Massoud Barzani’s Controversial Presidency

By Harem Karem and Kamal Chomani:

President Barzani

President Barzani

President Barzani’s two terms in office ended in 2013, although he has managed to cling on for two more years after striking a shady deal, exploiting a loophole in the system, with his so-called strategic partner, the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan). Barzani’s presidency was revived by Hero Ibrahim Ahmed – in the absence of her severely ill husband, and PUK secretary general, Jalal Talabani – in an act that can only be defined as a ‘desperate measure’ to protect Talabani’s interests. In recent months, however, Barzani’s post has again sparked controversy, as his tenure fast approaches its expiration date (19 August 2015).

To make sense of all this, we shall briefly explain the foundations on which the presidential system stands:

Historical Aspect

In 1992, the Kurdistan Region’s first election was held, during which none of the political parties could achieve the necessary 50%+1 to appoint one of the two rivals, Barzani or Talabani, as national leader. Neither would compromise or work together and so they agreed to disagree and divided the region into two, green and yellow, zones on a 50/50 basis. However, their continued disagreements soon sparked a disastrous civil war which claimed some 30,000 lives; both leaders are equally responsible for this.

When Talabani became the Iraqi President in 2005, the Kurdistan Regional Presidency was established, with more powers than the Parliament and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), to counterbalance him. There followed a questionable election that formally positioned the former warlord Massoud Barzani as KRG President.

The Failure of Institutionalisation

The presidency, as a new institution in the Kurdistan Region (KR) with unlimited powers, was never institutionalised, despite scores of intellectuals calling for this. Barzani deliberately prevented the presidency from becoming a national institution, and he kept using the Presidential Palace as his KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) office too. The Vice President has been unable to exercise any powers, and the public has no real idea how the presidency is run, what the structure is and who the decision-makers are on both micro and macro levels. Barzani’s foreign relations, for example, have been both dubious and unregulated; during his official visits abroad, he is regularly accompanied by his immediate family members, including grandchildren, although he has often failed to include diplomats or members of the press in his team. His foreign relations agenda is managed by the KDP’s head of foreign relations, while the KRG’s foreign relations minister acts as an interpreter to the president. Barzani has misused his presidential powers, while working diligently in the interests of his political party.

Since Barzani’s 2005 inauguration, corruption has grown on an unprecedented scale, national resources have been squandered, private militias and intelligence services are increasingly loyal to their parties as opposed to the country, and there is ever-growing social inequality. The country is bankrupt and most people are struggling to make ends meet, while 10,000 millionaires and 15 billionaires have emerged in a short space of time. Society is polarized between lackeys who live on political parties’ handouts and good honest citizens who have to wait for wages that are three months behind. During Barzani’s term, four journalists and dozens of protesters were murdered while hundreds were subjected to torture by his KDP militiamen: not only has he failed to bring the murderers and torturers to justice, but he has even harboured them. The latest example of Barzani’s tribal system is the plight of Judge Hawzhen who has fled the Kurdistan Region in fear of his life after finding treacherous tribal gangsters – who had collaborated in Saddam’s crimes of Anfal before switching their support to the KDP and PUK in the hope of becoming untouchable – guilty last week.

Whenever there has been public outrage against some aspect of his rotten system, Barzani’s answer has been to set up a committee to investigate it, although no substantive conclusions were reached by any of the committees he has formed over the past decades. To list a few, there was the committee to investigate traitors who assisted the Anfal Campaign, the committee to bring justice to those who have invaded public lands between Erbil and Pirmam, the committee to investigate the murdered journalists, the committee to investigate corruption, and so on …

Presidential or Parliamentary System?

It is a well-established Middle-Eastern-Fact that the presidential system only breeds dictators and corrupt leaders; there are numerous examples. Even though KDP representatives in parliament have been tirelessly trying to convince the public that KR’s political system is semi-presidential, according to article 60 of KR’s draft Constitution, the Presidency is “the highest executive power and chief of general staff”. According to legistlation on the presidency, including the law hastily passed when Barzani’s term was extended in 2013, the political system has become an absolute presidency, since the president’s powers are greater than those of any other president in the region.

Here are a few of the KR President’s powers which, along with many others, have concerned the public (except KDP loyalists):

  • Highest executive power in KR
  • Chief of General Staff
  • Power to dissolve Parliament
  • Can announce a State of Emergency [without parliament’s consent]
  • Power to appoint KR’s Constitutional Court members and members of the Judges Assembly
  • Power to control KR’s Security Council and KR’s Intelligence services
  • Most importantly, as this has caused much misery over the past decade, the power to approve or reject legislation passed by parliament

Over the past few years, opposition parties have called for a parliamentary system where the president is elected by parliament, and presidential powers are limited by and accountable to parliament. There is currently a consensus between Gorran, KIU, KIG and potentially also the PUK which can become enshrined in the draft constitution. These four parties combined hold 58 of the 111 parliamentary seats and they are working together to ratify a revised draft constitution. Additionally, the PUK and Gorran have been working to form an alliance recently and this could mean the PUK will abandon its KDP strategic partner. This would likely spark a conflict between the former allies, because the KDP supported the PUK to secure Iraq’s presidential seat and, in return, they will expect the PUK to uphold their end of the deal and support the KDP in retaining the KR presidency. Should the Gorran-PUK alliance materialise, the parliamentary system will prevail – and will the KR presidential seat be claimed too?

Why Should Barzani Leave the Presidency?

Barzani has clearly failed to uphold the rule of law and basic democratic principles; he has failed to demonstrate leadership other than to his party supporters; he has failed to protect national interests; he has failed to build the national infrastructure and a decent economy. Like other despots, he has built the system around himself, making it near impossible to remove him peacefully unless he goes willingly; his background is bloody and treacherous. Worse still, he is intending to rule forever; Dr Farhad Pirbal, a pro-KDP university lecturer, claims that, during his recent meeting with Barzani, he proposed a monarchical system and putting Barzani on the throne, to which Barzani replied: “I fully agree with your proposal”. This account has not been rejected by Barzani’s office

The president’s record in KR’s current existential crisis is not distinguished.  When the war began, initially it was PUK forces that took the fight to IS from the green zone, when IS was still relatively weak, while Barzani was refusing to engage in the conflict. His KDP forces were standing by doing nothing until IS attacked Shingal and captured 1000 women and children and then posed a direct threat to his yellow zone: only then did he act. To date, he hasn’t offered an explanation as to why he failed the Yazidis. Even the war hasn’t motivated Barzani to get his act together and unite the Peshmerga into a strong, national army.

There can only be two explanations for the multidimensional crisis Barzani has dragged the nation into: either he is too weak to accept responsibility and tackle these matters head on or else he is directly involved in the wrongdoing and exploitation of national resources. Either way, he hasn’t got what it takes to run the region and it’s time we saw the back of him.

Who is the Alternative to Barzani?

For the KDP, the question of who could replace Barzani is frightening because they lack an influential leader who can be accepted by both of the main wings of their party. The PUK seems to have given up on the position since they already have Iraq’s presidency. Gorran also hasn’t declared any interest in the presidency; their focus is mainly on strengthening the parliamentary system. However, currently two strong candidates are enjoying widespread public support: either Gorran leader Nawshirwan Mustafa or PUK deputy secretary Barham Salih could get combined PUK and Gorran backing, although neither has publicly declared his intentions.

As it stands, it seems that the PUK, Gorran, KIU and KIG might be willing to accept another KDP candidate, or maybe even tolerate another term for Barzani, if the KDP accepts constitutional amendments to establish a full parliamentary system and limit the powers of the president. If the parties do not reach a consensus in the next few months, KR will face a political crisis which could potentially lead to civil unrest. The future then will be unclear.

15 Responses to Massoud Barzani’s Controversial Presidency
  1. Didar Zebari
    April 24, 2015 | 15:57

    Chaos and violence will further deteriorate the already tense situation in Kurdistan. Kurdish political parties should overcome thier differences by peaceful dialogue. South Kurdistan is weeks and months away from declaration of Independence.Kurdistan belongs to all and I totally agree its wealth must be proportionally shared.

    The last thing Kurds don’t wish to see is for the world, especially the neighboring countries, to make fun of us.

  2. Sar
    April 25, 2015 | 04:32

    You’re accusing Mr.Barzani of the civil war and then naming both Dr.Barham and Mr.Nawshirwan as the alternatives to him just like they’re some kind of innocent babies! LOL. The truth is, Mr.Barzani wasn’t that stupid to get Kurdistan involved in the ISIS war at the first time while ISIS announced that they won’t fight against Kurdistan Region. Unlike Mr.Barzani lots of the PUK authorities were willing to obey Iran’s orders! While Mr.Barzani was about declaring independence! And yes his forces somehow failed protecting the Yazidis but he is not the only one responsible for that that.

    I don’t know any of you guys but I bet you’re from the so-called green-zone and you’ve Barzaniphobia! Kurdistan won’t success till the time KDP fans stop worshipping Mr.Barzani, and you give up on Barzaniphobia!

  3. David
    April 25, 2015 | 08:26

    I think for people to question the KRG they need to introduce themselves better. As a Kurdish person I can not easily trust everyone who is analyzing KRG especially when its ONE SIDED and focused on one party. This brings the suspicion about the real intentions. By all respect I think you need to introduce the contributors.
    Regards, David

  4. Kuvan Bamarny
    April 25, 2015 | 08:28

    Right is right,and wrong is wrong.It does not take much time ,energy and wisdom to tell the diffrence between Duty and right.

    All branches of government have ethical and legal duties to fulfill towards its own citizens and that is what they are there for.Parlament branch has a duty too.It represents the will of people to work in their intrests.Poeple have elected their representative in the hope they would work for the good of them as possibly as they can.

    Representative of people in the parliament are obliged at least ethically if not legally to make good decisions,if not best one that are in the interests of people and country in general.If we want to reach to the level of rest of the developed world ,old unworkable drafts can be amended and replaced with new workable one so we can catch up Bro.

    Kuvan Bamarny/Duhok

  5. Anas.Brwari.Chicago.U.S
    April 25, 2015 | 16:16

    Both main political parties were responsible for the lack legal, economical, and political performance for most kurdistan structures. The emergency period of time supposed all political parties to be United in the base of kurdish nation interests and order of law. Establishing a kurdish presidency committee consists of 5-7 members represents 3 main political block in KRG parliament, and 3 main minorities(Yazidis, Assyrian, Turkman) and 1 independent national figure. They choose one of them for presidency,All elected president acts should approved and supervised by parliament until passing this emergency period and drafting the kurdistan constitution.

  6. Yasin Aziz
    April 25, 2015 | 17:44

    I do not think, any powers in the world and especially in Middle East would be happy with a proper democratic system like Switzerland Austria for Kurds in the Middle East. It is not in superpowers interest, the Arab Spring has been a joke. And as long as we keep name calling, whoever done what or did not and as long us we are culturally and politically tribal or territorial, as so far we have been putting the interest of the tribe or political parties before the interest of the whole nation, we never succeed in achieving the long dreams of a proper autonomy or any kind of independence.
    One of the best example of a failed democracy in Middle East is Turkey. I wish I was wrong, but I know I am regrettably not.

  7. Kurd
    April 25, 2015 | 18:12

    President Masood Barzani delivered a speech to residents of Duhok today on 4/25/2015. He patiently listened to a range of public complaints. He has agreed to have his administration to further improve and specifically work on the following areas:

    1) There will only be one national Army. All security and intelligence apparatus in South Kurdistan must be combined in order to further improve the quality of services to citizens which will, as well result in creation of ample employment opportunities for graduate youths. There shall be no more free salaries.

    2) A nation-wide Anti-Corruption Bureau will be established with branches all over. There shall be full accountability and transparency.

    3) The national wealth belongs to the citizens of Kurdistan .Revenues from oil, boarder customs, tourism and other means will be disclosed to the public in details and split on every province proportionally.

    4) Basic services will be extended to all the citizens.

    5) The prevalent culture of favoritism, cronyism, corruption, nepotism, regionalism all must come to an end.

    6) There shall be full respect for Freedom of Speech & Freedom of Religion.

    7) There will a parliamentary system of government or any power-sharing agreement with all parties involved.

    8) Judiciary will act as an independent nonpartisan body.

    9) Special attention will be paid to environmental issues in Kurdistan.

    10) All those handicapped, senior citizens, orphaned and widows will be offered retirement compensation benefits.

    11) Kurdistan will reduce its dependency on oil production and develop other means of income generation.

    12) Special focus will be paid to agriculture.

    13) Kirkuk and all disputed regions will be annexed back into KRG.

    14) Minorities, including Turkmen, Yezedis, Christians, etc. will enjoy equal rights. No objection to local flags or education in their mother tongue.

    15) Human Rights will be respected.

    16) Broader respect for Women Rights

    17) Discrimination against citizens in any form based on gender, sex, age, ethnicity, religion will be stopped. A national-wide agency will be established to oversea that.

    18) Democracy will be promoted. Independent institutions and NGOs such as “Institute of Peace, Anti-war Movement, Emergency Management Agency, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, must be established.

    19) Department of Foreign Relation will assume responsibility to fund non-partisan Kurdish institutions overseas.

    20) Technocrats and Kurdish nationals in Diasporas will have to take part in all sectors.

    As always, Independence for South Kurdistan shall be our No 1 Priority, depending on circumstances and overall interests of Kurds in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran.

    5 years ago and today again the same words repeated.

    • haval
      April 26, 2015 | 13:50

      This comment reads to me as meaning that the president was talking about the same kind of things 5 years ago. So, what is Pres. Barzani’s record, 2010-2015, in tackling corruption, nepotism, the rule of militas, the abuse of human rights and disregard for due legal process, environmental degradation, growing inequality, etc.?

      • Ari Ali
        April 26, 2015 | 20:07

        what is Pres. Barzani’s record, 2010-2015, in tackling corruption, nepotism, the rule of militas, the abuse of human rights and disregard for due legal process, environmental degradation, growing
        inequality, etc.?

        Nothing at all . Massoud is somehow running a mafia , 50/50 with disabled Jalal , backed by Americans. He is not going to give up power as simple as that .

  8. Kuvan Bamarny
    April 27, 2015 | 12:25

    Government personals are not elected to power to only enjoy rights and privileges.They are elected to power to fulfill thier constitutional duties as well .

    They have duty to ensure that its citizens physiological needs and safety needs are met, and also has a duty to help its citizens meet their love, belonging, and esteem needs. In addition, the government must ensure that it is fiscally responsible and that all of its activities are carefully monitored and sustainable in the long term both through employment and population patterns and also through unanticipated crises.

    Citizens also have duties to fulfill towards its government.However rights come before duties.If you don’t have rights duties are meaningless and you are just a slave to the government.citizens can not fulfill thier duties towards thier government if they don’t have rights in the first place.How could you possibly fulfill your duties towards your government if you are not in peace ,security,or live without,work, food ,shelter and clothing ? When you have rights ,you basically have the power to fulfill your duties, so no duties without rights.

    If you enjoy your rights and have the power to fulfill your duties but deliberately do not want to fulfill your duties ,than your rights and privileges might temporally become suspended or limited by the government unless you have a medical issue .

    As a citizen of Kurdistan/Iraq ,Iam going to give my personal opinion on the matter of fulfilling the duties of citizen towards their government.

    Here are some of the citizen duties that I have Googled online and wanted to give my personal answer to each of them.

    A) Allegiance:
    Every citizen is expected to be loyal to the state. His or her loyalty should, in no case, be divided. The state expects allegiance from its citizens.

    Me:Yes,but loyalty is two way street ,state should also be loyal to citizen as well otherwise it will be like you bite the hand that feeds you.

    (b) Obedience:
    All the citizens should willingly and habitually obey the laws of the state. A democratic government is a government of the people themselves. Laws reflect their own will. There should not be, therefore, any hesitation in the obedience of laws.

    Me:Yes, obeying law is one of the most important duty of every individual weather it be a citizen or a government official.Law is above all of us regardless of power ,money ,social status,race,opinion and religion.

    (c) Payment of Taxes:
    The administration of a country involves a certain amount of expenditure. This expenditure cannot be met without raising certain taxes. Citizens in their own interest, should, therefore willingly and honestly make payment of their taxes.

    Me:Paying tax is duty,but that is if you are affordable to pay tax.Nowadays,If you have an income of less than 1000$ per month,I believe you should not pay tax .I believe If you are making more than 1000$ than you can pay some 10% more, less tax to the public purse.The collection of that tax can be beneficial to the commmunity.It is a saving money that the government is supposed to spend on necessary shortcomings,projects,emergincies, and the needs of people and the whole country in general.

    (d) Public Spirit:
    Every citizen should be public spirited. He should not seek his self-interest and should always be ready to contribute his mite to the welfare of society.

    Me:Yes, life is not only about rights and duties.It is also about vertues.You can not have a social life without having virtue norms,such as sacrificing,generosity,respect,mercy,love,forgivness.All these norms are important to peace ,security ,unity and happiness of people.

    (e)Honest exercise of Franchise:
    Vote is a sacred trust in the hands of the citizens. It should always be used judiciously. Suitable represent­tatives should be sent to the legislatures. A wrong use of vote may result in a bad government.

    Me:Please take a part in elections as you would decide your own political fate and future through your vote.Just make sure you vote for the right person.I would vote for a candidate who believe in justice,human rights,the good of people,and peace and property of the nation.I would vote for a decent,educated man or woman with good history and record of serving people ,a person who have conscious of work and live up to his/her words and promises they give people before they are elected to power.

    (J) Help to Public Officials in the maintenance of Law and Order:
    It is the duty of every citizen to lend a hand of co-operation to public officials in the discharge of their duties. Every citizen should try to remove evils and crimes from society by rendering help to the officials concerned.

    Me:Please help public authorities to remove crimes and evil from society ,but make sure you are not confusing good with bad and you are removing only bad from society.You are not to cooperate with a public official if he or she for some personal grudges or business reason is deceiving you to remove an innocent person off the society under the name of an evil or bad person.Make sure that you are doing the right cooperation and removing evil of the society not angel.

    (g) Work:
    Every able-bodied citizen should work and try to add something to the social fund. Idlers are a parasite on the society. Work brings in wealth and prosperity in the country.

    Me:Please work but make sure you are not exploited by your employer.Also make sure you are treated fairly,respectfully and just in accord with the act of rights of the employees.

    (h) Toleration:
    Every citizen is expected to be tolerant towards others. Their religions beliefs “Do unto others what you wish to be done by,” should be the motto before every citizen.

    Me:Please try your best to tolerate people who are different than you in all possible ways.Respect their human rights.If you can not ,take a chill pill or or take a discipline course on how to control yourself from not stepping on the rights of those who are different that you whether it be in personal ways or ideological ways .

    (j) Resistance:
    It is more or less a moral duty. It is the duty of a good citizen to resist injustice from any quarter. If the government is unjust, it may also be resisted.

    Me:Please be a man and don’t take injustice upon yourself.Stand up for yourself but make sure to stand up against in justice in a civilized manner.Write,speak up,and criticize the unjust person but again make sure you don’t break law while standing against injustice or else you are no different than the unjust person you stand up against.

    (K) Defending your country when at war with an evil force.

    Me:Please defend your country and take a part in war against evil,but make sure you are going for a just war that is imposed on you ,threatend your life ,your land ,your property ,your values and beliefs , and your human rights.


    Kuvan Bamarny/Duhok

    • Ari Ali
      April 27, 2015 | 22:13

      Allegations and obedience to barzani/talabani mafia families ? The parallel is entirely wrong : do you compare true democracy to thuggery and criminality ? Google and see how many (district) presidents have their nephews regional PM , brothers are illiterate military generals and son is spy chief , and distant relatives monoploise commerce and trading. Does anyone know the true wages of these guys . Maybe tell us if you do.

  9. […] are your plans for democratic transition? Barzani, you are currently serving the 10th year of your eight-year presidency. Southern Iraq already seems to be bypassing Kurdistan when it comes […]

  10. sorade
    May 9, 2015 | 10:51

    Why articles like that appear whilst Kurdistan is facing huge challenges?
    – the fight against Daesh
    – the massive influx of refugees
    – Civil servants that haven’t been paid for months including peshmergas
    – the precarious situation of oil companies that have so far invested huge amounts to develop infrastructure and hold the key of your future prosperity
    – the precarious Financial situation all over Iraq

    One would have thought that in hard time like that, people would unite and fight together on common interests – this constant infighting is ultimately just serving those foreign powers whose interest it was to bring blood and fire into this region in the first place. These powers know full well how to leverage the differences between yourselves, against yourselves. You are just being played like a violin. Shame you cannot see further than the tip of your noses

  11. […] هەڵبژاردنی پێشوەختدا، پارتی نەک هەر حکومەت دەدۆڕێنێت بەڵکو سەرۆکایەتیی هەرێمیش دەدۆڕێنێت. مەسعود بارزانی ناتوانێت خۆی کاندیدبکاتەوە. هەر […]

  12. […] who established the party in 1947. Masoud assumed the KR’s presidential office in 2005. His two legal terms ended on 30 July 2013, but he refused to hand over power, and his term was extended with the PUK’s agreement for […]

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