In August 2008 Masrur Barzani, son of Kurdistan regional President Masoud Barzani, went on trial in Austria for attempted murder. In February, the younger Barzani was arrested along with five of his bodyguards in Vienna for shooting Kurdish opposition writer Dr. Kamal Sayid Qadir. Qadir was seriously injured in the incident. He is an international law expert and professor in Austria, and a critic of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Kurdish officials originally denied that Masrur was even in the country, but he is now on trial for the attack.
Qadir is a former political prisoner of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). On October 26, 2005 he was arrested in Irbil by the KDP’s intelligence service the Parastin that Masrur heads, for criticizing President Barzani in a series of articles. Some of them said that Barzani worked with Iran to the detriment of Kurdistan and that the Parastin spied on Kurds in Europe. Dr. Qadir traveled from his home in Austria to lecture about the abuses of Barzani’s rule and set up a human rights group when he was detained. In December, Qadir was given a 30-year prison term by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) for “disgracing the Kurdish leadership and their struggle,” “inappropriate articles,” and cursing the Barzani tribe. According to Dr. Qadir, his trial only took 15 minutes. Those charges were later dropped, and he was sent for re-trial in March 2006. That time he received a longer sentence of 1-1/2 years in jail. A week later he was pardoned and released. While imprisoned, he went on a hunger strike. The Austrian government, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and others, all took up his case.
After his release, Dr. Qadir filed a lawsuit against Masrur Barzani and four other KDP officials in December 2006 in Austria. The suit charged them with kidnapping and torture. Qadir also continued to write critically about Kurdish rule. In a June 2007 piece for the Middle East Quarterly, he charged the Kurdish authorities of corruption, nepotism, torture, political assassinations, and other abuses. It’s these actions that probably led to his shooting in Vienna in February 2008 by Masrur’s men.
Masrur is also in charge of the General Committee for the Security of the Kurdistan Region, a member of the KPD politburo, and might replace his father as the eventual president of the Kurdish region.
Kurdistan is by far the most secure region of Iraq. Many also consider it the most democratic, but Qadir and others have criticized the strangle hold the two ruling parties, the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have over the political system. In April 2008 for example, President Jalal Talabani banned all members of the PUK from criticizing the Kurdish government. In January, the BBC reported on an unpublished United Nations report that said thousands of people have been arrested by Kurdish authorities for political crimes and held with no trial or lawyer. Corruption and nepotism charges have also been widespread. Masrur’s trial is the first time a senior Kurdish official has been charged, but not surprisingly it is happening in Austria, not Iraq.
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