Friday, February 18, 2011

Opposition Party Demands Dissolution Of Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government

The events in Tunisia and Egypt have not just been felt in the streets of Iraq, but in the seat of government in Kurdistan as well. At the end of January 2011, the opposition Change List demanded that the Kurdish parliament be dissolved, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) be reformed. KRG President Massoud Barzani immediately rejected the Change List’s demands. Then in mid-February there was a large demonstration in Sulaymaniya that led to Kurdish guards to fire into the crowd, and then the Change List’s headquarters were set on fire, increasing tensions between the different factions in the region.







On February 17, a large demonstration was held outside the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Sulaymaniya. Hundreds participated, demanding reforms in the KRG. When they got to the KDP building, they began throwing stones, which led to guards firing into the crowd, killing two, and wounding 47 others. In retaliation, later that day the headquarters of the opposition Change List in Irbil had rocks thrown at it and was then set on fire, along with its offices in Dohuk. The ruling KDP and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are considering this a major challenge to their rule and are calling emergency meetings to discuss the situation.


These violent acts began over calls by the Change List for the Kurdish government to step down. On January 29, the Change List issued a statement calling for the Kurdish parliament to be dissolved, new elections in three months, and a series of reforms in the region. It said, “We are witnessing the fall of dictators and totalitarian states … but officials in the Kurdistan region have not taken any real steps towards the democratization of the ruling regime.” Its list of demands included transparent voting, for the ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to separate themselves from the bureaucracy, to provide services and economic development, that the peshmerga and intelligence services stay out of politics, and that the PUK and KDP should leave government owned property. These were all similar to demands that the Change List has been making since it was formed in late 2008 by former PUK co-founder Nishurwan Mustafa. It ran on the same issues in the Kurdish parliamentary elections in 2009 and won 25 out of 111 seats.

The PUK and KDP were swift to respond to this challenge to their authority. On January 30, KRG President Barzani held a meeting with all the political parties in Kurdistan, but not the Change List. All of them, with the exception of the Kurdistan Islamic Group, came out with a statement rejecting Change’s demands. They then placed armored vehicles outside of the Premier Barham Saleh’s offices, and other government buildings in Sulaymaniya City. The Peshmerga Minister said that his forces were on full alert, and warned that Change was attempting to foment anarchy and destabilize the region. The PUK and KDP then told the opposition if it wanted change, it needed to reform itself by exiting all government owned property. At the same time, the Kurdish Prime Minister released remarks trying to be a little conciliatory by saying that the ruling parties had made mistakes, and that they had started reforms to address them.

Divisions in Kurdistan have increased because of the Change List’s demands. What started as a largely political war of words between the PUK, KDP, and Change List, quickly escalated into a violent protest, and an act of vandalism. Change does have legitimate concerns. The PUK and KDP have been in power since 1991 after the Gulf War. They have direct control of the bureaucracy, have monopolized power, demanded a cut of business deals made in the region, arrested political opponents, tried to limit criticism of themselves, etc. Change has been trying to work within the system, becoming part of the new parliament, but does not have much to show for itself. It took the opportunity created by the events in the rest of the region to make a dramatic statement against the ruling parties. It doesn’t have the power or popular support to do much more, but the situation could be taking on a life of its own with the events in Sulaymaniya and Irbil.

SOURCES

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Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraqi Kurdistan’s opposition movement calls for fighting corruption,” 2/7/11
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Khabat, Fryad, “Opposition headquarters set on fire in Erbil,” AK News, 2/17/11

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