Tag Archives: Protests

In spite of mass protests led by al-Sadr, al-Abadi’s reform drive is unlikely to succeed

Since 2003 Iraq has witnessed many false dawns and against a tide of sectarianism and corruption has failed to significantly improve the lives of the people.

The job of reconciling the Kurds, Sunni and Shiites and the dozens of sectarian groups and militias under the Sunni and Shiite camps is difficult enough without a crisis that saw Islamic State (IS) take large swathes of Iraq whilst knocking on the door of Baghdad. To make matters worse, the dramatic fall in oil prices has severely dented Iraq’s already brittle economy.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was enlisted with the thankless job of patching up the Iraqi divide, defeating IS and tackling years of corruption.

He is tasked with appeasing many factions, keeping the U.S. on their side without undermining the strong reliance on Iran and fighting IS when his best card are powerful Shiite militia forces that are largely out of his control.

The fact that IS have become stubbornly entrenched in Iraq is a blow to Iraqi nationalism. The collapse of the Iraqi army, supposedly the national guardians, was hardly the right reassurance for weary streets.

In the midst of economic troubles, the fight against IS and social anger, protests last summer led to announcement of a reform package by al-Abadi. Although reforms were backed by Iraq’s highest Shi’ite religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, they lacked weight, were deemed inefficient and Abadi’s efforts to instill greater change was largely rejected.

After all, small reform programs are not going to make amends for years of neglect and abuse and al-Abadi is hardly going to appease all the influential groups and militias that dominate the socio-political landscape.

On top of this, influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an old foe of the U.S. and a thorn in the side of successive governments due to his immense local support, is increasingly returning to the socio-political stage.

In recent months al-Sadr has been vocal in pushing for sweeping reforms and made a list of demands that have largely not been met. This culminated in massive protests last week against a “struggle with death, fear, hunger joblessness and occupation”.

He has 34 seats in parliament and has threatened to withdraw from the political process if his demands such as a cabinet reshuffle are not met.

Al-Sadr continues to enjoy strong grassroots support from the working classes and although his party alone cannot change the course in Baghdad, his voice has great ramifications on the political circles in Baghdad.

Al-Sadr even threated to storm the gates of the green-zone, but this was more rhetorical and symbolic as he lacks the support to stage a coup, and Iran, U.S. and other powerful Shiite factions will hardly stand idle.

Al-Sadr is reasserting himself on the political stage and wants to be portrayed as the choirmaster of reform and reconciliation.

What is important is that al-Sadr is shying away from sectarianism and playing on the nationalist card. He has struck a more reconciliatory tone with the Sunnis and vowed that the demonstration is also a voice of the oppressed Sunni.

Even his militia was rebranded Saraya al-Salam or Peace Brigades after the fall of Mosul to IS and the militia’s key hand in fighting IS.

Al-Sistani and al-Sadr have pushed for change and al-Abadi has tried his best to oblige, but against so many obstacles and factions to please this is unlikely to bear real fruit.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

With strategic standing compromised by deepening crises, Kurdistan must look firmly forwards, not backwards

The political fallout in Kurdistan that has snowballed in recent weeks could not have come at a worse juncture for Kurdistan. The deep crises surrounding Kurdistan, including the bitter fight against Islamic State (IS), crippling fiscal constraints and a huge influx of refugee’s demands political unity. However, as the current government has struggled to make decisions such as the fate of the Kurdistan presidency and only added to the polarization in the region, unity has been hard to come by.

Kurdistan has long been divided by imperial forces, followed by successive regional forces and over the years the Kurds have been seemingly determined to stir their own divisions.

Tribal or partisan ties have been a key part of the socio-political landscape and regional affiliations across Kurdistan Region are clear to see. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has a historical bastion in Duhok and Erbil governorates whilst the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Change Movement (Gorran) have a strong base in the Sulaimaniya governorate.

This polarization around tribal and political loyalties makes the notion of a broad-based government that can make common decisions to appease both sides of the divide even more difficult. More importantly, in each bastion of support, people on the street are easily swayed by their political parties due to emotional ties.

These ties are clear to see in the recent violent protests. In any healthy democracy, protests or strikes are a natural phenomenon and the people have reason to be disgruntled over consistently delayed salaries. However, torching and attacking party offices is not acceptable in any democratic country but at the same time neither is harming of any protestors with excessive force.

The KDP blamed Gorran for orchestrating the protests, leading to the ousting of five Gorran MPs from government, including Kurdistan Parliament Speaker Yusuf Mohammed.

With Western powers monitoring the situation closely, the onus is on all parties to apply the right measures. Blame games and finger pointing aside, there must be urgent and fair investigations to identify the perpetrators of the attacks and lay clear who is to blame.

No MP should be barred from travelling freely. With political parties becoming entrenched in their territory of support, then this is how divisions solidify with allegiances on the ground becoming entrenched.

Parliament is a reflection of the electorate and the will of the people and as such parliament must be empowered to make key decisions with no MP immune from full accountability.

With growing prominence and strategic standing, Kurdistan should be looking firmly forwards. It is finally in control of its destiny and away from the shackles of the past where it could even attain elusive independence.

However, the recent political fallout and violent demonstrations will tarnish the image of Kurdistan abroad. More than ever, political parties must diffuse tensions and work towards unity.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Lack of unity crippling the Kurdish hand amidst an unprecedented juncture

Protests across Kurdistan, some turning violent, over delayed salaries and the continued stalemate between the five main political parties over the presidency have compounded an already difficult situation gripping Kurdistan.

If the ongoing war with the Islamic State (IS), lack of budget payments from Baghdad, plummeting oil prices further constricting revenues and not forgetting the 1.3 million refugees already in Kurdistan were bad enough, the constant bickering between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Change Movement (Gorran), Kurdistan Islamic Union and the Kurdistan Islamic League and lack of a consensus on how to resolve the presidency issue after Massoud Barzani’s original extension expired on 20th August 2015 has made matters worse.

Two protestors were killed and a large number were wounded in Qaladize following strikes and demonstrations that merely added fuel to the fire.

Political unity and stability is needed to guide Kurdistan through the unprecedented crisis, yet unity has been tough to come by.

Finger pointing, animosity and continued wrangling has meant that consensus over the presidency issue has been almost impossible. Amidst the backdrop of increasing protests across the region came the ninth meeting between the political parties to resolve the presidency issue but was suspended as the parties yet again failed to reach a breakthrough.

As the political stalemate continues, there is no doubt that elements are stirring tensions on the streets. But there is only way to resolve this crisis and this is ultimately through parliament, dialogue and ultimately if required through the polls.

The onus and responsibility is on political parties to urge calm and ensure tensions on the streets do no quickly snowball into much bigger catastrophe. But above all, such parties must deal with the matter with the urgency that it deserves.

Thousands of Peshmerga are putting their lives on the line in a brutal war with IS and at a time of increasing strategic standing of the Kurdistan Region in the ever volatile Middle East, internal instability and lack of unity is backfiring.

At a sensitive juncture for Kurdistan, the only true friend of the Kurd is the Kurd himself. Do not expect Baghdad to come running to resolve the economic crisis or defend the region, whilst even Western interests will be always be through their narrow lens.

A polarized Kurdistan, crippled by a lack of money, lack of political unity and increasing violence on the streets will only weaken the Kurdish hand.

Even the consensus government, which at least in theory was a key milestone, was a misnomer. Every side criticizes the government and rival parties, yet ironically they all constitute as part of the same government.

There is a deeper desire to unearth gaps and flaws in each political party and settle scores than work together, which makes a mockery of any notion of a unity government.

The unique opportunity afforded by the rapid unravelling of the Middle Eastern landscape does not come often. Kurds have waited decades to escape repression and become a force in the Middle East after years of second class status.

Now the time has come to look at the bigger picture – unity is not just needed within the Kurdistan Region but across all of its parts.

How can Kurdistan ever seek great unity amongst its components or even outright independence if it cannot pull itself out of a crisis even at a time when many evils and problems are knocking on its door?

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc


For longer suffering Kurds in Syria, the boot is now on the other foot

With protests, government crackdowns and the current crisis for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad deepening by the day, a confident mood is in the air that the once unthinkable may soon be a reality – the end of the Syrian Baathist dictatorship. Nowhere in Syria will this dawn be heralded more than in Syrian Kurdistan.

The ever-changing Middle Eastern political landscape and the current wave of revolutionary doctrine prompting a bold new democratic era may have predominantly Arab colours based but poses a unique opportunity for Kurds in Syria. If the protests and the reformist euphoria were likened to an Arabic spring, then it can certainly have a Kurdish summer ending.

If the Arabs in Syria had reasons for common frustration, grievances and anger at decades of iron-fisted Baathist control, corruption and lack of freedoms just imagine the Kurds.

The Kurds in Syria, although compromising over 10% of the Syrian population, have been left to the scrapheap of Syrian society and a second class status, without cultural freedoms, political representation, investment, access to basic services and for over 300,000 people not even an official existence on the lands of their ancestors.

While the protests and rallies in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya were dramatic and highly publicised, the Syrian revolt has only slowly reached the coverage it deserves in Western circles. Protests were initially sporadic and localised but a heavy handed response by Assad’s regime coupled with increasing public bitterness and a growing feeling that the Assad’s grip on power is cracking, has added considerable fuel to the Syrian motion.

The Kurds were slow to immerse themselves in the brewing unrest, fearing separatist accusations and a backlash from Arab nationalists, but they are without a doubt the key to the unlocking of the regime. Assad’s government quickly acknowledged this reality with a number of diplomatic and political overtures to the Kurds, including the granting of citizenship to stateless Kurds and promising greater reforms.

When the masses lose fear and have nothing to lose, there is no point of return. As Karl Marx famously proclaimed to the bourgeoisie, “…you have nothing to lose but your chains”, this statement could not be truer for the Kurds.

Having endured decades of repression, systematic discrimination, imprisonments and for a large portion of Kurds not even the basic of citizenship, the time for half-measures or compromise is long gone. The boot is now on the other foot and this is clearly recognised by the Assad government.

With reports of Assad inviting representatives from 12 Kurdish parties for talks, there is no greater indication of the historic leverage that the Kurds now posses.

If the Arabs can bring the Syrian government to its knees, then the Kurds can certainly serve the knock out blow. Assad knows that if he can win over the Kurds and thus a large portion of discontent, then he may be better able to alienate the Arab voices.

Kurds in Syria must not be fooled by symbolic gestures or temporary overtures. The granting of citizenship to stateless Kurds, the end of emergency rule, the release of political prisoners and more cultural rights is not a concession by the Syrian government, it is only giving to the Kurds their basic human rights.

Decades of emotional scars, destruction, repression and systematic denial can not be eroded in mere days. The question for the Kurds, is whether Assad would be promising the same reform and reaching the same hand to the Kurds if he was not on the brink?

Assad is politically wounded and if the Kurds are to apply the dressing and tonic to heal his pain, then this must come at a heavy price.

As the Kurds are approached and courted by contrasting sides of the government and opposition groups, the fundamental goal does not change.

Kurds recently took part in a summit in Turkey amongst other key oppositional leaders, intellectuals and journalists, which was hailed as a success and an iconic stepping stone to uniting opposition forces.

While Arab opposition and discord with successive governments is not new, they have failed to unite under a common voice and vision and importantly have continuously failed to effectively entice Kurds to join the fold. The failure to invite some of the top Kurdish parties to the Antalya conference underpins this mindset.

The Kurds must be clear on their demands and the future they envision for their region. Just as one Arab nationalist may depart, the Kurds would be unwise to assume that only fraternity and union will commence. The price for Kurdish support of either the opposition or the ailing government must come with heavy concessions and the rewriting of the constitution.

The basic demands should include the granting of autonomy, recognition as the second nation in Syria, cultural freedoms and unmolested political representation.

While the US and Western voices of concern and warnings have progressively grown, Washington and European countries have been slow to formulate a policy against Assad and introduce firm measures against the regime to highlight their intent. This is highlighted by the time taken to issue a UN resolution, which is likely to be vetoed by Russia, a key Syrian ally.

In reality, Syria is a sensitive addition to the agenda of the new reformist wave for a number of reasons. At the heart of almost every Middle Eastern political storm or juncture, from Hezbollah in Lebanon, anti-Israeli sentiments, Hamas in Palestinian, insurgency in Iraq and the growing power of Tehran, lays Damascus. A new passage in Syria will turn the pages of history more than has been felt anywhere else in this revolutionary dawn.

As a stable pan-Arab nationalist state, many of the neighbouring Sunni elite particularly Saudi Arabia and Jordan, will be watching with great concern. As with Iraq, Syria has a wide array of sectarian and ethnic mixes and a regime collapse will leave Western and regional powers weary.

Furthermore, Western powers do not have the power of the Arab league and thus intervention will not match that of Libya.

Unlike in Egypt, Syrian security forces which comprise mainly of the Alawite minority are loyalists and Assad continues to have a strong support base across segments of society but particularly the middle classes and those minorities that continue to flourish under his power.

However, as the protests continue to gain momentum and if the Kurds can join in en-masse, even if Assad remains in power, his rule will never be the same again.

There is increasing signs that Turkey, once an arch foe of Syria, is losing patience with the government. However, from a Kurdish perspective the greatest advocates of their rights should be from the KRG, a strategic power a stone throw across the border.

The Kurds have been continuously carved and divided, yet the Kurds often choose to divide themselves into further pieces. A Syrian, Iranian, Turkish or Iraqi Kurd is absolutely no different to any other. Just as their ancestral lands were selfishly carved by imperialist powers, this does not mean you divide hearts, history, culture or heritage.

The KRG must place the Syrian government under pressure to reconcile with the Kurds and ensure the Kurds achieve their elusive rights. The KRG should represent a figure of hope and a role model for the Syrian Kurds not a distant passive brother. What good is a flourishing Kurdistan region in Iraq, if Kurds elsewhere continuously suffer?

Reports that KRG President Massaud Barzani refused to meet the Syrian Foreign Minister in Iraq, on an apparent mission to seek KRG help in reigning in the Syrian Kurds, is a welcome step.

It waits to be seen whether Assad’s plans to meet with the Kurds in addition to establishing a national dialogue committee to appease opposition forces, will make any significant inroads in curtailing the Syrian revolutionary machine, however, the Kurds are in an unprecedented driving seat and anything less than second best and their full entitlement of rights may see them miss out on a great historic opportunity.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Various Misc.

Deepening election crisis threatens ideological stand-off in Iran

The worlds gaze was already fixated on the Iranian presidential elections like never before. Iran, as an emerging regional powerhouse with nuclear aspirations, has been a firm item on the international agenda. The global focus on the elections only intensified with the ensuing crisis around the election results, which saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected by a surprising margin with 63% of the vote, well ahead of his nearest rival Mir Hossein Mousavi who managed 33% of the vote.

The election results were almost immediately condemned and opposed by Mousavi and the other two rival presidential candidates, Mohsen Rezaee and Mehdi Karroubi, alleging electoral fraud and corruption.

The opposition refused to acknowledge the election results and demanded a full re-run of the election.

What ensued on the streets of Iran thereafter turned a brewing political crisis into a symbolic clash of society, contested largely between conservatives and reformists that could determine the future orientation of the country.

Pro-Mousavi supporters have orchestrated a number of demonstrations in Tehran, which has fast spread to other cities, with the largest protests staged on Thursday. The rallies so far have been largely peaceful and have mainly seen tens of thousands of people march in silence through the centre of the cities. This “silence” has been carefully organised in order to underline the peaceful message of the protests, that the people are voicing their legitimate demands and that the rallies are not common opposition against the ruling system of Iran.

However, history has shown how quickly such situations can turn into wide-scale anger and hostility. The government forces have been careful not to be perceived to be violently suppressing the rallies. However, common resentment has already been stoked with a number of protestors shot last Monday by members of the pro-government Basij volunteer militia. A number of arrests of politicians, journalists and protestors have also been made.

Members of the Basij militia have also allegedly been involved in retaliatory attacks in a number of Iranian cities through university raids and beatings of students.

However, as much as the ruling elite in Iran have urged calm and tried to maintain control, the current crisis threatens to divide the very foundation of the Islamic Republic.

The most powerful figure in Iran, with control of armed forces, police and intelligence services, is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has fast become engulfed at the centre of a deepening crisis.

Succumbing to broad pressure, Khamenei has agreed to a re-count of the votes in disputed areas, a sharp shift from his initial stance, but falling some way short of opposition demands.

Undoubtedly, it is the nature of the rallies, some of the largest since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 itself that have added to the fierce climate and ensured anxiety amongst figures in the establishment.

Reformists, particularly Mousavi are not an especial threat to the Islamic government. However, with the opposition keen to obtain nothing short of a full re-run of the elections, the current tense environment will not die down too easily.

This places the government into a very difficult corner. If they do nothing, than the perception of their deep grip, especially that of the ruling elite will be challenged. Regaining of control is paramount in these circumstances and the government may offer further concessions under a continuation of a “carrot and stick” approach.  However, any form of a violent crackdown, may well turn an election dispute into a challenge against the very foundations of the Iranian Islamic republic, which may well go beyond the influence of Mousavi. 

After all powerful figures in Iran will be well-aware of the circumstances that led to the historical events under the Shah, which ultimately culminated in the Islamic revolution. A crackdown pits influential Iranian security forces against the people, this itself is a very dangerous ploy since behind the scenes, the forces may well be divided to some extent and many are openly supportive of reformists. How they would react against their fellow sympathisers if any suppression gets out of hand, may open new doors and challenges in the current conflict.

Supporters of Ahmadinejad have also been out in force in a show of support, and if the situation escalates, this may result in direct confrontation between rival supporters.

The ruling clerical elite may try to employ a neutral view, but in reality in these circumstances this is almost impossible. A great example is Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, who is chairman of one of the most powerful institutions of the regime, the Assembly of Experts, which ultimately selects the Supreme Leader.

Whilst such figures have tried not to stoke any fires, Rafsanjani was involved in a recent confrontation with Ahmadinejad who accused him of corruption. More importantly, Rafsanjani, who has been a key cog of the Islamist regime from the outset of the revolution, is a supporter of Mousavi. He may have been less vocal but his more activist daughter, Faeza Hashemi, gave a speech in one of the “illegal” demonstrations.

Iranian officials have accused foreign media and governments, particularly, Washington, on an “interventionist approach” on the election issue. Such accusations of meddling have led to a foreign media blackout on coverage of the crisis.

The White House may unsurprisingly deny any charges of meddling, insisting on the surface that their may not be a great difference to them or in terms of Iranian policy who becomes the next Iranian president. Quietly, would it be any secret that they would prefer to see a long-time nemesis in turmoil and to witness events that challenge the very essence of the Islamic Republic?

All this begs the question of just how “illegitimate” the elections were. Although, it is hardly an indication of wide-spread fraud, some of elements of the election were rather unusual. For example, the votes were not announced province-by-province as in past elections but in percentages via blocks of votes, which seemingly changed very little as they were announced.

Such little changes in counting patterns would indicate that Ahmadinejad would have done well in rural and urban areas and even in home regions of the positioning candidates.

Ahmadinejad has support across Iran, but mainly in more rural and less off areas.  But the middle-classes of the major cities, acknowledged to be main supporters of Mousavi, are probably more integral components in deciding any election outcome.

All eyes are now on the conservative body, the Council of Guardians that has to sign-off on the election results within 10 days and is currently tasked to look into the electoral complaints.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Online Opinion, Peyamner, Various Misc.