Meritocracy or Kleptocracy: Kurdistan’s Political Leadership in Turmoil

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Iraqi Kurdish people celebrate Newroz Day, a festival marking their spring and new year, in the town of Akra, Iraq March 20. REUTERS/Ari Jalal

By Aras Ahmed Mhamad

The Kurdistan region has been suffering on multiple fronts be it an economic crisis and delays in salaries for six months to disputes over budget cuts by the central government and decline in oil prices. There’s also a presidential crisis with Masoud Barzani’s expired tenure after two terms and two years of extension; Barzani has been president since 2005. Moreover, the Western powers failed to understand the welcoming nature of Kurds and the strong foundation of Kurdish spirit of harmony but will they fail to underestimate the rule of party oligarchs, kleptocrats, one-party-rule and one-man-rule?

The Kurds have inhabited their own lands for thousands of years and have been split among the four neighboring modern day nations: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Kurdish people have experienced persecution under foreign rule and survived numerous chemical gas attacks, mass graves, displacement and barbarous genocidal campaigns. However, disagreements over political leadership, internal divisions over distributing posts and wealth and different ideological schemes among the politicians, revolutionaries and Kurds themselves have weakened Kurdish nationalism and struggle to reach independence.

Kurds have also been fighting long to achieve their dream of an independent Kurdish state. In the Kurdistan region, Kurds were successful in establishing self-rule and forming the Kurdistan parliament. However, party corruption and political kleptocracy have paralyzed the Kurds to reach independence through a legitimate electoral process or at least to assemble Kurds to have a united national front and movement.

Though a Kurdish state was considered a threat to regional stability and Kurds were seen as tribal illiterate people and those forces were attempting to silence Kurds and relinquish their struggle, the recent escalation of violence in Syria and Iraq and the overflow of refugees, Peshmerga’s repel against Daesh savagery and defeating Daesh numerous times in Rojava and Kurdistan region territories, providing shelter to two million refugees and IDPs should be enough to rectify the common misconception of the international community towards the Kurds. Furthermore, to dispel the delusion, Daesh was defeated not because of party loyalty, refugees were sheltered not because of party politicians but because of pure unique Kurdish spirit, which is called ‘Kurdawari’ meaning the idea of coexistence and respect for the rights of minority and Kurdish hospitality and welcoming nature and culture.

However, party politicians have ruined the government through systematic corruption, employing their members in government on the basis of party affiliation and not merit or their grip on media, control of school and university sectors; they have damaged the reputation of national hospitals, dominated courts and have breached so many parts of society with their tentacles that they have spoiled our spirit of building the nation into a democratic state.

Faruq Jamil, former KRG Minister of Justice, said that implementing law and exchange of power is not only related to the court, but law must be implemented in all sectors. Jamil, highlighting the current political leadership crisis of Barzani’s presidential tenure said: “Law will be implemented when those who administrate the state must believe in rule of law and justice and the independence of the court. Kurdistan region’s officials have destroyed the legal system and the court of law, and they have left nothing in the region which we can call law.”

Kurds have forcibly been assimilated into the Middle Eastern neighbor’s communities despite the fact that Kurds have their own unique identities and lifestyle and they have refused throughout history to be put into the box of the Arabs, Turks and Persians.

There is a common misconception in the West that the Middle East does not value democracy and human rights but what they forget is that individuality and autonomy have always been connected to economic liberty, democratic elections and freedoms, and that these very basic pillars of democracy have always been violently oppressed by the external occupiers and local autocrats. The West should support the locals to replace those who have been in power illegitimately by forcing them to leave office, stop the weapons supply that only further destabilizes and destroys the cities, if they wish to sustain peace and prosperity.

Kurds revolted against the tyranny of the Baath regime not only with empty pockets and empty stomach but also with the Kurdish spirit of resilience. That Kurdish spirit is now undermined because of mismanagement of revenues, leadership crisis and economic downturn which have negatively impacted the entire population and created a new wave of Kurdish migration to Western Europe.

Kurdistan region is undergoing a very sensitive period with a very weak economy and fragile democratic institutions. There is a long list of problems with Daesh on the border, salaries have not been paid sometimes for up to six months, the Kurdish parliament was suspended by the KDP on October 12, 2015, refugee challenges, the banks running on empty, teachers boycotting attending classrooms and there are regular strikes, rallies and demonstrations.

Worse of all is the inter-city divisions and political clashing as the governor of Sulaimani, Aso Faraidun, was denied on March 15 this year from entering Kobane by an order of Barzani. Faraidun announced that he was not shocked by the decision. “The region is full of very very high walls and trenches between Sulaimani and Hawler, capital of the Kurdistan region.”

Related to this, during the fourth Sulaimani Forum held by the American University of Iraq- Sulaimani, tensions could go out of control between senior officials of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Gorran Movement due to statements from sides on the Kurdistan presidency issues. Speaker of the Kurdish parliament, Yousif Mohammed Sadiq, who has been denied entrance to Hawler since October 12, 2015, said that illiterate people cannot administrate the affairs of the government refuting Nechirvan Barzani’s, KRG Prime Minister, allegations of accusing Sadiq of being biased in running the parliament. Party politicians and the political leadership of the region prefer to escalate tensions instead of sitting down for peaceful negotiations to solve the many crises the region face and prepare for a possible referendum. This small example illustrates the political brawling in the Kurdistan region.

Kurdish officials and party politicians need to stop accusing people of having weak nationalist aspirations, stop their propaganda machine, assign people on the basis of their skills, qualifications and ability and not party prejudice, and repatriate the stolen money. Silence is not a sign of acceptance. This current silence is a form of reminding party politicians, oligarchists, and kleptocrats about their limits. The calm before the storm could turn into social chaos and political instability. Regret will not work, if they continue to undermine the Kurdish moral values and spirit.

Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a freelance journalist and regular contributor for Fair Observer. He is the Founder and Deputy Editor of SMART, an independent English magazine that focuses on literature, language and society. In 2012, Mhamad was the top student of the College of Languages in the Department of English at the University of Human Development in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq.

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