Thursday, 14 January 2010

Tensions rising between PUK and CHANGE Movement

niqash Sardar Muhammad fri 08 jan 10

The Movement for Change (CM), Kurdistan’s second-largest political party, has said it will not tolerate any further attacks on its members after two recent incidents, one of which left a CM activist dead. The fatal attack took place in Halabja, a town in al-Sulaymaniyah Governorate on 25 December 2009 but there were a handful of further attacks across the governorate.

A security official said there was no political or party motivation behind the attacks, merely personal animosities. But CM members disagreed. “The recent events are very much linked to the electoral competition” between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Movement for Change, Babekir Daraei, a leading CM figure, told Niqash. “There is lots of injustice practiced against the the Movement for Change in Kurdistan. One of our members was assassinated and there were assaults launched against others.” “All those who were attacked are members of the Change List and we can no more tolerate and turn a blind eye to such acts,” added Daraei, who will be standing in the Iraqi national parliamentary elections in March.

The Movement for Change, or Change List, was launched in 2009 by Nawshiran Mustafa, a former deputy secretary general of Jalal al-Talabani. Mustafa resigned from the PUK in 2008 on the heels of internal party conflicts and formed Wisha, a media company which owns Rozhnama newspaper, a radio station called Voice of Change, a website and KNN, an international satellite channel. Mustafa competed for parliamentary elections in 2009 as leader of the newly-formed Change List and won over tens of thousands of disaffected PUK and KDP voters and even members. His new party won 25 seats out of 110 in the Kurdistan parliament, reducing the PUK-KDP share to 59, an overall majority of just four seats. Turnout was recorded as reaching an astonishing 78 per cent.

The Change Movement has recently started to prepare itself for Iraq’s parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place in March 2010, with an independent list. Many observers say that the movement will face fierce competition from the PUK (rather than the DPK, the PUK’s principal partner in the governing Kurdistan List), since the CM has its largest following in PUK areas.

The prospect of the election has emboldened some of CM’s candidates to speak out against what they perceive as a concerted campaign of intimidation against them. Babekir told Niqash that CM is looking for the regional presidency to “arrest those who are behind the attacks and hold them accountable for their acts.” But he complained that “no such steps have yet been taken.” In the last two months attacks were launched against more than eight CM members in al-Sulaymaniyah province, considered a PUK stronghold.

One of the Movement’s offices and one of its vehicles were burnt. Two unknown armed men attacked one of the CM’s members in front of his house in the city center of al-Sulaymaniyah on 17 November, wounding him in several places, including the head. On the evening of 2 December, a number of armed men fired their guns on a CM member in al-Sulaymaniyah, injuring him in his chest and stomach. A third attack took place in Sayed Sadeq City, in al-Sulaymaniyah, on 22 December. Finally, on 25 December a number of armed men attacked Raouf Zarayni in front of his house in Halabja, a town in al-Sulaymaniyah, and killed him.

None of the attackers have yet been found or charged. Qader Hamma Jan, a member of the PUK and the security director general in Kurdistan said that there are no political motives behind the attack. Hamma told Niqash that the PUK condemns such attacks regardless of the perpetrators and stressed that there are no assassinations based on political motives. “All these attacks are based on personal and tribal conflicts with no political reason behind them whatsoever,” he explained. But Babekir said in reply that he was “surprised to hear that all these incidents, which have only targeted members of Change movement, are considered ‘personal conflicts’. Why, then, are only members of our movement attacked and not others?” he asked.

Growing competition is sparking a war of words between the two parties. At a PUK meeting in October 2009, the media reported Jalal al-Talabani describing CM as “working against the Kurds’ interests” and accusing his former deputy, Nawshiran Mustafa, of “being against the federation, the Peshmerga (Kurdish fighters), and against the annexation of the city of Kirkuk.”

Responding to the comments, Nashirwan said that Talabani’s accusations fostered violence against the CM. “Talabani’s words were the green light for the attacks,” he said. "All the attacks that took place and those to come are the responsibility of Talabani and the PUK.”

The violent attacks on CM members and the lack of ensuing arrests had created a strong belief among Kurds that there is a “well organized campaign to frighten members and supporters of the Movement in Iraq,” he added.

Adding weight to his words were the numerous job losses and job refusals suffered by politicians and civil servants who voted for CM in 2009’s legislative elections. But Qader Hamma Jan, the head of the general security across Iraqi Kurdistan, said that such acts are rare because they contravene PUK political ethics. Referring to the lack of arrests and evidence, Hamma said “We will exert every possible effort to identify those who launched the attacks.” Babekir criticized Hamma for allowing himself to become politicized. “Security apparatuses should not take sides and should not be used by any party against the other because their duty is to protect everybody on equal terms and to be impartial,” he said.

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