The third part of the latest Iraq public opinion poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research dealt with Kurdistan. The survey was conducted from August to September 2015 and included 2,000 respondents from all parts of the country. The general feeling was that the relationship between Baghdad and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was getting worse, and at the same time the region was deeply divided along partisan lines.
Everyone thought that ties between Baghdad and Irbil were getting worse. In Baghdad 67% said they were worse, 17% better. In the south 70% said worse compared to 16% better. The west responded 64% worse, 7% better, and Kurdistan had 95% worse, 2% better. All of those negative responses were up from December 2014 ranging from +44% saying worse in Baghdad to +15% in Kurdistan. The same thing was stated when broken down by ethnicity and sect. 83% of Kurds said relations were worse, 71% for Sunnis, and 68% for Shiites. The relationship between the central and regional governments, which was always difficult took a huge hit during the Maliki administration, which challenged the Kurds over the disputed territories, oil and the budget. Prime Minister Haidar Abadi attempted to repair the relationship with a new budget deal, but that quickly broke down as neither side followed through with its obligations, which explained the poor results in the poll.
Do you think relations between the KRG and the central government are getting better or worse?
Baghdad 67% Worse, 17% Better
South 70% Worse, 16% Better
West 64% Worse, 7% Better
Kurdistan 95% Worse, 2% Better
Kurds 83% Worse, 2% Better
Sunnis 71% Worse, 8% Better
Shiites 68% Worse, 17% Better
Kurds and Arabs had different opinions on Kurdish independence with the latter opposing the idea. When asked should Kurdistan be independent or remain an autonomous region, the majority was for the KRG to stay within Iraq. Overall, 60% chose autonomy over independence, 33%. 82% of Kurds were for independence and 9% for autonomy as opposed to 56% of Sunnis and 78% of Shiites who thought autonomy would be better. Despite the differences between the two the majority of Arabs still thought that Kurdistan should remain part of the country. That was not shared by Kurds who have wanted independence for decades now. That variance in opinions was another source of tension between Baghdad and Irbil as both were pulling in different directions.
Should Kurdistan become an independent country or remain an autonomous region of Iraq?
Overall 28% Independent, 60% Autonomy
Kurds 82% Independent, 9% Autonomy
Sunnis 22% Independent, 56% Autonomy
Shiites 13% Independent, 78% Autonomy
There were varying opinions on the ties with Baghdad between the different ruling parties in Kurdistan. When asked was it important to resolve the budget crisis with Baghdad or develop a new regional constitution 33% chose the former versus 53% for the latter. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) followers, 75%, and Gorran members, 41%, were more interested in the constitution, while pro-Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) respondents picked the budget 46%. The PUK has much better relations with Baghdad than the KDP and therefore thought improving relations with the central government were more important. The KDP wants a new constitution that will ensure President Barzani’s position, while Gorran has been pushing for one that will reform the region’s political system.
Is it more important for the KRG to resolve the budget crisis with Baghdad or develop a new constitution?
Overall 33% Budget, 53% Constitution
KDP 16% Budget, 75% Constitution
PUK 46% Budget, 38% Constitution
Gorran 36% Budget, 41% Constitution
Kurds were very pessimistic about their situation. 49% said the region was going in the wrong direction. That was the highest percentage in the last five years. Back in November 2010 for example only 9% said that things were bad versus 85% who thought it was good. Even by December 2014 most respondents were feeling pessimistic with 56% saying things were going in the right direction. The financial crisis, the war with the Islamic State, the flood of displaced into the region because of the fighting, and the political disputes between the KDP and Gorran have all led to people questioning their situation. The economic problems especially have led to government workers, the largest part of the work force to not be paid for months, development projects have come to a halt, and the regional government is facing a huge debt none of which will be repaired soon as the KRG is oil dependent just like Baghdad meaning it has little means to adjust things when oil prices drop as they have been doing.
Partisan politics determined the views on the regional government and its leaders. KDP voters were overwhelmingly happy with President Barzani, 99%, but that was not shared by PUK voters, 31% approved, or Gorran supporters, only 7%. All groups liked the job the regional parliament was doing with 57% of KDP voters, 79% of PUK ones, and 83% of Gorran supporters approving of the legislature. When it came to the regional government ideas were more split with 89% of KDP members saying it was doing a good job, but only 52% of PUK voters and 43% of Gorran ones. The same opinions were expressed when asked which institution should have the most authority. Overall, 36% said the parliament, 33% the president, 13% the peshmerga and 7% the KRG premier. By party, PUK and Gorran voters backed the parliament, while KDP followers were for the president. The KRG has been dealing with a political crisis over whether President Barzani should be allowed to stay in office even though his term has officially expired. The KDP has responded to the dispute by dismissing all the Gorran cabinet ministers and the speaker of parliament. That is reflected in the responses about the president with hardly any PUK or Gorran voters approving of him. There is a shared opinion that the parliament is trying to do its job, while feelings are more mixed about the regional government. Gorran being kicked out of office may account for the mixed feelings about the KRG overall.
Do you approve or disapprove of the job Massoud Barzani is doing?
KDP 99% Approve, 1% Disapprove
PUK 31% Approve, 67% Disapprove
Gorran 7% Approve, 87% Disapprove
Do you approve or disapprove of the job the Kurdish parliament is doing?
KDP 57% Approve, 39% Disapprove
PUK 79% Approve, 21% Disapprove
Gorran 83% Approve, 17% Disapprove
Do you approve or disapprove of the job the KRG is doing?
KDP 89% Approve, 95 Disapprove
PUK 52% Approve, 48% Disapprove
Gorran 43% Approve, 57% Disapprove
Which institution should have the most authority over decisions?
Overall 36% Parliament, 33% President, 13% Peshmerga, 7% KRG Premier
KDP 10% Parliament, 82% president, 0% Peshmerga, 3% KRG Premier
PUK 56% Parliament, 9% President, 11% Peshmerga, 12% KRG Premier
Gorran 62% Parliament, 19% President, 10% Peshmerga, 7% KRG Premier
All of the Kurdish politicians were seen in a poor light. President Barzani had the best rating at 41% favoring him, but 46% saying unfavorable. Speaker of the Kurdish parliament Yusef Mohammed had 38% favorable and 40% unfavorable. Premier Nechirvan Barzani was at 36% favorable, 50% unfavorable. PUK leader Kosrat Rasul had 32% favorable and 49% unfavorable, while Iraq’s President Fuad Masum from the PUK received 31% favorable responses versus 45% unfavorable. Obviously, people were upset as no figure had a positive standing. That represented the partisan politics of the region and the inability of any leader to rise above those divisions and become a figure for all Kurds.
Favorable or unfavorable opinion of the following politicians?
Pres. M. Barzani 41% Favorable, 46% Unfavorable
Speaker Mohammed 38% Favorable, 40% Unfavorable
Premier N. Barzani 36% Favorable, 50% Unfavorable
Rasul 32% Favorable, 49% Unfavorable
Iraq Pres. Masum 31% Favorable, 45% Unfavorable
There were partisan divisions over whether President Barzani should have stayed in office. Overall, 39% said he should have been extended versus 51% opposing that idea. Amongst KDP voters 94% supported him getting an extension, while only 17% of PUK supporters and 4% of Gorran ones did. When asked should Barzani stay president until the war with IS is over the responses were largely the same with 45% saying he should stay in office versus 49% against. 99% of KDP voters believed he should remain president versus 16% by PUK voters and 15% of Gorran partisans. It’s obvious that these questions showed how divided the region is over Barzani.
Do you approve/disapprove of President Barzani’s extension?
Overall 39% Approve, 51% Disapprove
KDP 94% Approve, 6% Disapprove
PUK 17% Approve, 74% Disapprove
Gorran 4% Approve, 89% Disapprove
Do you think President Barzani should remain in office until the crisis with IS is over?
Overall 45% Approve, 49% Disapprove
KDP 99% Approve, 0% Disapprove
PUK 16% Approve, 77% Disapprove
Gorran 15% Approve, 82% Disapprove
Similarly there were splits over how the president should be elected. 47% said it should be by direct vote of the people, while just as many, 46% said the parliament should do it. 98% of KDP backers were for a direct vote, while 72% of PUK backers and 79% of Gorran supporters were for a parliamentary system. The KDP is for a popular vote because they have more supporters in the KRG than the other parties. In parliament however the two other parties have more power so they support giving the legislature the authority to pick the executive.
Do you want to directly elect the president of have the parliament elect the president?
Overall 47% Direct, 46% Parliament
KDP 98% Direct, 0% Parliament
PUK 19% Direct, 72% Parliament
Gorran 16% Direct, 79% Parliament
When asked about the political parties the PUK was the only one that came out with a good rating. 44% had a favorable opinion of that party versus 34% negative. The KDP had 38% favorable versus 50% unfavorable, while Gorran was at 36% positive, 45% negative. The PUK came out on top because it was supported not only by its own partisans, but a large percent of Gorran and KDP members as well. The KDP and Gorran have the biggest rivalry right now over President Barzani, while the PUK has tried to work with both of them giving it a generally positive image across the board.
Do you have a favorable/unfavorable opinion of the following parties?
PUK 44% Favorable, 34% Unfavorable
KDP 38% Favorable, 50% Unfavorable
Gorran 36% Favorable, 45% Unfavorable
Do you have a favorable/unfavorable opinion of the following parties by party followers
KDP 96% Favorable
PUK 42% Favorable, 35% Unfavorable
Gorran 24% Favorable, 55% Unfavorable
KDP 18% Favorable, 67% Unfavorable
PUK 86% Favorable
Gorran 35% Favorable, 41% Unfavorable
KDP 8% Favorable, 83% Unfavorable
PUK 37% Favorable, 31% Unfavorable
Gorran 93% Favorable
On whether people thought the peshmerga was divided opinion was almost evenly split with 46% saying divided versus 50% unified. 77% of KDP supporters picked unified compared to 44% of PUK backers and 39% of Gorran voters. The peshmerga were originally created by the KDP and PUK as their armed wings. The KRG has talked about uniting those forces for decades, but the two parties still dominate them. KDP followers still believed in that united vision, while PUK and Gorran members saw the peshmerga as largely extensions of the parties.
Do you think the Peshmerga are divided or unified?
Overall 46% Divided, 50% Unified
KDP 19% Divided, 77% Unified
PUK 52% Divided, 44% Unified
Gorran 58% Divided, 39% Unified
Finally, almost all respondents were worried that the partisan divide between the parties would lead to future conflicts. 94% were very concerned about that, and that was the same response by all the different voters. The split between the parties is very wide right now with neither the KDP nor Gorran showing any signs of compromise over President Barzani’s term. For the first time in years that’s raising the question of whether the region will return to civil war. That doesn’t seem likely, especially because Gorran has no armed wing, but Kurds are worried that more civil unrest is on the horizon. Already there were protests in the province that started out over wages and services, and quickly came to be dominated by partisan divisions with demonstrators being fired upon. Those types of events are likely to happen again especially with the economic pressures growing making many people unhappy with their situation.
How concerned are you that tensions between the ruling parties will lead to internal conflict in Kurdistan?
Overall 94% Concerned, 5% Unconcerned
KDP 94% Concerned, 5% unconcerned
PUK 94% Concerned, 6% Unconcerned
Gorran 93% Concerned, 7% Unconcerned
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, “Lack of Responsiveness Impacts Mood, August-September 2015 Survey Findings,” 11/23/15