Monday, 12 December, 2016
Barzani’s possible stepping back and protests in Iraqi Kurdistan
President Barzani has indicated recently his willingness to step down from power, allowing for negotiations to re-open parliament and to end the current political impasse, but structural reform is urgently needed to resolve political crises in the long term.
- President of the KRI Masud Barzani has indicated he is willing to step down if the region’s parties can decide on a replacement.
- The KRG’s parliament has been shut since last year following a dispute between Barzani’s party and the Gorran movement, and the region is now in crisis.
- The causes of the economic and political crisis that has sparked protests across the region run deep and require urgent attention.
These past months, the Kurdistan Region of Northern Iraq (KRI) has been hit by protests over non-payment of salaries to teachers and over general dissatisfaction with President Masud Barzani. Barzani issued a statement about a month ago saying he would be willing to step down as President, if the region’s political parties could find a replacement to fill his role until the next election.
The KRI’s parliament has been closed since last year over a dispute between the President’s party the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and another group, Gorran, after members of Gorran were accused of burning down a KDP building. Subsequently, Barzani forced out the speaker of the parliament, a Gorran member, and replaced four Gorran MPs with KDP ones, ultimately leading to an effective shutting of the parliament. One aspect of the disagreements between the parties has been around the legitimacy of Barzani’s presidency. Gorran and others have accused Barzani of going over the limit of his term.
Thus, Barzani’s expression of willingness to step down is a possible route to solving the current impasse. Barzani’s statement implied that his stepping down was impingent on a new speaker being chosen to replace the Gorran member forced out last year, which will likely upset Gorran.
Barzani’s statement comes amid protests across the KRI over teachers’ salaries not being paid and opposition to Barzani’s presidency. Gorran claims that police used violence against protestors. The KRI is facing a budgetary crisis, struggling to reach a deal with Baghdad over the distribution of the federal budget, amid a broader financial crisis in Iraq stemming from a number of issues, including the conflict with Islamic State and low oil revenues. The KDP opposes the current budget bill and voted against it in the Iraqi parliament, whereas Gorran and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) voted in favour. The bill was finally passed yesterday, despite KDP opposition.
The PUK, which is in a coalition government with the KDP, is under pressure from it base and from its cooperation with Gorran, to distance itself from Barzani. However, the PUK wish to maintain good and peaceful ties with the KDP, given the historic of violence between the two and the contemporary combustibility of the region.
Resolving the current political impasse both internally and with Baghdad, could help the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) prevent continued unrest. Nonetheless, the issues faced by the region and the political difficulties in particular are not tied to any single individual. Solving the region’s problems and the underlying causes of political impasses will require take more than changing the president.