Threats to KRG democracy

Kamal Chomani

By Kamal Chomani:

Twitter: @KamalChomani

The economic development of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region has been overestimated by partisan and some foreign media outlets to the extent that only a few talk about issues of having an established democracy, freedom of speech and human rights. However, many argue about transferring the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG’s) model of democracy to the other parts of Iraq, and they miss the real threats to democracy within the Kurdistan Region.

Despite the fact that the KRG has had democratic establishments and experiences, the KRG’s democracy has not been successful. Meantime, there are no positive signals of turning from the failures of establishing a real democracy into cementing the pillars of democracy. Even though I may repeat myself in this piece, if these problems are not resolved, then all of the KRG’s propaganda is just a myth.

After the July 25, 2009, Legislative and Presidential Elections in which an opposition force emerged powerfully, opposition parties, media and the public were optimistic of invigorating the culture of democracy and tolerance in the region. But the KRG’s treatment of the opposition parties on one hand, and the people’s demands on the other, reversed the optimism into pessimism.

The assassination of journalist Sardasht Othman in May 5, 2010; opening fire on the Slemani protesters in February 17, 2011; setting on fire the opposition parties’ headquarters in the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) zone (Hawler and Duhok) after the protests started in Slemani; and the abducting and threatening  of journalists for writing the truth are all evidence that the two ruling parties – KDP, led by the Kurdistan Region’s President Masoud Barzani, and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani  – are far away from integrating and accepting a democratic system in which people may hope for a change in power.

In his recent (May 5, 2013) clichéd statement on his re-nomination, which appeared on his Facebook page, President Masoud Barzani announced that the democracy process will not be set back in Kurdistan, but the threats to democracy in the region do still exist.

It is a universal fact that corruption is a real threat to democracy: corruption in the KRG has been rooted into the system. In fact, there’s not a single field of the KRG which has not been largely and badly affected by corruption.

The main problem with corruption is that there has not been a single corruption case that the courts have investigated.

On April 24, 2012, Slemani’s governor, Zana Hama Salih hanged himself in Asayish’s prison in a suspicious event. He had been arrested for corruption but, because of the fear of some politicians within the PUK and the government itself, his case was concealed by victimizing him. If he had been put on trial, then the network of corruption that would have been uncovered might have brought other high ranking people to the court.

Only a few days ago, a Gorran Movement MP in Kurdistan’s Parliament published a secret document (no.: 469 date: 31-07-2007) which reveals that former Finance Minister, Sarkiz Agha Jan, gave three million dollars to the Midiya Medical Center, a private sector body in Erbil, although it is illegal to allot such an amount of money to a private establishment.

The threat of KRG corruption is mainly that no corruption cases are brought to the court because almost all are committed by high ranking people who, as people commonly say, are beyond the law.

Although Kurdish society has developed dramatically to forget about tribal prejudices, ideas and habits, yet still Kurdish political parties want a setback to tribalism.

It is a fact that different Kurdish communities contain different tribes and that still the masses try to strengthen their tribal relations, but this is not the matter. The matter is that Kurdish political parties use tribes and fuel them for their own interests, particularly during elections.

Masoud Barzani’s party can be considered the most tribal political party in which tribal standards still operate. Meantime, the Barzani family asserts the superiority of their tribe over the members of their party. Surprisingly, the leading positions in the KRG are under the control of Barzani’s family. To mention just a few: the Presidency of  Kurdistan Region, Barzani the father; Prime Minister, Barzani the son-in-law; and nephew, the head of intelligence and security forces, Barzani the son. The scenario is not much different within the PUK.

Political influence can be bought by distributing money to tribal leaders – money that has been obtained through corruption.

Another threat, which may seem to be a shock, is Kurdish nationalism and the quest for independence. This is no longer a dream for achieving the bigger nation’s dreams, it is now more or less a weapon the ruling parties use against critical voices and opposition parties. Kurdish nationalism is fueled with enthusiastic discourse from the ruling parties, especially the KDP, whenever the demand for a radical change by the public and opposition parties becomes more apparent.

The discourse of Kurdish nationalism is about to change to ‘Independence before democracy’. Fortunately, the impartial media and opposition parties are standing against this discourse.

In the KRG, Peshmerge forces are still under the rule of the KDP or PUK. Meantime, minor parties have also their Peshmerge units. According to KRG laws, and those of any democracy around the world, the political parties cannot own any military forces. Military forces should belong to the government but, with the KRG, it is on the other way round. This led an opposition MP to call the Peshmerge forces “militia forces”.

The Peshmerge forces are used against demands for more democracy. A pro-KDP journalist recently shocked the public by his article in which he revealed that, during the 17th February, 2011 protests in Slemani, it was Jalal Talabani who didn’t let KDP forces attack the Gorran Movement’s main headquarters in the city.

While tensions were high between Baghdad and Erbil over Kirkuk, the KDP and PUK sent their Peshmerge forces separately to the disputed areas. The KDP’s Peshmerge forces were sent from Erbil, and the PUK’s from Slemani. Though the KRG has attempted to unify the Peshmerge forces, this has been an obvious failure.

It is the same with regard to the security forces. Despite the fact that the security forces have been united at the top, in which Masrour Barzani is the head and his deputy is a PUK member, there’s no sign of unification on the grounds. If someone wants to join the Peshmerge forces or become a member of the security forces, he or she must still have a supporting letter from either the KDP or PUK.

The erosion of peoples’ confidence in democracy is felt once they talk about the daily issues. Large segments of Kurdish society may lose their confidence in democracy because their struggle for democracy has taken away from them any opportunities to contribute to invigorating democracy and civil society.

Copyright © 2013

One Response to Threats to KRG democracy
  1. Ari Ali
    June 4, 2013 | 22:53

    Barzani family has hijacked Erbil and Dohuk area they rule like saddam secrete service burning killing forcing people to appear in party staged demos and visiting barzanies cemeteries and so forth . There is very little difference between saddam and masoud both are criminals inflicted death and misery on millions of people . Of course masoud speaks kurdish .

    There will be price for freedom that all of us have to pay eventually . For masoud to give up wealth power draconian rule and dictatorship is a dream that will never come true. The sooner the freedom battle the better for future generations of kurdistan . The sacrifices of this inevitable battle will be enormous but necessary.

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