By Basel al-Khateeb
Azzaman, March 11, 2011
Tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds have risen against their factional leaders, demanding transparency and more freedoms.
The demonstrations have so far concentrated in the Kurdish Province of Sulaimaniya but anger and resentment of policies pursued by the Kurdish region’s government are triggering unrest across the current Kurdish administration.
The Kurdish autonomous enclave comprises two more provinces – Dahouk and Arbil – besides Sulaimaniya.
The Kurdish administration is often cited in Western media as an example of democratic rule in Iraq, but that is more words than deeds.
The two Kurdish factional leaders – Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish region’s president and Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president – are alleged to have been immersed in corruption and favoritism.
Both leaders have their own security and intelligence agencies as well as heavily armed militias who could almost do what they want with impunity.
Some angry protesters have upped their pressure to the extent of shouting slogans for the removal of Barzani, who heavily relies on his Barzani tribe for influence.
The unrest has adversely affected foreign investment and the presence of foreign firms in the region.
The Kurdish budget, mostly based on 17% of total Iraqi oil earnings, is bigger than a country like a Syria with a population of more than 25 million people.
The Kurdish region’s population is estimated at 3.5 million.
But many Kurds live in abject poverty and the gap but the haves and the have-nots is widening.
Moreover, there is no budgetary transparency and even the parliament is in the dark on allocations that are earmarked on factional basis.
In Sulaimaniya, the protesters have camped in a square called al-Saray which has turned into something like the Egyptian Square of Liberation.
Sit-ins are scheduled in other major Kurdish cities as young protesters are relying on new media and the Internet to spread their word.
Angry demonstrations have swept other towns with sizeable Kurdish communities such as the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
Barzani was forced to deployed thousands of his militia in Kirkuk to pre-empt an attempt by young Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen to organize large-scale demonstrations against his rule.