be given opportunities while some officials who have stuck to their chairs for more than two decades should be removed.

No political party has won the majority of the seats in the April Iraqi Parliamentary election, therefore speculations over the formation of the new Iraqi government are still ongoing.

Meanwhile, following the Kurdistan region’s Provincial Election on April 30, the Kurdistan Democratic Party could form the Provincial Council in Duhok and Hawler, these two cities are the KDP‌’s dominated area. However, in Slemani, which was the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s dominated area, no Party could get the majority of the votes, so everyone expects its share in the broad-based so-called ‘local’ government.

In the light of the above explanations and if the main Parties fail to expedite to form Provincial Councils in Slemani, demonstrations will get wider, delays in salaries will continue, the political atmosphere will be unstable, progress in markets and business will be slow, personal income will lessen, and eventually people’s lives will hibernate.

It is completely unethical to accuse people of having weak patriotic spirits while confiscating their rights to freely express their opinions. Party media should stop glamorizing Kurdistan when its employees’‌ salaries are delayed for more than two months and economic crises are mounting day by day.

Party officials will undoubtedly continue to build their skyscrapers and erect fences everywhere, especially in prosperous touristic resorts, and occupy public lands.  The question is: will mere demonstrations ever cause them to rethink? I doubt it.

Note: an earlier version of this article was published previously. Some changes have been made due to the current wave of demonstrations.

Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a freelance journalist and columnist for The Kurdistan Tribune. He is the Founder and Deputy Editor of SMART, an independent English magazine that focuses on literature, language and society. In 2012, Mhamad was the top student of the College of Languages in the Department of English at the University of Human Development in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq.

2 Responses to Does Demonstrating Have Any Value in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region?  
  1. KIM
    September 3, 2014 | 12:37

    A step at a time. Our people have been enough indoctrinated about the meaning of democracy. The transition period is about to end and the implementation stage shall soon ensue. If public demands are repeatedly overlooked, they reserve every right to unseat any responsible representatives/government officials peacefully. Patience is key. A radical change in the current system in South Kurdistan does not sound like a bad idea, especially if we wish join the progressive international community..

  2. Martin Zehr
    September 5, 2014 | 00:53

    Demonstrating in the West is merely a public display. Power comes when the alternative are demonstrated in the real world.

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