Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has failed to get it right in so many ways. The oil portfolio is a fiasco, the services sector is failing, civil servants are getting more and more frustrated due to months of unpaid salary, and above all the gap between the government and the people is widening incrementally. KRG is headed to an inevitable fall if left to its own device. It has become a self destructing machine fueled by lack of will, lack of cooperation, lack of trust, and lack of interest in serving the public. If KRG fails, yet another US/West propped up democracy fails.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Kurdistan became the symbol of success, a poster child for what the US hoped the rest of Iraq would become. Because Kurdistan had its own autonomous government prior to 2003, the region was quicker to get organized and get on its feet. Kurdistan was light-years ahead of the rest of Iraq, by all standards, including peace. US and Coalition troops used to be sent up north for a quick in-country R&R.
KRG was also quick in finding ways to get the most out of Iraq.They hired US and UK-Based think tanks and consultancy groups to aid them and guide them through the process of writing the new Iraqi Constitution. Kurds were able to secure significant rights and protections under the new constitution including provisions that include the sale of oil through the Iraqi Government pipelines.
Kurdish ambitions didn’t stop there, some in the KRG thought they could sell Kurdish oil on the international market without going through Baghdad. This action angered Baghdad and as punishment Baghdad stopped paying Kurdistan’s share of the budget. Baghdad argued that Kurdistan was in essence stealing Iraqi money by illicitly selling the national oil.
At the same time Kurdistan was going through a war of words with Baghdad, the Kurdish president elect Massoud Barzani was going through a personal fight with the then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. Barzani decided it is time for Kurds to turn Kurdistan into a second Dubai, and made public his intentions to declare an independent Kurdistan. This move further angered Baghdad and made relations worse.
It was about this time when Mosul fell to ISIS and the band of terrorists marched towards Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan Region, almost with no resistance from Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The threat to the diplomats stationed in Erbil was real and the United States decided to launch airstrikes to keep ISIS from advancing any further.
While the fight against ISIS was at its peak, the term of Mr. Barzani’s presidency ran out and he was supposed to surrender his seat to the next person through an election. With the help of the coalition forces Barzani managed to get approval from all Kurdish parties to stay on as President and Commander In Chief of the Peshmerga Forces for another two years, although in reality there isn’t one Peshmerga force that answers to his orders.
Then as the fighting with ISIS was heating up, the calls to return to Baghdad for all sorts of negotiations was met with resistance from KRG. Kurdish PM Nichervan Barzani (Massoud Barzani’s nephew and son in-law) along with his Deputy PM Qubad Talabani (Jalal Talabani’s younger son) made many public statements accusing Iraq of withholding Kurdish share of the budget. At the same time the two comforted the Kurdish population that they were better off cutting all ties with Baghdad since the latter didn’t have any money to offer Kurdistan, per PM Barzani.
During its glory days, the KRG had signed many deals with international oil companies, one of which is Dana Gas. When KRG was not able to deliver on the contract, Dana Gas took KRG’s Ministry of Natural Resources to court in London. KRG lost to Dana Gas and was ordered to pay millions of dollars in fines over the course of many years. KRG was now broke and massively in debt. Even though the company and UK courts announced the court proceedings and the outcomes of the trials, KRG blatantly lied to the people and denied the loss in statements made to the public.
KRG stopped paying its employees, one month passed, two months passed, three months passed and no salary was paid. Almost 80 percent of the population in Iraq and Kurdistan are government employees. Even school teachers and university professors are paid by the government since most schools are public. KRG mishandled the salary fiasco by first ignoring the public and not explaining why they were not paying their employees. Then once they realized that they had to talk to the public, they began telling lies.
People were angry, the lack of money affected all sectors, there was no money to be circulated. Shop owners felt it, cab drivers felt it, barbers and tailors felt the drastic decrease in their business. KRG kept silent for the most part. The gap of trust between the government and the public that had happily elected them to office years earlier grew. Officials were publicly mocked. Their prior statements were turned into casual every day jokes.
The Party of Change, called Goran, which is led by Noushirwan Mostafa and is a splinter of the PUK. Goran has (or had if you ask the KDP) the seat of the speaker of the Kurdish Parliament. Goran was one of the most outspoken parties when it came to the issue of Massoud Barzani’s presidency term. Goran wanted Barzani to relinquish power and for the constitution to be implemented. This was an odd position by Goran since they had a strategic alliance agreement with the party Barzani led, the KDP. Goran’s position angered Barzani, as a result, one morning as the speaker of the Parliament was returning to his office in Erbil after spending the weekend in Suleimany, security forces loyal to KDP stopped the convey of the Speaker and denied him entry to Erbil the capital. He was sent back to Suleimany and has not been able to head a session of the Parliament for over a year now. KDP is working aggressively to replace him and has announced a unilateral end to the strategic agreement with the party.
ISIS has served as a very useful tool for the Iraqi Kurdish politicians and political party leaders. With monetary assistance pouring in for the war against ISIS, many of the political parties benefit from the assistance delivered in the form of cash in US dollars.
To make a very long and painful story short, the Kurdish Parliament is defunct, the Kurdish Regional Government is defunct, the economy is as bad as it can be, winter is approaching, schools are in session and teachers and university professors have promised to boycott classrooms, internal displaced people (IDP) from the liberated areas of Iraq are leaving Kurdistan and returning home taking with them the rent they were giving to the local real estate market as well as the cash benefits they were receiving as compensation, political parties are at an impasse, The Kurdish Front in Baghdad was just marred by the expulsion of Hoshyar Zebari from his post as the Iraqi Minister of Finance due to allegations of corruption, and people have lost complete trust in their politicians and have had enough of their empty promises.
The only thing that is still functioning is the Peshmerga Force and that is thanks to the generous contribution of US tax payers to fund the war against ISIS.
We might be witnessing the end of the cabinet of the KRG. Yet the question remains, what is next?