ANALYSIS: Barzani between a media war and his own war on media

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Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) region, has reaffirmed after losing Kirkuk the importance of establishing a state for the Kurds. He further added that the Kurdish people will sooner or later achieve their goals and ambitions. Barzani has also hinted to a possible ‘betrayal’ within the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan as some members took individual decisions which resulted into the withdrawal of the Peshmerga forces from Kirkuk.

This, in turn, is part of a media and psychological war initiated by Barzani and his party after the loss of oil-rich Kirkuk along with other areas which have been occupied since 2014 by the KRG. This war seems to have ignited and expanded, yet its new targets now are mainly media and journalists.

Many have considered the withdrawal of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces from the oil-rich province of Kirkuk as well as the disputed areas between the Kurdistan region and the Iraqi federal government, a setback for the KRG along with its president. The latter, has been seen lately closer than ever to achieving the dream of an independent Kurdish state. On Sept. 25, the KRG held a referendum on a potential secession from Iraq amid internal, regional and international opposition.

However, on Oct. 16, Iraqi forces had managed to successfully restore areas that have been previously controlled by the Kurds. Following their staggering loss, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has begun a media war aimed at different targets.

Hours after the start of the withdrawal of the Peshmerga forces from Kirkuk, some members of the KDP accused the other main party in the Kurdistan territory – namely the Kurdistan National Union Party – of ‘treason’ because of the withdrawal of troops from Kirkuk. Leaders in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, including Ala Talabani, considered these allegations as “quite surprising”.

In accordance with the KDP, former governor of Kirkuk Najmaldin Karim also accused the armed forces of the Patriotic Union of Kurdisan of betrayal. He further added that an investigation will be conducted in order to find out the individuals behind the issuing of the withdrawal orders.

Barzani issued a statement where he insisted that "what happened in the battle of Kirkuk was the result of a unilateral decision taken by certain individuals within the internal political parties in Kurdistan. The latter resulted in the decision to withdraw the Peshmerga forces as has been witnessed later on”. He was evidently hinting in his statements to the leaders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters gather north of Kirkuk, Iraq October 19, 2017. (Reuters)
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters gather north of Kirkuk, Iraq October 19, 2017. (Reuters)

There are certain figures in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan who were opposed to the referendum, including Ala Talabani as well as the leader of the party Farhad Sinakaw. The latter stated before the Sept. 25 vote that "the time was not suitable for a referendum as the process must take place after the preparation of the different parties within a society in addition to public opinion and the international community (including the major powers). It is only then that it is possible to hold a referendum for the independence of the Kurdistan region.”

It is clear that the withdrawal was not the work of the forces of the National Union Party, as many forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party had withdrawn from other areas, including Sinjar and Bashiqa. However, the KDP's media is bent of attacking the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). These accusations have stirred, in turn, anger within areas controlled by the PUK, especially in Erbil, the provincial capital.

On Oct. 20, the commander of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Maj. Gen. Rasool Qadir, explained that the withdrawal of the Iraqi army from Kirkuk had been "unequal between the two parties” and considered this step to have saved the lives of 6,000 Kurdish fighters.

On the evening of Wednesday, October 18, the channels of Rudaw and Kurdistan 24 began to broadcast news and reports about the withdrawal of the "popular mobilization" militias from the disputed areas and "the return of Peshmerga forces" to barracks.

Rudaw formerly belonged to Najafan Barzani, Prime Minister of the Kurdistan region while Kurdistan 24 belongs to Masrour Barzani, who is none other than the son of Barzani himslef. Both figures are in fact leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

In the news coverage of the two channels, there was no mention of the Iraqi forces that have advanced in Kirkuk and other areas and tried to tie the issue mostly to the Popular Mobilization Forces emphasizing that what happened was mainly and solely the work of Iranian sectarian militias.

Rudaw affirmed on Wednesday evening that the PMU militias withdrew from the city of Khanaqin and left some of their weaponry after the uprising of the residents of the city.


The channel declared that the "Kirkuk is witnessing massive demonstrations, with popular forces taking over large parts of the city and the PMU withdrawing”.

They also added that "the Kurds forced the popular mobilization forces to withdraw from Sinjar and removed Iraqi flags from rooftops raising the flags of Kurdistan."

Rudaw described the situation as a "great popular revolution" and announced on Thursday morning the restoration of the Peshmerga forces to many areas from which they had previously withdrawn.

The channel said the demonstrators chanted slogans against Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and against the National Union Party accusing it of treason.

This news led to large celebrations in cities that have not been reached by the Iraqi forces, including Erbil, but the channel’s coverage confused other media outlets especially Arabs ones since they coincided with the order Abadi to exit "armed groups" from Kirkuk. The Kurdish media purposefully ignored other information including Abadi’s orde for federal police and counterterrorism forces to maintain security in the province.

It has been revealed in the following morning that the reports were contrary to the coverage of Rudaw and Kurdistan 24. In fact, the Iraqi forces took control over all the territory of the province of Kirkuk even including Alton Kupri. What followed was the withdrawal of the Peshmerga forces from other areas while the region of Breda, which was only 40 kilometers away from Erbil, witnessed clashes between Kurdish and Iraqi forces. This in turn hints to the fact that the Iraqi forces have not in any way withdrawn from Sinjar or Makhmour.

In the past few days, journalists from international media have been harassed by Kurdish demonstrators, while the journalists themselves have been in most cases Kurdish.

Al spoke to one of the journalists of an American agency that was attacked by angry demonstrators along with some Peshmerga forces at the entrance of the city of Erbil.

The journalist explained that he was covering the hostilities between the Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi forces in the area of Baradarash with a number of other journalists from other agencies. On their way back to Erbil, a group of demonstrators stopped them with a number of military forces (Peshmerga) and ensued into attacking and beating them but also smashing their cameras. The reason behind this violent attack was because the journalists worked respectively for US agencies.

Iraq’s Kurdistan region’s President Massoud Barzani (C) with clerics and elders from the cities of the Kurdistan region in Erbil, Iraq, August 9, 2017. (Reuters)
Iraq’s Kurdistan region’s President Massoud Barzani (C) with clerics and elders from the cities of the Kurdistan region in Erbil, Iraq, August 9, 2017. (Reuters)

The journalist affirmed that the demonstrators thought Americans betrayed them by not supporting the referendum despite its promises. By inference, the Kurdish journalists were traitors because they were dealing with the Americans. The journalists’ exit from the area would prove quite difficult.

The journalist told Al Arabiya that he spoke to one of Erbil’s police chiefs who warned him on the danger of leaving his house bearing the badge of his agency because of the preexistence of a plan to attack journalists that are working in channels and agencies considered by Kurds to be opposed to their ambitions.

So will the policy of "media war" and "war against the media" help the Kurds overcome this stage successfully?

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