Repression and recession in Iraqi Kurdistan

In Iraqi Kurdistan, since the creation of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 1992, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Kurdistan Patriotic Union (PUK) have created a political status quo that has sparked disappointment and left the population with hope for economic and political success left behind reforms.

In the May report of the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation, political scientist Mera Jasm Bakr drew attention to the problems caused by the duopoly of the two ruling parties in the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

After the fall of the Baath regime in 2003, the region initially underwent significant economic and infrastructure development, in contrast to Iraq’s central and southern provinces, which were plagued by economic and security crises. Therefore, many were surprised that among the migrants who fell in love with Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko last fall and were desperately trying to get to the EU via Belarus, there were a striking number of citizens of the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan.

Bakr explains this by saying that the rule of the duopoly of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Kurdistan Patriotic Union (PUK) since the creation of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 1992 has created a political status quo that has since caused widespread disappointment and citizens have left with little or no hope of economic and political reform.

The KDP is considered a party of the Barzani clan and has sovereignty over the Erbil and Dohuk governorates, while the PUK is led by the Talabani clan and controls the Sulaymaniyah and Halabja governorates.

The KRG patronage system has created two distinct social classes: the privileged who use the party (administrators, politicians and their staff and cadres) and those who do not. The wealth gap between the elite and the masses has widened in recent years, and many Kurds see migration as their only remaining opportunity.

Bakr attributes the lack of a sustainable economy as a byproduct of growing clientelism, which in turn depends on payments from the Iraqi federal government. The resulting economic structure did not keep pace with the rapid growth of the population of people under 30 years of age.

undesirable criticism

The price of resistance measures such as criticism, protests and political involvement has also increased in recent years as the KRG responds with repressive measures such as mass arrests and indictments.

The fear of political persecution is mentioned as a motive for migration. People go to jail for posting on Facebook or participating in demonstrations, and fear of spying by agents of the national intelligence agency Asayîş is pervasive. Hopes for reform through elections and civic engagement have been replaced by disappointment and contempt for the system as a whole.

As a remedy, Bakr recommends expanding the private sector, which can employ youth and reach the periphery. At the same time, political persecution must end and the social contract between the elite and the population must be restored. To this end, international actors and the EU should put pressure on the KDP and PUK parties.

Massoud Abdul Khaliq (source: Jan Vahlenkamp)

Massoud Abdul Khaliq has a lot to say about the repression in the Autonomous Region. He is chairman of the opposition media and the Standard Kurd research institute in Erbil. He was already a member of the opposition during Saddam’s time and is now in opposition to the Kurdish regional government. While he believes the situation in Kurdistan is better than in central Iraq, there is still much to be done.

His organization’s lawyers currently represent 71 people who are held in custody, incl. because they wrote a critical article on the Internet or highlighted corruption. The reason given is always “a threat to national security,” says Khaliq. IM groups are also hacked to arrest people.

Khaliq also recalls last year’s case where activists and journalists were arrested for alleged espionage. One of the reasons given was a meeting with representatives of German and American consulates. The meeting concerned the causes of low attendance.

Khaliq also recalls that protests against the Turkish military offensive are quickly interpreted as support for the PKK’s Kurdish Workers’ Party and could also lead to imprisonment.

The Kurd Standard Leader sees all this as intimidating the opposition, while the legal system is ruled by both ruling parties. Despite the ban, torture does occur. Khaliq also complains that Kurdistan has no constitution and President Barzani is the head of the clan. The Baath mentality is still omnipresent.

oil controversy

Barzani’s KDP party recently entered into a coalition in the Iraqi parliament with the party of parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-halbousi and the movement of Shi’ite preacher Muktada al-Sadr. However, this coalition recently broke up, partly because al-Sadr did not want to side with the Kurdish regional government in the dispute over oil and gas revenues in the region.

The background to this is that in February this year, the Iraqi Supreme Court overturned the Oil and Gas Act that has allowed the Kurdistan Autonomous Region to sell oil and gas independently of Baghdad since 2007.

After the coalition broke up, there was a massive resignation of MPs from the al-Sadr party. It is not known how the political situation will develop, but the main beneficiary of the withdrawal of sadistic MPs will likely be an Iran-backed coalition, as under Iraq’s law, MPs are replaced by the loser candidate with the most votes in his constituency.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar Ismail announced that Iraq would execute its federal court’s February sentence, while the Kurdish autonomous government continued to reject the verdict.

This development will certainly not lead to greater stability in Kurdistan either. The political situation remains tense, wedged between the imperialist interests of the neighboring countries of Iran and Turkey on the one hand, and the central Iraqi state on the other, which opposes further Kurdistan’s autonomy. There is little hope for better economic development and strengthening social justice. Many Kurds are likely to continue to try their hand at migration.

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