President Masoud Barzani delivered a letter to the Kurdistan parliament and then appeared on TV for the first time since the September 2017 referendum to announce that he would step down from office. His followers immediately took to the streets and assaulted members of the press and political parties, burning down offices, as well as storming the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) parliament building.
Barzani said he would step down from the presidency and defended the referendum, while saying he would remain in politics. First, a statement he wrote was read in parliament. It said he would not seek another term as president and that his powers would be distributed amongst the prime minister, the parliament and judiciary. There was some confusion about just when he would leave office. Some reports had him stepping down in a few days in November, while others had him remaining until the next elections were held. The problem with that is the KRG Election Commission recently delayed the next vote for eight months. Barzani then gave a speech on TV, marking his first public appearance since the September 2017 independence referendum. He repeated his argument for that decision claiming that Baghdad had failed at sharing power and that the referendum was the only solution to the Kurds’ problems. He stated that the vote was agreed upon by all the political parties in the KRG, which was not true, and then called the surrender of Kirkuk to federal forces an act of “treachery.” What Barzani’s announcement boiled down to was him giving up the presidency at an indeterminate date, while attacking his opponents. He will still be the head of the KDP and the new Supreme Political Council, which was created by the KDP and PUK after the referendum over the complaints of the opposition. There is no law regulating this body, and no outline of its powers and duties. It appears to be another way for the KDP and PUK to run the region since Barzani dismissed the regional parliament back in 2015, and today only meets when the KDP calls it into session to rubber stamp a decision that has already been made.
Barzani’s statements incited his followers in Irbil, Zakho and Dohuk to attack opposition politicians, storm the parliament building, and go after the media and political offices. First, parliamentarian Rabum Maruf of Change was attacked while he was giving a speech to reporters outside parliament. A mob then stormed the legislative building and attacked members of the media outside. MPs from Change and a NRT TV team were assaulted. PUK and Change offices along with Radio Ashti’s building were set on fire in Zakho, while the crowds chanted pro-Barzani slogans. The security forces stopped an assault upon the NRT offices in Dohuk. At the end of the day the KRG called on the security forces to maintain order and rejected violence and vandalism. The KDP supporters took Barzani’s actions as a call to violence. They didn’t seem to care that Barzani’s term as president expired two years ago, and that he didn’t even say when he would step down. They just blamed his opponents, and then went after them. It wasn’t until hours later that the KRG called for calm, allowing the mobs to run wild. Kurdistan has always been run by families and tribes rather than laws and institutions. The crisis that has followed the referendum, has reinforced that tradition
Al Alam, “Witnesses: unknown assailants break into the Kurdistan parliament and besiege its deputies,” 10/29/17
Associated Press, “Iraqi Kurdish leader to devolve powers after thorny vote,” 10/29/17
Baghdad Post, “Kurdish Parliament nominates Nechirvan Barzani as Commander-in-Chief,” 10/29/17
Bas News, “Barzani: I Will Remain a Peshmerga for Kurdistan,” 10/29/17
Iraq News Network, “Parliamentary source: differences between the Kurdish parties on the distribution of Barzani’s powers,” 10/29/17
Al Mada, “Barzani rejects extension: I will leave my post early next month,” 10/30/17
Al Mirbad, “Kurdistan government calls for security forces to control the situation in the province,” 10/30/17
- “The speaker of the Kurdistan parliament expressed regret that groups of thugs attacked the parliament building,” 10/29/17
NINA, “Urgent..Supporters of Barzani break into the headquarters of the Parliament of Kurdistan and abuse the MPs of the Change Block and cadres of satellite channels,” 10/29/17
NRT, “Security Forces Prevent Group From Attacking NRT Office In Dohuk,” 10/29/17
Al Sumaria, “Burning the headquarters of the Change Movement, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Radio Ashti in Zakho,” 10/29/17