PUK, KDP rivalries with opposition and religious parties in Iraqi Kurdistan Region

Pshtiwan Faraj

Pshtiwan Faraj

Interview with Pshtiwan Faraj*:

Interviewed by Aras Ahmed Mhamad

AA: Why do you think that the secular parties accuse the religious parties of being unpatriotic in national matters – and the religious parties accuse the secular parties of being enemies of God?

PF: Last year I read ‘Iraq, The Borrowed Kettle’, a book by the Slovenian philosopher Slavoc Zizhek, in the introduction of that book which is entitled, ‘They Control Iraq, But Do They Control Themselves?’, I came across an interesting piece of writing which is also a well-known quote by Hermann Goering speaking at the Nuremberg trials in 1946 which says:

“Of course the people don’t want war… But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along… All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country”. (Zizek, Page 1)

This is exactly the political situation the Kurdish politicians have created in Kurdistan: the secular parties always denounce the religious parties as unpatriotic because they are rival political parties and this is most evident during the election process in Kurdistan where the two political parties, both the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), intensify their campaign in their own party-sponsored media to demonize the Islamic parties in Kurdistan to garner most of the votes for themselves by creating a demon, an unwanted party that challenges them in the election process.

This is a classical sort of conflict which has its own rules. It is very easy and simple. And since illiteracy and corruption is high in Kurdistan, most of the people in Kurdistan are devout members of PUK and KDP, they are easily seduced to accept the accusation that the Islamic parties are unpatriotic and are mostly funded by other countries like Iran and the Gulf region and work for an outside agenda. While this accusation may be partly true that the Islamic groups do not give priority to national matters and Kurdish statehood as they are supported by the mentioned countries, they give priority to islamization of Kurdistan rather than working for Kurdish statehood as this is perceived as a threat by Kurdistan neighbor countries and the Islamic world.

AA: What do you have to say about the claim that often our public places, like mosques, are used for election campaigns?

PF: History has shown that Islamic parties in Kurdistan are never accepted by the majority of Kurdish people as viable alternatives to the two dominant secular parties. They have failed to win the hearts and minds of Kurdish people to win the majority of the votes.

We have seen from them that they were tolerant for the violence conducted against their quarters and centres, especially in the KDP controlled cities like Hawler and Duhok. The Islamic parties have always compromised with the KDP in return for their budget and the peace process in Kurdistan.

What I have seen from these Islamic groups is that they care more for building mosques rather than strengthening the Kurdish issue in Iraq, which is not something worthwhile for the Kurdish people, and thus they fail to gain the majority of the votes even though the majority of Kurds are Muslims but they do not trust them to come to power and thus do not vote for them. The majority of people in Kurdistan do not see these Islamic groups as true opposition to the KDP and PUK.

On the other hand, the Islamic groups also condemn the KDP and PUK as Godless people because they also use the same strategy of demonization because they think that the Muslim Kurds believe them but this is not true because the Kurds are much more prone to a secular state than an Islamic one.

Kurdish people are more realistic and pragmatic these days than before. In the past people have strongly advocated the Islamic parties and they have sacrificed and given many martyrs for them. They have fought the successive oppressive regimes in Iraq but that was not for an Islamic Kurdistan, it was for a free and independent Kurdistan.

AA: If the majority of people in South Kurdistan are Muslims, why couldn’t religious parties and seemingly, in the upcoming election, can’t they form the cabinet?

PF: Another factor that has dismantled the image of the Islamic groups is that they are not united but fragmented and each works for their own party agenda. In Kurdistan, all the political parties are loyal for their own interests and not the interest of greater Kurdistan.

The Islamic parties in Kurdistan have created coalitions with KDP and PUK on pragmatic considerations. The perspective about Islamic parties in Kurdistan is that they are either a threat for Kurdistan’s developing situation or they help to strengthen the current situation.

The three main Islamic parties, namely; the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), the Kurdistan Islamic Party (KIP) and the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) represent only 15 percent of the population and have only 12 seats in parliament and they never had the chance to form a cabinet, therefore, one cannot judge them whether they could administer Kurdistan successfully.

But as oppositions to the two dominant parties, they have worked to improve the democracy, human rights and freedom of speech and have been oppressed since there is a shallow or so-called democracy in Kurdistan. However, their agenda to come to power is outdated and not very modern and have not been successful to attract the attention of Kurd’s voters.

People in Kurdistan are generally much prone for a secular party and a secular state than an Islamic one. All the Islamic parties have not been as successful and appealing as the Goran Movement that led the February demonstration in 2011 and though this reformist party just recently began to appear as a true opposition they could win 25 seats which is double that of all the seats won by Islamic parties in 2009 election.

If the Islamic parties and the two secular parties continue to use the classical ways of propaganda, badmouthing and labelling each as traitors and unpatriotic, they do not benefit from it – but it also bring harms to Kurdistan. People in Kurdistan are following their own interests and only that party wins that respects the human rights, the freedom of speech and the value of individuals. There is much more that needs to be done to have a transparent, modern and democratic Kurdistan.

AA: July 25th, 2009 is considered, by the majority of Kurdish intellectuals and has achieved consensus approval by the ruling parties, to be the beginning and rise of true opposition in South Kurdistan. Which political party should be given a lion’s share: the two religious parties or the Movement for Change (The Gorran List)? What do you think the opposition parties should have done that they haven’t or have failed to achieve since the 2009 election?  

PF: Gorran should be given the Lion’s share. Since the election, one of the most important and remarkable achievements of the opposition  was  teaching and awakening people in Kurdistan about their rights, and their role and capability to make a change in the status quo of Kurdistan.

The opposition has addressed the raging corruption and have fought meticulously in Parliament to help bring a positive change to people. The existence of the opposition groups is the thing that both PUK and KDP brag off in international media in claiming that they have allowed the opposition to grow and it is a sign of democracy.

The Gorran Movement has the potential to make a real impact and change Kurdish old fashioned politics. The only thing that has weakened Gorran and other Opposition movements in Kurdistan is that they have never shown the people a true and sincere tendency to be a pressure group for real change.

For example, when Barzani extended his rule, they should have withdrawn from Parliament. If they did this, they could prove to people that they are true and legitimate representatives of people, but they did not under the nuances of National Consensus, which I believe was a golden opportunity (lost) for the opposition to undermine the Parliament and end the dual monopoly of KDP and PUK.

AA: The Movement for Change always claims that the ruling parties have dominated Kurdistan and accuses them of: oil smuggling, unclear budget, insecure economic infrastructure, control of the police and Peshmarga forces, autocracy, broken healthcare system, media chaos and judiciary corruption. The ruling parties, on the other hand, accuse the opposition parties in general and the Movement for Change in particular of being unproductive and impatient. How would you comment on that, taking into consideration that common Kurdish people are confused which one to trust?

PF: I think both perspectives are true. The PUK and KDP are behind the crisis in Kurdistan, especially the greed, corruption and lust for money. They feed the greed of people with the petrodollars stolen from the people of Kurdistan.

But one cannot blame the KDP and PUK leaders alone for this. But also the people affiliated with them have insatiable lust for power, money and position and because of this they are incapable of giving it up and thus the corruption continues as an incurable disease in Kurdistan.

It takes too long to find a solution for this; however, it is not impossible to end corruption if there is a will and a wherewithal. On the other hand, if the opposition is not part of the solution of the corruption, they could become the problem itself. They should take the responsibility and change it, which is not an easy thing to do since corruption is common and easily inherited in Kurdistan.

All in all, no country is perfect; you only need to make it better. Not by anti-corruption slogans only, but by taking action, being honest, and fighting it with determination, and that initiative should start from everyone and if they do their part, invite their friends to join them hand-in-hand, I am sure they can.

*Pshtiwan Mohammed is Assistant Lecturer at Slemani University where he teaches English literature. He is currently studying for his PhD in Brunel University in London, writing on Post-millennial War Literature. He joined the University of Slemani in Iraq in 2006, and taught American and English Literature until 2012; where he was a faculty member in the Department of English\ College of Languages, in the University of Slemani where he received a BA and MA in English and Literature. He is also the recipient of the Ministry of Higher Education scholarship for his PhD study in United Kingdom. He also lectured in the University of Human Development in Kurdistan from 2009 to 2012. In addition to teaching, He is also a freelance translator, interpreter and Journalist.

Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a freelancer. He is the Founder and Deputy Editor of SMART magazine, an independent English magazine that focuses on ‘Literature, Language, Society’. He is the Top Student of College of Languages at the Department of English/ University of Human Development, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 Kurdistantribune.com

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