The Kurdistan Region hailed as the “only stable haven” in Iraq has been going through a transitional period for the past decade — formation of new independent parties coupled with a growing demand for democracy has been pursued relentlessly. There is no doubt that the new neighbouring state poses a threat to the region, the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).
The region’s relative stability is unlikely to be startled by the Islamic State militants. The real threat is the growing public grievances with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which needs to be tackled efficiently and immediately. The Kurdistani public are cautious of trusting KRG’s contingency plans due to the general lack of trust, which means unless KRG becomes more transparent, people will not accept their new crisis policies.
Social networking sites are often a medium where people channel their grievances, and in the past week “trending topics” within Kurdish circles became fixated on the retirement of non-army members under military ranks. In an era where people use the convenience of internet to politically communicate their grievances and political leniency, the growing anger on social networking sites are a reasonable indicator of the societal attitude in Kurdistan towards KRG’s attempts to deal with its financial shortage and demands for greater transparency.
A leaked document revealed thousands of people receive retirement benefits under the Ministry of Peshmerga, and hundreds of people receive retirement benefits from the public income, while serving within political party organisations fraudulently. The positions include the post of Minister, General Director and other key governmental positions.
The current climate in Kurdistan region is pushing people towards civil disobedience. For instance, fuel price has increased by 80%, unemployment rate has increased rapidly, and the delay in forming local councils is causing public frustration to increase drastically, particularly in the province of Silemani.
In the past eight months KRG has internally assessed its capability to function and survive as an independent entity. KRG has sufficient public support to push for independence and militarily combat regional threats. In the early weeks of fighting Islamic State militants, millions of dollars in cash and assets were donated by the public to Peshmerga forces.
The war against Islamic State militants unified Kurdish forces and political parties on one policy, saving the Kurdistan region from terrorist groups. Although, the sense of unity and nationalism has peaked, the leaked retirement scandal is destroying the sense of unity amongst Kurdistani people.
The public are aware of the extent of KRG’s crisis, many have not pushed for radical dismantlement of the current governmental structure for the sake of maintaining unity. However, the lack of governmental-led accountability to conduct radical reforms could potentially give birth to a new era, which might prove to be more than unstable. The public are unlikely to remain loyal and faithful, particularly working and lower class divisions in Kurdistan, who will forced to endure the grit of this crisis.
The KRG has loaned from international companies to cover its expenses, and is deepening in debt. KRG’s exportation of oil has been disputed by Baghdad’s central government, and is failing to find international buyers. KRG’s new contingency plan is to cover its expenses through public service projects such as fuel, electricity, and water. However, rapid and sudden changes in these sectors will directly put the middle and lower class at a disadvantage.
This includes a significant percentage of Kurdistan region’s population, who are already suffering from high rate of unemployment, drastic increase of food prices, and real estate prices. It is noteworthy to point out that almost all of the Peshmerga forces come from middle and lower class families — KRG’s new plans will jeopardise social stability.
Implications for Parliament and KRG
The KRG ended its political instability by sharing power among five major political parties, but despite this new “power-sharing” era, public grievances are increasing, and not dealt with appropriately. The public’s demands for more transparency, an end to corruption within governmental sectors, more job opportunities, better public services, social benefits and transparency of public institutions has not been dealt with adequately.
In the past four years, the former opposition parties that are now amongst the ruling parties in KRG — Gorran, Islamic Union, and Islamic group vocalised public grievances, and formulated reform packages, urging ruling parties (PUK/KDP) to adopt the reforms. The opposition parties played a monumental role in channelling public grievances in the right direction, but in the absence of a mainstream opposition party, civil disobedience might be inevitable, leading to instability throughout the region.
It is the responsibility of KRG to cover the expenses of civil servants, but this should not come at the expense of middle and lower class families. The Kurdistan parliament must act responsibly to deal with public grievances by becoming more transparent because without a clear strategy that will make KRG more transparent, the public will lose faith in parliament’s authority over executive power.
This article was co-authored by Sarkawt Shamsulddin and Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar.