FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Party of "Change" Challenges Old Guard in Kurdistan

Sulaimaniyah.

“I must ask you to leave because you are criticising the authorities on state property,” said a Kurdish official, interrupting our conversation with a critic of the Kurdish government.

We were speaking to Peshko Hama Fares Mohammed, a representative of Goran or Change, a new political party which is seeking to dislodge the rulers of Kurdistan for the last 18 years in a hard fought general election taking place today. We had met outside the town of Halabja in eastern Kurdistan at a monument whose blue and white tower commemorates the 5,000 Kurds killed in a poison gas attack by Saddam Hussein’s air force  in 1988.

To escape the summer heat we retreated to a café at the back of the monument where Mr Mahmoud explained why so many Kurds are angry at the way in which the ruling Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)  monopolize power, money and jobs. At this point the official in charge of the monument, who had been openly eavesdropping, broke in to say that he could not allow anything bad about the government to be said in a building for which he was responsible. “I might be sacked from my job if anybody found out what you were saying,” he explained apologetically as he evicted us.

Eastern Kurdistan is ablaze with Goran’s blue flags and posters, as the movement openly tries to emulate the ‘Orange revolutions’ of Georgia and Ukraine, where reformers used general elections to depose long-entrenched elites. Goran wanted to make the flame of the candle, which is the party’s symbol, orange only to find that another party had already established its right to the color.

Nobody expects the long-established Kurdish leaders, Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq and head of the PUK, and Masoud Barzani, president of the highly autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government and head of the KDP, to lose power. They are the men who fought Saddam Hussein and brought their people quasi independence. But their previously unchallenged rule is now being questioned in a way that some Kurds compare to recent protests in Iran.

“Kurdistan is run like an ex-Soviet republic,” claimed Nawshirwan Mustafa, the leader of Goran, in an interview with meearlier this year. “There is no division between party and government, no independent judiciary, no open or fair distribution of national wealth, or real democracy.”

Government leaders say this is a bit rich coming from Mr Mustafa, since he was until recently the deputy head of the PUK, and part of the very elite he now denounces for corruption and autocracy. This may have some truth in it, but the PUK heartlands in Sulaimaniyah province are full of indications that many people agree with Goran’s assault on the establishment. At a rally in one district of Sulaimaniyah its supporters danced and applauded a Kurdish rapper whose refrain was: “Nobody is unhappy now in Kurdistan.” Dara Jabar, who works in a factory in the UK and had returned to vote, said: “The parties take all the oil money for themselves and nobody knows where it goes.” Asos Hama, an enthusiastic Goran supporter, said: “People are very fed up because this is a very rich country, but people who have been to university have to work as taxi drivers for 10 or 12 years. Three or four people live in one room.”

Mohammed Tawfiq, a former senior official of PUK and now a spokesman for Goran, broadens out the criticism. He says that people are angry about lack of services such as electricity and water, but adds that the Kurdish political leadership has got everything else wrong since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, from failing to successfully establish the Kurdish claim to Kirkuk to keeping secret the terms on which contracts are awarded for exploiting Kurdish oil.

President Talabani and President Barzani have been fighting back hard, holding their own meetings and demonstrations. Walls are covered with their emblem of a galloping horse on a green and white background. If Goran does make a breakthrough it will be in OUK territory.

Elections in Iraq are also about more than popularity. Patronage is crucial to success at the polls and the government controls most jobs in an economy dominated by the state. Some 65 per cent of the state budget goes on civil and military salaries. A main complaint of Goran is that the KDP and PUK members form a mafia that monopolizes the distribution of jobs, contracts and subsidies.

The Kurdish political establishment, as leaders of one of the most successful national liberation movements in the world, appears taken back by the seeming ingratitude of their own people.  They also feel that this is no time to show disunity when they are not far from armed conflict with Baghdad. But the run-up to tomorrow’s election shows that patriotic enthusiasm is no longer enough to unite the Kurds.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq‘ and ‘Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq‘.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail