The Struggle Within a Struggle: An Analysis of South Kurdistan

In recent years, the Kurds of South Kurdistan (Bashure) have endured another struggle alongside the struggle against foreign regimes; a struggle against Kurdish parties who have consolidated power and resources in South Kurdistan through tribal politics. Here Bavil Ahmad from Portsmouth Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign shares his views on the problems facing South Kurdistan and their underlying causes.

The Kurds in Bashur (South Kurdistan) have had de-facto autonomy, since 1991 with the uprising against Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, and subsequently the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government Parliament, and the UN enforced No-Fly zone. Although there was less of a violent threat on the people, the population was hit by the economic sanctions placed on Iraq as well as the non-military oppression by the regime, and a civil war between Kurdish factions.

A shameful civil war, that ended the lives of approximately 5,000 peshmerga (Kurdish fighters) and around 8,000 civilians on all sides, which broke out between the two main parties at the time, the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) led by Masoud Barzani, and PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) led by Jalal Talabani. The KDP were mainly supported by Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish regimes, while the Kurdish Communist Party, Iranian regime (after 1996), PKK, and United States supported the PUK. With the civil war ending in 1997 with a ceasefire and subsequently in 1998, the KDP and PUK signed the Washington Agreement, mediated by the USA; this led to sharing revenue and power in the region, which were the main reasons for the civil war as well as both agreeing to deny the PKK the use of Southern Kurdistan.

Nawshirwan Mustafa, founder of the Gorran Movement (Change) and co-founder of the PUK, made continuous sacrifices for the Kurdish struggle especially in Bashur, is known for being the architect of 1991 uprising and overseeing the liberation of Bashure Kurdistan. Despite this it is Masoud Barzani, Leader of the KDP, who is seen as the Kurdish leader in KRG and will do anything and everything to retain and increase power and resources, including siding with the enemy, as seen on the 31st of August 1996 when Barzani invited the Ba’athist Saddam regime back onto Kurdish soil in Hewler (Erbil) to assist in killing Kurds.

An act of treason, nonetheless, however an act that Kurds have become accustomed to expecting from the Barzani tribal party of KDP, as we have seen again in recent months and years starting with inclusive trade and political relations with the Turkish regime which has consistently bombarded even parts of Bashur such as Qandil and Sinjar; attempting to finish the job ISIS was not able to on the Yezidi population. We have seen Barzani call PKK “guests in Bashur land” while trying to justify the presence of Turkish soldiers and war jets with “friendship”, we also ought to not forget the closing of the border between Bashur and Rojava, at the request of “regional ally” Turkey, further increasing the embargoes on Rojava.

Post-2003 and Independence Referendum

After the fall of the Ba’athist regime and the capture of Saddam Hussein, Kurds of Bashur were no longer in shackles of oppression and instead were set to enjoy recognition and minority-based rights as the new Iraqi constitution recognised Kurds as well as Kurdish being added as an official language of the nation. A Kurd would even serve as Iraqi President in 2006, Jalal Talabani, co-founder and leader of PUK. But although Kurds would find the new Iraq relatively peaceful in contrast to the broader chaos unleashed by the war, it was not all one had hoped; corruption was rife through all levels of government, including the Kurdistan Regional Government.

While extremism was on the rise in the rest of Iraq including disputed territories such as Kirkuk; in Bashur, Kurds once again were no longer allowed free speech, only this time it was denied by the Kurdistan Regional Government and the parties in power, PUK and KDP. They proceeded to oversee a “mafia” like attitude in power, journalists and civilians who spoke out or criticised them would be imprisoned or even assassinated. While many Kurds saw post-2003 Iraq as an opportunity for freedom, the prospect of independence became more than just a thought and dream, it was now something that could happen; however, corruption was rife within the KRG as oil sales inevitably boosted the economy. The repressive, anti-Kurdish Ba’athist regime may have been forcibly removed but in the KRG, clientelist, anti-liberatory power-brokers remained.Despite this economic boost, very little was spent on infrastructure or services. Even to this day, safe, clean drinking water is hard to come by in the KRG, and electricity is limited to certain hours of the day, majority of food and drinks consumed are now imported; with the collapse of the price of oil, the heavy reliance on oil exports to maintain the economy caused a major economic crisis, one that if it had happened anywhere else would have resulted in a change of government.

In 2006 Nawshirwan Mustafa left his role as Deputy secretary of the PUK, and in 2009 announced the formation of the Change Movement, participating in the KRG parliamentary elections and making substantial gains in vote share and seats. Although they have fought robust campaigns, the idea of free and fair elections in KRG and Iraq is little more than a dream at this stage as the KDP and PUK will stop at nothing to ensure they keep their grip on power. As we have seen, neither are shamed by siding with enemies, whether it’s Iran or Turkey. Recent Iraqi Parliament elections are an example of the failed democracy that runs through the country.

2017 was a year to forget for Bashure Kurds, the gains of the past several decades went down the drainjust as the idea of Independence was now on the brink of happeningfollowing the referendum in September 2017 with 93.25% voting for independence. The KRG and its failed leadership once again showed why it is not fit to govern, while not having established any plan to proceed with the result of the referendum, it refused to postpone the referendum and hold talks with the Iraqi government, the results of which Bashur and especially its disputed territories had to suffer with.  On 16th October 2017 the Iraqi army, bolstered by its gains against ISIS, recaptured  nearly 50% of KRG territory within a day.

Without a doubt the events that have unfolded in Bashur would bring a sense of shame to the Kurdish Parties and leaders, if they had any morals. While the people suffer, they still enjoy their luxury lifestyles.

Although Kurds in Bashur have enjoyed some sort of peaceful period, they still suffer under occupation and oppression like the rest of Kurdistan and there is no hiding the fact that if the political situation in Bashur changes and certain parties and leaders cease holding power, it could have a positive effect not just on KRG but on the rest of Kurdistan; at the same time a total collapse of the KRG as an autonomous entity would be a monumental disaster to the Kurdish struggle. So, it is important that we recognise the sacrifices of Bashur and look to ways we can support the progressive parties and factions in the region to bring about real change, for the people, for Kurdistan.

Biji Kurd w Kurdistan!

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