As Iraq continued to make slow but steady gains against the Islamic State (IS), politicians were equally busy with scuffling and fighting of their own in parliament as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s reform drive continued to hit obstacles.
Abadi’s proposed cabinet reshuffle and reform plan, after weeks of protests led by influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr over corruption, lack of public services and a gloomy economic picture, has been met with fierce resistance. A plan for a government of technocrats to replace party-affiliated minister is great in theory but impossible in practice in the complicated landscape that is Iraq.
Are these relatively unknown technocrats, who lack any real clout or influence, really going to sway dominant parties who rely on control of ministries for patronage and funds?
More importantly, the great focus of the U.N. and international powers on Baghdad’s struggles by promoting stability and providing significant military aid and financial assistance merely ignores the equally difficult plight of the Kurdistan Region.
Whilst the region may not have experienced the same social unrest or public protests seen in the rest of Iraq, Kurdistan has been operating under great constraints for over 2 years. If the dramatic decline of oil prices hit Baghdad hard then this is only amplified for Kurdistan where budget payments were already frozen by Baghdad putting pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) long before IS arrived on the scene, refugees arrived in droves and oil prices tumbled.
Erbil’s fight against IS is no less significant than Baghdad’s, and the West should not just respond to whoever creates the biggest social or political commotion.
Kurdistan deserves an entitlement of all aid provided to Baghdad including its own financial assistance package from the international community.
If Baghdad has limited cards at its disposal to turn the economy around, then the KRG has a much tougher hand to work with. For example, the KRG cannot control value of the Iraqi currency or raise debts on financial markets.
Of course, the urgent need for financial assistance in Kurdistan should not mask the need to continue its reform drive. The economy is overly reliant on oil revenues, there is a lack of a tax regime, there a need for greater transparency and far too much of the population relies directly on government salaries.
The Peshmerga, who are at the heart of the coalition war on IS, do not receive salaries in months as with much of the population. If this scenario was mirrored in the U.S. or E.U., there would be great chaos and unrest.
The Kurdish population has been fairly resilient so far, but patience when families are affected so deeply, can only stretch so far.
KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani recently urged for coalition partners to provide budgetary support, warning that the crisis facing the region had made it one of the “most vulnerable entities in the coalition.”
Which government in the E.U. would not suffer if they had over million refugees to support, crippling revenue streams, insufficient international support and a war on its door step?
The crisis is bound to impact the fight against IS and the current cycle cannot continue.
Talabani stressed that reform measures had cut the monthly deficit to $100 million, but further support was now needed. “It’s important for our friends around the world to realize that this threat facing Kurdistan … is real and without immediate direct support the experiment of Kurdistan is in danger,” warned Talabani.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc