Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Iraq’s Kurdistan Suffering From Rising Expectations, New Survey Shows Rising Dissatisfaction With Services And Corruption

Kurdistan is one of the most prosperous parts of Iraq. It has a better business environment then the rest of the country, thriving trade with Iran and Turkey, although it is mostly one way with the Kurds importing large amounts of consumer goods and foodstuffs, and stability due to the domination of the two ruling parties over politics, the economy, and security. The growing wealth in the region has led to increased expectations amongst the people. That has recently been shown in a Gallup poll that showed widespread dissatisfaction amongst Kurds with services and corruption, even higher than in the rest of the country.

Gallup found that more and more Kurds were unhappy with their situation. The Gallup organization interviewed 700 people over three years in Kurdistan. Amongst the questions asked of them, three were about services in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and a fourth was on corruption. One was whether people were satisfied with public transportation. In 2010, 46% said they were happy. That went up to 54% in 2011, before dropping to 23% in March 2012. Another was whether people were satisfied with the availability of housing. In 2010, 47% said they were, going up to 53% in 2011, before taking a large fall to 30% in 2012. When it came to corruption, 37% thought it was widespread in the KRG in 2009, 52% in 2010, 61% in 2011, and 81% in 2012. Only with education was there a different trend with 55% saying they were satisfied in 2010, going up to 64% in 2011, and only seeing a slight drop to 61% in 2012. These results show a dramatic turn around in Kurdish public opinion. The KRG has long portrayed itself as the “other Iraq” where the populace is safe and content. The 2010 to 2011 responses on services and corruption, showed that general trend. However, in 2012, all but education saw complete reverses. 

Are you satisfied with education, housing, and public transportation in the Kurdistan Regional Government? 
Is corruption widespread throughout the country?
Many of these turnarounds could have been predicted. There has been a construction boom in houses in cities like Irbil in recent years. Many of these however, have been high priced western style single family homes in exclusive areas. Many average Kurds cannot afford them, and are only open to government bureaucrats and party officials. This has distorted the market, raising prices, while excluding the majority.  The same could be said for corruption. There were months of public protests in the first half of 2011 in Sulaymaniya. One of the driving forces behind these outbursts was the belief that the two ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) were involved in graft, bribery, and crooked business deals. The KRG has thus gone through something of a sea change in public perceptions of both the economic opportunities that are open to them, and the willingness to criticize their leaders. With all the talk of the rise of Kurdistan many people seem to be now asking about why specific issues like public services, housing, and corruption have not improved.
American Village housing development in Irbil (Overseas Property Mall)
Levels of discontent amongst Kurds in 2012 were even higher than in the rest of Iraq. When it came to corruption for instance, in 2009 only 37% of Kurds surveyed believed it was a major issue, compared to 79% in the rest of the country. By 2010, the difference between the two had narrowed to 61% saying it was a problem in Kurdistan versus 73% in the other parts of the nation. Finally, in early 2012, the two opinions had flipped flopped with 81% of Kurds and 67% of other Iraqis expressing their displeasure with corruption. Likewise with perceptions of public transportation views went from 54% saying they were satisfied in Kurdistan in 2011 to just 23% in 2012, while in the rest of Iraq it went from 37% to 50%. Again, this showed that many Kurds are unhappy with their situation, and are demanding more of their government. It’s especially surprising, because on issues like corruption, Baghdad has done as little as the KRG to address the issue, yet it is seen as more of a problem in the latter.   

Comparison of dissatisfaction with services Kurdistan vs Rest of Iraq 2011-2012

Kurdistan 2011
Rest of Iraq 2011
Kurdistan 2012
Rest of Iraq 2012
Satisfied with public transportation
Satisfied with educational system
Satisfied with availability of affordable housing
The Kurdistan Regional Government appears to be suffering from a wave of rising expectations. People there can see the boom in business and construction in the major cities, and feel like they should be benefiting from this growth. The reality seems to be seeping in that the benefits are not being evenly distributed. That is causing the resentment shown in the March 2010 public opinion poll by Gallup. It could cut into the standing of the two ruling parties, unless they put real effort into addressing some of these issues. Already, the PUK has seen a decided loss in its base with the creation of the opposition party the Change List. The KDP has seen no serious challenge to its standing, but it could face the brunt of the public’s mood change in the future. This could be said of the country as a whole, where increased security, and a return to a sense of normality for many is leading people to want more services, jobs, and opportunities, meaning that politicians have to really govern for the first time since 2003, because other issues like the insurgency are not as pressing as before. This will be a real test, because many officials in both Baghdad and Irbil are not used to meeting public demand other than through patronage systems, which are only aimed at their followers to sustain their support. It will be an interesting few years to see if the central and regional governments can adapt to this changing environment. 


Dagher, Sam, “As Baghdad grapples with Sadr City, Iraqi Kurdistan busily builds ‘Dream City,’” Christian Science Monitor, 5/7/08

Dyke, Joe, “DEPRESSION IN KURDISTAN / Iraqi Kurdistan: Death of an Uprising,” Al-Akhbar, 5/29/12

Kareem, Dashti, “erbil’s building boom: favouring the rich, neglecting the poor,” Niqash, 8/4/11

Loschky, Jay, “In Iraqi Kurdistan, Satisfaction With Infrastructure Crumbles,” Gallup, 9/7/12

Mackinnon, Mark, “Corruption: The Dark Underbelly of Kurdistan’s Dream,” Globe And Mail, 3/12/07

Mandalawi, Sazan, “erbil’s unrestrained building boom causes conflicting emotions,” Niqash, 9/14/11

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