It seems the protests which erupted last week in the Kurdistan region have missed a golden opportunity for reform. Protests erupted in Sulaymaniyah and other Kurdish towns because state employees have not received their wages in a while now.
They haven’t received their salaries because the federal government in Baghdad has not provisioned them from the general budget due to disputes over oil and custom revenues which Kurdistan’s government has received but failed to record in the state budget revenues.
Baghdad has also set a number of conditions to encash the salaries as it has demanded them to cancel the results of the September 25 referendum and publicly vow not to pursue their right to specify their fate.
The recent Kurdish protestors have not only demanded cashing the delayed salaries but have also called for political and administrative reforms and for fighting financial corruption. The protestors also demanded the resignation of the region’s government and of the Kurdistan Parliament members and they also called for holding impartial elections to choose new representatives and form a new cabinet.
The first fatal mistake which the protest movement made was allowing those who have personal interests to infiltrate it and deviate it from its peaceful path towards a violent one by attacking governmental and partisan headquarters and destroying some of them. The second mistake was relying on foreign parties, the federal government in Baghdad in particular.
Some protestors frankly called on the federal government to intervene in the Kurdistan region. This reflects ignorance because the constitution does not grant the federal government the right to intervene in the region to resolve a domestic problem.
On the other hand, if the Baghdad government has that magical wand which some protestors at Sulaymaniyah think it does, it would have solved its own problems first and met the demands of its own citizens and which include political and administrative reforms that Haidar al-Abadi’s government had pledged to carry out in the fall of 2014.
Abadi’s government announced two other reform packages in the summer of 2015 but we have not seen any tangible results so far. Abadi has also repeatedly vowed to fight the rampant financial and administrative corruption in the entire Iraqi state but nothing has been accomplished so far.
If Baghdad has that magical wand, which some protestors at Sulaymaniyah think it does, it would have solved its own problems firstAdnan Hussein
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If it hasn’t been for these two mistakes – which could be due to the fact that the protest movement in Kurdistan was not led or supported by a serious political movement – the Kurdish protests would have marked the beginning of a new Iraqi phase of wide social and political unrest that can oblige the influential political category in Iraq – including the ruling category in Kurdistan – to reconsider the political process and amend its path towards achieving some political and administrative reforms either before the legislative elections which are scheduled for May next year or through them.
The influential political class in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Baghdad is at its weakest now. If the Kurdistan protest movement had progressed in the right direction, in the peaceful path that does not rely on other parties, the Iraqi protest movement in general would been activated and renewed.
The weekly protests in Baghdad and in eight other cities in central and south Iraq have been loud in the past days as they’ve voiced solidarity with Sulaymaniyah’s protests and other Kurdish cities. However, these protests’ reliance on Baghdad’s government will not be well-received within the Iraqi protest movement which pretty much has the same demands: political and administrative reform, cancelling the quota system, holding free and impartial elections and combating financial corruption in all of Iraq.
It's clear that the recent protest movement in Kurdistan has not been purely Kurdish – although most of the reasons which sparked protests have been in fact present for a while now. Some parties in the federal government, influential political parties and media institutions in Baghdad have played a significant role in inciting people and mobilizing them to demonstrate. However, this was not the decisive factor that stirred the recent unrest.
The problem is that the administration in Kurdistan – like in the entire of Iraq – has suffered from structural erosion due to the financial and administrative corruption which resulted from the quota system that some parties used to divide all sources of power and money. An extremely rich category of bureaucrats thus emerged at the expense of ordinary people who continue to suffer from poverty, unemployment and the lack of decent services.
Despite that, the current social unrest in the Kurdistan Region and in Baghdad reflects the structural crisis which the political process faces. The quota system has fully exposed its hideous face. The influential political classes in Baghdad, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah do not want to acknowledge this and are actually working to avoid the required measures, which are abandoning the quota system and ending corruption.
Even if the current Kurdish protest movement fails at achieving its demands, it– just like the general Iraqi protest movement – warns of social consequences which may be difficult to control. Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Baghdad must realize this.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists. Previously, he has held the position of Managing Editor in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. He tweets under the handle @adnanhussein.