2014, when the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) conquered broad areas in
Iraq and Syria, the Kurdistan region in Iraq has become a key player on
regional chessboard. In addition to political and other problems within Iraqi
Kurdistan and complicated relations with the authorities of Iraq, the Kurdistan
region has entered a phase of political turbulence. The aim of this article is
u1 of the
political crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan and the political transformations the
Kurdish region undergoes during the last three years. Now, while the focus is
on the independence referendum, which was held on 25 September, 2017 and the
reactions of neighboring and other countries, it is important to understand the
internal processes in Iraqi Kurdistan.
main reason of political crisis is the issue of the Kurdistan Region presidency u2 and
competition of political parties behind it. This issue remained unsolved until
the end of 2017 and moreover, paralyzed the work of the Parliament. Political
u3 with a financial
crisis as low
price oil u4 reduced
financial influx into Iraqi Kurdistan.
fourth elections of parliament in Iraqi Kurdistan took place on 21 September
2013. For the first time a third party was able to break the hegemony of
KDP-PUK tandem – two strongest Iraqi Kurdish parties for decades. Gorran party
led by former KDP member Nawshirwan Mustafa secured u5 24 of 111 seats in
the parliament and became the main opposition party in the Kurdistan region.
KDP won 38 seats and PUK only 18. For the first time since 1992, KDP and PUK,
which together had formed the Kurdistan Alliance, ran on separate electoral
lists. PUK was affected by the problems of leadership since its founder and
leader, former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, suffered a stroke in December
2012. PUK lost a big part of its electorate to Gorran movement, whose founders
previously had broken from PUK. The representative of Gorran Yousif Mohammed
Sadiq was elected parliament
u6 speaker. The new
elected parliament functioned until October 2015u7 , when the issue of
presidential elections evolved into violent actions.
The Kurdistan Parliament established the Kurdistan Region
Presidency (KRP) as an institution in 2005. The President of the Kurdistan Region has the highest
executive authority, and is elected by secret ballot in a popular vote every
four years. Masoud
Barzani, the current president, was elected as the Kurdistan Region’s first
president on 31 January 2005 by the Kurdistan Parliament, and re-elected by the
people of the Kurdistan Region in July 2009, with 70% of the vote1.
Masoud Barzani’s second term came to end in 2013. KDP and PUK alliance in the
parliament extended Barzani’s presidential term for two more years without
holding elections. Iraqi Kurdistan parliament voted for the extension of
Barzani’s term to two years, stating: “the current president will stay in
office for two more years. The current president will not be allowed to
nominate himself after his term comes to an end”. Parliament ratified the bill,
and later President Barzani approved the amendment2.
legal provision adopted and ratified by Kurdistan parliament’s majority
extended the term of the Kurdistan region president from Aug. 20, 2013 to Aug.
The discussion in parliament on June 30, 2013 devolved into physical fighting
between PUK and Gorran movements. As the Speaker from PUK tried to read the relevant
paper there was uproar, with opposition MPs heckling and shouting “Fraud!” and
“Illegal!”. There were fights between MPs from the ruling KDP and PUK and those
of the opposition parties. The police arrived and they arrested one opposition
MP, Abdullah Mullah Nuri4.
On August 20, 2015 the extended term also
terminated, however Masoud Barzani refused to step down and hold new elections,
arguing that Kurdistan is in a state of war. The refusal to seize power evolved
into political crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan.
According to the law in Kurdistan, Barzani cannot run for
presidency anymore. Barzani
told al-Monitor “My objective is to reach that point, to have an independent
Kurdistan. And that is a pledge from me. The day we have an independent
Kurdistan, I will cease to be the president of that Kurdistan. And I will
congratulate the Kurdistan people and let someone else take my place. This is a
pledge from me — I will not be the president of Kurdistan”5.
opposed him and demanded to step down. Protests and violence broke out in Sulaymaniyah
and Halabja because of unpaid salaries. KRG accused Gorran of fueling the protests
to use it as leverage in the talks over
the presidential stalemate6.
The prime minister of Iraq’s
Kurdish region Nechirvan Barzani fired four cabinet ministers and barred the
speaker of parliament from entering the capital Arbil7.
The speaker of
parliament was not allowed to enter Erbil. After this incident the parliament ceased
to function until September of 2017, when it voted in favor of holding
recent years Iraqi Kurdistan also faces economic and financial crisis. The main
reason of it is high dependence from oil revenues which have plunged more than
twice since 2014. Another problem is
contradictions with central government in Baghdad, which often does not fully
pay 17% of oil revenues fixed in the Iraqi constitution. Baghdad uses this
lever against Iraqi Kurdistan to halt their separate oil policy. On the other
hand, KRG had to allocate additional finances for the war against Islamic State
and sheltering hundreds of thousands refugees fleeing from other parts of Iraq
decade-long economic boom in the autonomous region came to a sudden halt in
2014 when Baghdad slashed funding to the Kurds after they built their own oil
pipeline to Turkey and began exporting oil independently8.
left the KRG struggling to meet a bloated public payroll of 875 billion Iraqi
dinars ($800 million) per month. The KRG has tried to make up the shortfall by
increasing independent oil sales to around 600,000 barrels per day, but at low
prices the region is still left with a monthly deficit of 380-400 billion Iraqi
dinars ($717 million)9.
war against Islamic State and an influx of more than a million people displaced
by violence in the rest of Iraq has only far deepened the crisis, which is also
the result of years of mismanagement and corruption since 2003’s US-led
officials in the Kurdistan region of Iraq have been forced to bear a 75% cut in
salaries as the region struggles with an economic crisis. The salaries of the
region’s highest paid employees were reduced by up to 75%, while the salaries
of low wage earners ranging from 100 thousand to 200 thousand dinars were
reduced by 15%10.
current Iraqi constitution adopted in 2005 secures for KRG around 17 percent of
Iraq’s national budget annually after certain sovereign and governance expenses
were deducted. That amounted to around $13 billion per year in 2012 and 2013
when oil prices were at their peak. The income from oil sales as well as
foreign investments generated rapid economic growth. However the sharp
fall of oil prices starting in summer 2014 halved the revenues of KRG Total
revenues from oil sales did not even reach $6 billion per year in either 2014
The situation was
particularly acute in Sulaymaniyah province where anti-establishment sentiments
are stronger. Struggling to pay its dues, the KRG is estimated to now be $14 to
$20 billion in debt12. The
other major problem is the region’s heavy reliance on imports, which account
for some 80 to 90 percent of goods, analysts estimate13.
poverty rate has hit yet another high level in Kurdistan Region by increasing
more than four times since 2013, from 3 percent to 15 percent. According to the
head of the statistics department in Sulaymaniyah Mahmud Othman, the poverty
rate in Kurdistan Region is still relatively low compared to the rest of Iraq.
The KRG struggles to finance the monthly wages of some 1.4 million people on
its payroll, with around 730,000 of them directly employed by the KRG, while
another 700,000 people have monthly payments from the Kurdish government in
pensions, social protection for the underprivileged, student stipends and
payments to families of Peshmerga victims14.
major problem in the way of sustainable governance and democracy remains
nepotism and tribalism. As noted D. McDowall, following the demise of
traditional tribalism as the prime form of social-political organization during
the 1970s, the 1990s saw the emergence of neo-tribalism as two major
«confederations» competed for hegemony in Iraqi Kurdistan. At the center of
each party, as with traditional confederations, lay a core of those loyal to
the paramount. Beyond this core lay a widening group of people who supported
one confederation or the other less directly. Thus the system of patronage and
power still reached down to the street through intermediaries who themselves
acquired followings through patronage15.
institutes in Iraqi Kurdistan largely have been fictive ones. The real power
belongs to KDP and PUK leaders. They and their relatives control economic and
financial resources. The Peshmerga consists of the military units of two
parties rather than a state army run by the government. Nepotism is widespread
in KRG and within parties’s structures. For example, the President of Kurdistan
region is Masoud Barzani. His nephew Nechrivan Barzani is the prime minster.
The son of Masoud Barzani, Masrour Barzani, heads the Kurdistan Region Security
Council. Members of the families of Kurdish party leaders have high ranks in the
party system and the KRG. According to accusations, many of the most profitable
companies, such as those controlling construction projects, are owned by a
Barzani or Talabani, and relatives of the two leaders. The Kurds have long
honored tribal and family ties. Military tribalism pervades their sense of
loyalty, in particular the Barzani Kurds16.
spite of having political, financial and other problems, the Kurdish elite
decided to hold an independence referendum on September 25, 2017. The
independence referendum could have been a good opportunity to take a time-out
and temporarily push back these problems from the agenda. Also, the success in
battlefield against ISIS made Kurds a key player in the Middle Eastern scene
and an important ally of the West. Kurds tried to convert international support
and relative weakness of Iraq into independence.
two years of break Kurdistan parliament convened a session and approved the independence
referendum to be passed on September 25 despite Gorran and Komalparites
boycotted it. Sixty-five MPs voted for the Kurdistan Region to hold an
independence referendum on September 25 in the Kurdistan Region and the
disputed Kurdistani areas17.
After the independence referendum MP’s gathered again and in an urgent session
held on October 1 rejected the list of measures announced by the Iraqi
parliament. The government of Kurdistan region also refused to receive any
military or Iraqi security personnel to oversee the airports18.
the referendum Iraqi army and Shia militias supported by Iran took back large
territories from the control of Peshmerga, including oil rich areas in Kirkuk.
The difficult situation forced Kurds to postpone general elections appointed on
October 29 Masoud Barzani announced he would not seek to extend his term and.
He announced his resignation from the position of president, because of the
crisis sparked by last month’s independence referendum. Barzani’s legal
authorities will be distributed between the Parliament, Government and
Judiciary authorities in the Kurdistan Region19
until new general elections, which had to take place in 1 November and were
postponed by 8 months.
general elections of 2018 mark the end of the era of charismatic leaders. The
longtime leader of Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurdish movement refused to be nominated
as a candidate. Shortly before the elections another Kurdish prominent leader
and former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani and also Gorran leader Nawshirwan
Mustafa Amin passed away. The representatives of the younger generation are the
prime minister of KRG Nechirvan Barzani, the son of M. Barzani Masrour Barzani,
two sons of Jalal Talabani – Bafel and Qubad, sons of Nawshirwan Mustafa Amin
Chia, Nma and Jwamer, sons of vice-president of Iraqi Kurdistan Kosrat Rasul
Ali – Shalaw and Darbaz. New political parties were established in the eve of
elections. Former KRG prime minister Barham Salih announced registration of a
new party. Another new party founded owner of Nalia Company Shaswar Abdulwahid,
who announced the New Generation political platform (Naway Nwê) for the future
elections in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Abdulwahid said during a conference on
the announcement of the New Generation that the new political platform will
include all those who have not participated in the political process20.
noted N. Barzani “Mam Jalal’s Jalal Talabani exit from the political scene
created a big vacuum. At a certain point we thought we could deal with Gorran
leader Nawshirwan Mustafa, that he could rise to the occasion, fill the gap.
But we were really very disappointed. There is nobody either in PUK or Gorran
who has either the charisma or status Talabani has. Plus, they are all
fighting each other. It’s against this background that they perceive us the
KDP as some kind of giant21.
crisis of legitimacy both in the executive and legislative powers undermined
the stability in the Kurdistan Region and democratic governance which the
Kurdish leadership underlines as an advantage in comparison with the states in the
Middle East. This hardship has not been overcome as of the end of 2017. The
resignation of M. Barzani also aimed to resolve the crisis of legitimacy.
undiversified economy and high dependence on oil incomes are factors capable to
threaten the stability in Kurdistan region and make vulnerable under the
pressure of Iraqi government.
fulfilling national aspirations, the independence referendum aimed to unify
political parties and society around national agenda and also temporarily postpone
the solution of the internal problems. It was also an attempt to raise the
stakes and gain more privileges from central government in Baghdad and the international
1 Official website of Department of
Foreign Relations Kurdistan Regional Government http://www.dfr.gov.krd/p/p.aspx?p=88&l=12&s=030400&r=403
2 S. Shamulddin, Barzani vs. Parliament;
The Crisis of Legitimacy in Kurdistan, 29.08.2015 https://kurdishpolicy.org/2015/08/29/barzani-vs-parliament-the-crisis-of-legitimacy-in-kurdistan/
3 See the provision in Kurdish http://www.perlemanikurdistan.com/files/articles/210713115701.pdf
4 Fistfight in Iraq’s Kurdistan
Parliament, between PUK and Gorran members, 30.06.2013 http://ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2013/6/state7183.htm
5 A. Zaman, Massoud Barzani vows to fight
corruption with same dedication as KRG has fought IS, 22.03.2016, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/03/turkey-iraq-syria-kurds-massoud-barzani-interview.html
6 T. Goudsouzian,
Machiavellian politics in Iraqi Kurdistan, 13.10.2015
7 Political Crisis Escalates in Iraq’s
Kurdistan Region, 13.10.2015, https://www.rferl.org/a/political-crisis-escalates-in-iraqi-kurdistan/27303307.html
8 Protests intensify in Iraqi Kurdistan
amid economic crisis, 09.02.2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-protests/protests-intensify-in-iraqi-kurdistan-amid-economic-crisis-idUSKCN0VI11X
??????? ?????? ?????????? ????? ????? ???????? http://www.alarabiya.net/ar/aswaq/economy/2016/02/05/%D8%A3%D8%B2%D9%85%D8%A9-%D9%83%D8%B1%D8%AF%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%AA%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%88%D8%B8%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%86.html
11 M. Salih, Low Oil Prices Complicate
Iraqi Kurdish Independence, 09.03.2016,
13 A. Dziadosz, The Economic Case Against
an Independent Kurdistan, 26.09.2016 https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/09/kurdistan-barzani-iraq-turkey-blockade-oil/541149/
14 Poverty rate in Kurdistan Region
quadrupled to 15 percent, official, 28.12.2016, http://www.rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/281220162
15 D. McDowall, A Modern History of the
Kurds (Revised Edition), I.B.Tauris, 2016, pp. 385-386
Yaphe, Middle East Policy Council, Tribalism in Iraq, the Old and the New,
Volume VII, N 3, 2000 http://www.mepc.org/journal/tribalism-iraq-old-and-new-0
17 Kurdistan parliament approves
independence referendum on Sept 25, 15.09.2017, http://www.rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/15092017
18 Kurdish Parliament Rejects Iraqi
Measures, 01.10.2017, https://english.aawsat.com/theaawsat/news-middle-east/kurdish-parliament-rejects-iraqi-measures
??????? : ?????? ?? ?????? ?? ???? ???? ?????? ?? ???? ?????????, 29.10.2017, http://www.basnews.com/index.php/ar/news/kurdistan/389063
20 New Generation ‘Naway Nwê’ political
platform announced in Iraqi Kurdistan, 02.10.2017, http://ekurd.net/naway-nwe-political-kurdistan-2017-10-02
of Al-Monitor Interview with KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, 27.12.2016, http://cabinet.gov.krd/a/d.aspx?s=040000&l=12&a=55246
u4low oil prices
u5took (secured-? ??? ???????????? ?????
?????? ?????, ??? ?? ??????????)
the parliament speaker