Nation on the edge of revolution

young woman protestor, 2011

By Mufid Abdulla:

My most recent visit to Kurdistan has this time given me a different perception. I know these are tough times, but I have always been so optimistic about the prospect of change in Kurdistan. Some leaders do not like the option of stalemate, now this seems like a different era. The people of the south of Kurdistan are being squeezed hard. This is not the only source of misery, but I can say the nation in the south of Kurdistan is on the edge of revolution.

The appearance of the country flourishing is strictly cosmetic: nothing is real and any change has not improved the welfare and dignity of the mass of people.

This is not the wrong time to call for a revolution and uprising. Revolution would not inflict “huge damage” to our region when our rulers acting as dictators and despots. The situation I saw two weeks ago is reminiscent of 1986 when I left the south of Kurdistan. History repeats itself neither as tragedy nor as farce, as Marx asserted, but by pale imitation. It is dictators not technocrats who have taken charge of Kurdistan. It does not take a lot to find out what is going on. Corruption is regrettably the word on everybody’s lips.

I was invited to see the show of Maher Hasan, the actor and comedian. His show started at 7pm and was attended by about 250 people. From the time the show started and for its duration all of the jokes were about the leaders, their kids and their corruption. The entire room of people at that show was laughing at the content, clapping and giving a standing ovation to the producer and scriptwriter. At the same time people were listening to the actor with bewilderment; all surely contemplating the question of what is going on in our society.

The nation’s commodities and production is nothing other than foreign goods and services. The prices of basic commodities have rocketed sky high. Inflation was the biggest robber, not everybody understands what it does to their money.

The standards of our hospitals are now even worse to the extent that people have serious concerns about entering the hospitals and question whether they will come out safely. That has been the case for so many ordinary people over the last few years and yet no improvements are evident. Why does the KRG need a Minister of Health if you have doctors finishing their work by 10am and hospitals full of complaints, etc.?

Our children are walking on the streets towards their homes at midday; their school day has finished because they only have three hours of education per day. There are not enough schools in the south of Kurdistan: in one building, there can be three programmes operating per day. At the same time the political parties’ headquarters and offices have taken over most of the country’s spaces!

On the streets our roads and highways have a very backward design which I am sure must be worse than any other developing country. The road accidents are the most deadly accidents in the south of Kurdistan. It would be far easier for those that work not to drive as there is little sense of any traffic lights: there are a few but they do not cover the cars in the downtown areas of Suli or Erbil. Again, why do we need a Transport Minister when nothing is improving?

There are two main TV broadcasting stations and only a few others; for Kurdish people this is like watching a tennis match.

People are very unhappy and have distorted views on inequality and political suppression. The major problem regarding the main services is electricity. This has not been solved in any of the main cities: I was experiencing power cuts and darkness every so often. The KRG up to now has spent millions of dollars on so many failed programmes and each programme ends up with the mysterious disappearance of millions of dollars from the original deposit. Ordinary people have now concluded that the problem of electricity is actually deliberate, so that people can be kept busy with these type of everyday problems while major wrongdoing is taking place behind closed doors.

Recent unrest

Ordinary people are holding the Barzani rulers responsible for these poor outcomes because they are the main financial directors of the KRG. The ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) holds most of revenue from oil and taxes. People believe that the Barzani family has no love for Kurdistan and, as we have seen, their followers are itching for a fight. We saw on 2nd December that action from the KDP forces is not just about the KIU, it is also about resisting a drive to make this region more democratic and prosperous. The KDP’s violent and scandalous attitude continues to swell. The storming of the KIU headquarters has ended the fruitless diplomatic reconciliation between the two ruling parties and the opposition. The KIU is popular amongst the poor for its strong record of charity work. It seems that the clock had been turned back to 17 February 2011.

One ordinary worker told me: “These corrupt leaders, they don’t have any idea of what it’s like to live on pay like ours”. Ask someone else and you will get a very similar answer.

The KRG has called Kurdistan a success story, but that is not the case. We have the reverse of real development and this is reflected in the poverty and human rights abuses. The situation actually remains the same as it was before: apart from the building of hotels and restaurants, there is nothing else. A country can flourish on the building of highways, schools, hospitals, and industries. It has never been a requirement in south Kurdistan for political leadership to be measured by moral integrity. We have leaders talking about reform yet they do not understand the meaning of it. We have leaders talking about the economy yet they do not have any model for building this nation’s economy. In the very first days the political leaders were imbued with moral force and philosophical depth. But today? Who are the leaders in the PUK and KDP? Who, truly thinks in these parties? Basically they are acting like street fighters and this spells endless pain for our cause in the south of Kurdistan.

For the two ruling parties, their main strategy is to blame others and not for anybody else to blame them.

Evidence has mounted over the year that the KDP has made itself a gangster in the south of Kurdistan. This dark outlook does not even take account of the crisis inside this party and their differences with the PUK.

The country has been ruled by a military council.

Kurdistan today is not going to be Dubai or Kuwait, as the journalists and observers have suggested. We have reported on many human right abuses by the KRG against ordinary people as well as against human rights activists and journalists.

For now the key question is whether the Barzani rulers have got the message. People will continue to make history. The Opposition should not be deceived by the promises of the two ruling parties. The PUK is the KDP’S proxy. To me the KDP and PUK are like two banks who would not lend to each other, for fear that the other party was not solvent. The KDP believes that the PUK is dead and in need of a coffin. The PUK believes that the KDP is a tribal ruler and has expired in Kurdistan. This leads us to the problem that neither of them is taking responsibility for what is going on in Baghdad and Erbil.

The good news is that pressure from the opposition groups is working and it is putting great pressure on the KRG and thereby causing sentiments that are reflected in the protests in Hawler, Zako and elsewhere, especially in the last few days. The two ruling parties should realise that the goodwill of the people cannot be negotiated but should prevail shortly. The KDP and the leadership have now adopted a more offensive posture in their dealings with opposition parties.

To summarise:  the two ruling parties have had ample opportunities to reform but those opportunities lapsed a long time ago. People are angry that they have been betrayed and for the empty promises from which nothing has happened. I hope we do not have to go through the same process as Libya and Syria and that our KRG leaders have the sense to realise that it is time to step down and let others to take the leadership of Kurdistan. The events of the last week show that the situation in the south of Kurdistan is growing in chaos and uncertainty.

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