By Hawre Hasan Hama
Sulaymaniyah- The Kurdish armed forces known as Peshmerga and security forces are known as Asayish have been politicized by both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) for political and economic gains. Kurdistan has been an autonomous region since 1992, emerged as a quasi-state after the establishment of the no-fly zone in northern Iraq by the United States–along with Great Britain and France- that put an end to Saddam Hussein’s murderous attacks on the Kurds. From this time onwards, The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been predominantly ruled by two major parties; the KDP and the PUK. Mustafa Barzani established the former in 1946; Jalal Talabani had founded PUK in 1975 when he split from Barzani’s KDP. Although the two parties have fought the Iraqi regime in the 1980s, they also fought each other. Since the rise of the KRG, the Kurdish military and security forces has been divided between the two ruling parties, and the elites within the two sides have their private forces. For example, Kosrat Rasul, PUK’s deputy secretary general, has his protection unit called Hezekani Kosrat Rasul, and also the Talabani’s son, Bafel Talabani, commands the counter-terrorism unit, which is not controlled by any ministry. The same applies to the KDP, The KDP’s Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the KRG, has his battalion. Though there have been many efforts to depoliticizes these forces since the creation of the KRG, the forces are remaining politicized and pledge allegiance to the ruling elites.
First of all, the lack of institutionalized force led to the breakdown of the internal unity of the Kurdistan region’s land and decision-making in the way that two de facto administrations exist within Kurdistan; the yellow zone (KDP) and the green zone (PUK). The Security cooperation between both groups is under the influence of the politics and personal interests, and distrust can define it. For example, In Washington DC, at Washington Institute For Near East Policy, Lahur Talabani, head of PUK’s January Agency (PUK’s intelligence unit) further revealed these divisions. He publicly said that both KDP and PUK intelligence agencies never meet, and accusing the KDP of carrying out the Hawija raids without his knowledge, while he is officially the head of intelligence agencies of KRG. He further said: “We as a Zanyari agency, have a good relation with more than 30 countries and exchanging information with their intelligence services, but we do not cooperate and share information with the KDP’s Parastin agency (intelligence agency). Moreover, in an interview with the Newsweek, Lahur said: “At times, we have had a better working relationship with Baghdad than we have with our counterparts in Erbil.” This was evident in 2014 when Daesh besieged the northern Syrian town of Kobane. Moreover, distrust reached a point that sometimes they accused each other of conspiracy. For example, when the Self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) fighters attacked Kirkuk, a city, on Friday morning, the PUK indirectly accused the KDP forces of facilitating the fighters entering the city.
The division of Peshmerga forces negatively impacts on their ability to fight ISIL as well. According to Michael Knights, Senior Fellow at Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the distrust resulted in unequal distribution of equipment between Peshmerga divisions. “First of all you have some very well equipped units, the Praetorian party elite units, and you have some very under-equipped units. There’s probably not the optimal distribution of equipment across the units.” He elaborated that this is particularly troublesome when facing a highly mobile enemy like ISIS, which can choose to exploit weak points across the long front line.
Nevertheless, the politicization of security forces is the major obstacle to stregnthen democracy in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. For example, in October 2015, the security forces loyal to the KDP prevented the Kurdistan Parliament Speaker, Yusuf Muhammad from the Change Movement (Gorran), the second-largest bloc in Parliament, entering Erbil just because he was trying to do his job as the speaker to amend presidential law, which was due in August 2015. Since then, the Kurdistan Parliament remains dysfunctional. Following this event, Gorran ministers were unilaterally expelled from the government by the KDP, and KDP filled ministerial posts. Another example is that in Iraqi Kurdistan provincial election, Haval Abubakar from Gorran won the position of governor in the 2013 elections by 241 thousand votes but was denied the post by PUK and was instead made the head of the provincial council. These are clear indication that those who have control over security forces undermine democracy and use the forces to remain in power. Without doubt, the same groups, who take credit for keeping Kurdistan Region safe, may destabilize the region if they are defeated in the ballots.
Then, the division of the military and security forces from within keeping the door open for the civil war as well. It is crystal clear that the national agenda does not exist, what does exist is the different agenda of the two ruling parties, when colliding with each other, the civil war is always possible as broke out during the 1990s. It means that the political parties do not believe in democratic games and solving problems through dialogues and in a peaceful manner. This will verify people like Denise Natali to argue that the Iraqi Kurdistan is heading toward a civil war.
Last, but not least, the KRG politicized security forces endangers human security within Kurdistan. This is because the court system is not independent enough, the security apparatuses ignore their decisions. Moreover, journalists were killed, religious scholars were fired, poverty and unemployment are at the highest level. Consequently, tens of thousands people migrate from the area. In addition, while the ruling political parties are rich, the government is bankrupt. All of these make the people of Kurdistan feel less secured.