Sulaymaniya in Iraq’s Kurdistan saw the largest demonstrations in the country at the beginning of the year. Starting in February 2011, thousands gathered in the city’s center every day before they were broken up by a brutal crackdown in April. The Kurdish opposition eventually latched onto the activists’ demands, and is now holding discussions with the ruling parties about reforms. Some of the demonstrations have objected, saying that they should be meeting with the region’s leaders, because they represent the people and the Kurdish street.
In May, a month after demonstrations in Sulaymaniya had been broken up, the three Kurdish opposition parties said that they were willing to hold negotiations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The opposition is made up of the Change List, the Kurdistan Islamic Group, and the Kurdistan Islamic Union, while the two ruling parties are KRG President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Several meetings between all the lists have occurred since then, but with no real progress. The opposition parties may have lost their chance to push their demands, because there are no longer people out in the street to pressure the government. While the KRG claims to be carrying out a series of reforms, they are of their own making, and only marginally connected to the concerns of the opposition.
These talks are a result of the three months of protests, even though the opposition had a sometime difficult relationship with them. Before assemblies started in February, the Change List called for the government to be dissolved, that political reforms be implemented, that corruption be curtailed, that better services be provided, and that the ruling parties be separated from the bureaucracy. When demonstrations started on February 17 they expressed many of the same issues. At first, the Change List denied that they had anything to do with it however, while condemning the violence perpetrated by the security forces that day. Within weeks, all three opposition parties backed the protests, organized their supporters to join them, and tried to merge their agendas together. Some activists resented this, believing that the political parties were trying to take over the movement, and exploit it for their own gain in their rivalry with the KDP and PUK. The three parties for example, pushed their own reform agenda, which was very similar to the protesters, but was not coordinated with them.
With negotiations underway between the two sides, a group of Sulaymaniya demonstrations objected. (1) They said that the current talks were illegal because they should be meeting with the ruling parties, not the opposition. They claimed that the Change List and two Islamic parties didn’t represent the activists or the Kurdish street, and were only trying to advance their own interests. These were the same concerns voiced by some during the weeks of protests. Like the opposition however, the activists have probably lost their chance to hold sway with the ruling parties, and push their demands now that they are off the streets.
Thousands of people attended the daily protests in Sulaymaniya, the largest and most consistent in Iraq. They clearly scared the ruling parties, and the opposition quickly saw it as an opportunity as well. Both groups made wide-ranging demands of the KDP and PUK, and it seemed like they had a real chance of success. When the regional government finally decided to put an end to them in April, both groups took a hit. They lost their main leverage with the KRG. The Barzani and Talabani clans have been running Kurdistan since the 1990s. They are unwilling to give up on their entrenched power, and while they are implementing a number of reforms currently, it is unlikely to shake their hold over the region. The Change List, Kurdistan Group, and Kurdistan Union can hold as many talks as they want, and some of the protesters can complain about that, but the status quo has largely been returned.
1. Mohammed, Azad, “The position of demonstrators from Sulaymaniyah dialogues power with the opposition,” Radio Free Iraq, 6/13/11
Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraqi Kurdistan’s opposition movement calls for fighting corruption,” 2/7/11
- “Leading Kurdish MP calls for dialogue to settle differences among Kurdish Parties:,” 2/2/11
- “Serious discussion in Parliament between Kurdistan Coalition’s and Goran (Change) MPs:,” 2/19/11
Hasan, Rebin, “Talks to end Kurdish political crisis unfruitful,” AK News, 6/22/11
Mohammed, Azad, “The position of demonstrators from Sulaymaniyah dialogues power with the opposition,” Radio Free Iraq, 6/13/11
Mohammed, Shwan, “Students demand Iraq Kurd apology for protest deaths,” Agence France Presse, 2/19/11
Saifaddin, Dilsahd, “Kurdish opposition ready to negotiate,” AK News, 5/19/11
- “Kurdistan opposition unanimously demands govt. reshuffle,” AK News, 4/6/11