Sulaymaniyah- Teachers in Sulaimani continue protests which began in October. Most employees have refused to return to work and the market has collapsed. Investment is at the lowest level in the Kurdistan Region since 1996. Public trust in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is declining. People want to survive at any cost and believe the only way to do this is through direct engagement with Baghdad.
Last week protesters in Sulaimani shouted “al-Adi, al-Abadi,” calling on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for help. These protesters have taken to the streets for months demanding their financial rights from the KRG. To date, neither KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani nor Masoud Barzani have responded.
However, the call was echoed by some Kurdish lawmakers in Baghdad, especially the Change Movement (Gorran). The Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Aram Sheikh Mohammed, announced a proposal to invite Baghdad to establish direct links to local government in the Kurdistan Region.
“We are not going to remain passive and watch our people suffering,” Mohammed told reporters in Sulaimani. “We will work with others to commit the Iraqi government to deal with the Kurdistan governorates directly if the deal with Erbil failed about oil and the budget.”
The proposal is supported by the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) as well.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) called the move by Gorran leaders “treason and an unconstitutional demand.” Nevertheless, inviting Baghdad to establish direct links with governorates indicates a disappointment with the KRG and the independence rhetoric promoted by the KDP.
Earlier this year, Masoud Barzani told leaders of political parties, “Kurdistan should hold the referendum on independence before the U.S. election.” The election has passed and the independence rhetoric is fading.
Last year, PM Barzani and Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani introduced a new policy to cut public employees’ paychecks. The excuse was the low price of oil. At that time, the price of oil was $32 per barrel. They said the payment cut would change once the price of oil has risen. The price is now above $50 yet the pay cuts and delays have become worse.
Recently NRT TV released new report on oil production and misinformation on the revenue published by the KRG. According to documents obtained by NRT TV, the KRG’s monthly income exceeds the local need for full payment and investment, but the KRG does not want to share it.
The appeal for Abadi among demonstrators and the proposal by Gorran lawmakers are the result of disappointment with the KRG and the growing grievance among the middle-class. The unilateral policies undertaken by the KDP may lead to a total break up of Sulaimani from the KRG, even if the current proposal fails.
Sarkawt Shamsulddin is a political analyst and co-founder of the Kurdish Policy Foundation.