Iraqi Kurdistan far away from independence

​Massoud Barzani, whose presidency term ended on August 20, 2015, but refused to step down and continues to function as leader. Photo: Reuters

The following article was written by Kaveh Ghoreishi for BBC Persian. It has been translated into English by the Rojava report.
On October 2014 Massoud Barzani, the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan called for preparations for a referendum on Kurdistan’s independence. With one year passing since Barzani’s referendum call, independence is far beyond reach; and under the shadow of war with Islamic State (IS), conflict with the Iraqi central government and internal turbulence, the control of Kurdistan region has become impossible, starting to slip pack into a time before the two parties were unified.
The most recent KRG cabinet was formed on September 2013, following a long political tension between the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP) and the Movement for Change. The conflict between the two parties is at a moment of crisis as the ruling party has repudiated the major politicians and ministers from its confederate party.

The major political dispute is over the control of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Movement for Change (Gorran), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (YNK), and Kurdistan Islamic Union (Yekgirtu) have formed a common front against the Democratic Party and are demanding reform of the presidency laws of the KRG. Masoud Barzani, the leader of the ruling KDP and the current president of the KRG, has been the president of KRG for the past decade. He was legally the president for two terms, and has since remained the president of KRG after passing a law in the parliament allowing him to stay in the position for an extended third term.

According to the current law Barzani’s last term came to an end on August 19th, 2015. A month prior to this date, Barzani asked the High Electoral Commission to prepare for presidential elections, however this was rejected by the commission. After the commission’s initial decision the vice-president of the High Electoral Commission, a member of the Democratic Party, by passed the president and allocated authority to a sub-commission within the Justice Ministry to decide on the validity of the KRG’s presidency elections. They later announced Barzani’s presidency as legitimate.

The decision of the sub-commission is not irrevocable and the other parties do not recognize the latest voting on Barzani’s presidency. Article 8 of the council’s constitution asserts the council’s role in providing consultation regarding governmental institutions’ disputes. Barzani’s opposition argues that the council role is not irrevocable, as the parliament is not just a “governmental institution” but rather is one of the main “three branches” and thus that the council’s rules do not apply to decisions regarding the parliament’s validity.

The decision from the election council was followed by a wave of criticism from different political parties and members of parliament. The Movement for Change does not recognize this decision. The YNK, with Talibani as its leader, and the Yekgirtu – both former supporters of KDP – have also joined the opposition. All these parties are demanding a revision of the KRG presidency law in the parliament, while the KDP tries to take advantage of the existing laws and emerge the sole winner of the coming election.

Masoud Barzani has asked the parties to reach an “agreement”, stating that he does not have any interest in remaining in the presidency, wanting only that the decision regarding this position should be taken by people with the consensus of all the political parties. Over the past couple of months the negotiations have reached a deadlock, as Barzani’s political party members have refused to take part in parliament meeting, hindering any agreement.

The KDP and control over the military and financial resources

The tension between the ruling party and the opposition has reached a climax. In one incident, the KDP prevented the head of parliament from entering the parliament, and even more shockingly from entering the city of Erbil. The KDP, with a majority of ministries on its side (along with the financial and military resources across the Iraqi Kurdistan) has been trying to consolidate their political and economical power by ousting and nullifying heads of ministries close to the opposition party. A large percentage of people in Iraqi Kurdistan work in governmental and related services. They have not been paid for the past three months. Iraqi Kurdistan is facing an unprecedented lack of funds, due to the conflict with the central government in Baghdad, and government’s refusal to pay the full assigned budget to KRG. On the other hand, the unsuccessful policies around oil sales has resulted in an escalating crisis owing to the non-payment of the salaries of governmental employees.
On December 2014, Erbil and Baghdad reached an agreement whereby in exchange for the daily export of 550 thousand oil barrels through the central government 17 percent of KRG’s budget would be transferred to Erbil. However, Kurds claim that only 30 percent of the consented amount has been paid. 6 months after the failed agreement, Erbil decided to sell its oil independently, reaching 640 thousand barrels per day as of last September. And yet it has not been able to pay governmental employees’ salaries. This has been one of the major reasons for the recent outbreaks of unrest in Sulaimani and other cities.

The people of Sulaimani, Kalar and Qaladiza claim that the ruling party has enough resources to pay the salaries and the reason of the delay is to agitate the conflict between the ruling and opposition party, and to put economic pressure on the supporters of the opposition party. And yet the ruling party’s response to the protesters was opening fire, killing 5 people including a four year old child due to a misfire. Four others were killed as a result of direct gunfire. Amnesty International has asked for an investigation into the incidents.
Street Protests;
A political dead end
The political, economic and security crisis in KRG have created severe gaps between political parties. Opening fire on people has resulted in a public anguish and anger. The KRG is facing this internal conflict in a time that it is an intense war with IS. Meanwhile, Erbil and Baghdad’s budget disputes remains unresolved. The current state of affairs do not seem promising, but what is clear, is that delayed salaries, street protests and the political deadlock, in a region torn apart by a host of different factors and actors, can threaten the security of Iraqi Kurdistan and lead the KRG toward political collapse.

Some believe if the KDP unifies with the YNK there is an increasing chance of protest from Movement for Change supporters. Another scenario, is dividing KRG between different parties and having two different governments. Hewal Abu Bakr, the head of Sulaimani’s governing council, was among the first people to mention the abovementioned scenario. Two days after Eid Fetr, following a visit to war fronts with IS, Barzani warned that “there is no place for people wishing to go back to the two-government Kurdistan, there is no place for them in KRG”. The Movement for Change had previously accused KDP of bringing Kurdistan back to the early 2000s. According to some insiders, there is a high possibility of a two-government solution between the main political parties. One of the signs of such a hypothesis, is the unprecedented violence from KDP, such as opening fire to people and the repudiation of some of the most important ministers close to Movement for Change. Among those are the economic and Peshmerga relations ministers. The opposition claims these renouncements as a coup d’etat, and is even “occupying Erbil” in certain locations.

Ban on media
The KDP shut down the offices of NRT, and KNN unexpectedly, and expelled their reporters from Erbil and Duhok. The published draft of KRG constitution shows that a condition similar to this had been predicted and taken into account under the heading “ regional government within regional government” and is explicitly banned in the constitution. Meanwhile, the KRG may be taking advantage of having gained indirect support from anti-Kurdish powers within and beyond the region.