The 2011 Anti-Barzani Protests in Kurdistan

There is an unprecedented presence of security forces, anti-riot police and even Kurdish Regional army ‘Peshmaraga’ in Sulaymaia on Monday 18th February 2013 in anticipation of public protests to commemorate the 2nd anniversary of the 2011 Kurdish Spring protests..

This is in response to calls for an ‘Arab Spring’ style protest. The ‘anti-Kurdistan-government’  protests are due to take place in Al-Sarray Square,  renamed to Azadi (Freedom) Square by protesters, is located in the heart of the city.

The protests are said to be ignited by the Kurdish opposition parties namely the nationalist Movement for Change (Gorran) and the Islamic parties (Kurdistan Islamic Union, the Islamic Group in Kurdistan, The Islamic Movement of Kurdistan). Together, these parties received almost 39% of the total vote in 2009 Kurdistan Elections and hold 40 seats in the regional parliament of Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous region in north of Iraq.

The Kurdish opposition, largely dismissed in media, are slowly expanding their reach and challenging the status-quo of the ultimate control over Kurdistan by PUK and KDP. Not necessarily due to the appeal of their message but mainly due to the level of despair and anger of the general Kurdish population towards the Government’s corruption and the level of poverty.

 Corruption, Nepotism, Abuses, State Murder and Authoritarian Rule

Despite the rosy picture painted of the semi-autonomous region there have been allegations of:

  • Authoritarian bordering to dictatorship rule, Massoud Barzani is Kurdistan ruler since 1994 and he has also been the KDP’s “elected” leader since 1979, the same year the notorious dictator Saddam became president of Iraq.
  • Corruption  is ‘Large Scale’ and Endemic among the ruling elite and in particular, Massoud Barzani whose personal wealth estimated to be in excess of $2 billion.
  • Widespread nepotism with Masoud’s sons, brothers and nephew holding key positions in PUK party and Kurdistan regional government.
  • Freedom of Speech abuses as evident by Human Rights Watch “Kurdistan: Free Speech under Attack” report.
  • Human Rights violations and even State Murder as in 2011, two protestors were killed, one of them was a teenager and 57 were injured.

In Sulaymania corruption and bad management reached unfathomable levels where in 2007 Sulaymania suffered an outbreak of cholera due to lack of access to clean water and sanitation. While media reports said that Massoud Barzani’s son Mansur lost $3.2 million in a Casino.

anti-riot in kurdistan

Peshmarga and Kurdish Security forces clashing with protestors

In 2010 the journalist Sardasht Osman was murdered after criticising the Barzani family.

In February 2011 protests in Erbil, Halabja and Sulayamnia were confronted violently by ‘Peshmaraga’ loyal to Barzani.

In Sulayamania a bomb exploded on the roof of a TV channel. The explosion happened a day after the Kurdish Channel Nalia aired a caller’s brief criticism of Mulla Mustafa Barzani (father of Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani).

 The ‘Democratic’ Barzani Dynasty 

In the post 2003 Iraq era, despite having 3 different elected governments, 3 Prime Ministers (Allawi, Al-Jaafari and Al-Maliki) and 2 different Presidents (Al-Yawar and Talabani) of Iraq in the central government part of Iraq, Massoud Barzani and his clan have been ‘elected’ to rule the Kurdish region for the past 29 years.

Massoud has been President since 2004, his nephew and son-in-law Nechirvan Barzani was Kurdistans Prime Minister when he was 33 years old for a first term in 1999 and again in 2006 and for a third time in 2012. It is needless to say that Masrour Barzani –Masoud’s son- is the head of the ‘Security Services’ and that the majority of businesses in Kurdistan region must have a connection to Massoud to be able to do business.


Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani sharing the bounties of Kurdistan

According to the Financial Times “The KRG’s Commission of Governance and Integrity has identified widespread corruption and mismanagement” The commission describes the tendering process for contracts and projects as “very underhanded, corruption-ridden and lacking in transparency”.

Finally, Barzani and Talabani give themselves through the Kurdish Regional Government $35 million a month as a ‘subsidy’ to political parties from the Kurdish share of the Iraqi Budget. So no wonder the budget discussions are a ‘red-line’ to Barzani.


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