The following commentary originally appeared in Musings On Iraq
The three northern provinces of Iraq, Dohuk, Irbil, and Sulamaniyah, that make up the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are often cited as the most successful part of Iraq. Yet, reports show that when it comes to corruption, the Kurds are no different from the rest of the country.
Accusations of corruption in Kurdistan are increasing, and are largely based upon the two party rule of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Since the Talabani and Barzani clans run the two parties, charges of nepotism are rampant. The BBC reported in January 2008 that contracts are often given to relatives and passed down through a series of companies, each one taking a cut of the money. In May, a PUK member of the Kurdish bloc in parliament admitted that corruption was rampant, but said it was no different from the rest of the country. He blamed it on the rule of the PUK and KDP who in turn he said, did not want to deal with the problem. In June, an editorial in the Kurdish Aspect accused KRG President Masoud Barzani of illegally taxing an oil pipeline to Turkey for his own gain. The lack of transparency in Kurdistan helps hide the graft.
The ability of the Kurdish press to report on such abuses is being curtailed. In April, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani issued orders that no members of his party could openly criticize the government in the media without facing expulsion. One of the reasons cited for this move was increasing reports of political corruption. Recently, the Financial Times said Kurdish journalists are being harassed and attacked for their coverage of the topic. One editor of the Lvin magazine doesn’t sleep at home anymore because he doesn’t feel safe. One of his reporters was shot and killed in July 2008 in Kirkuk after receiving threats for three months for his work on corruption. A U.S. official in Baghdad confirmed that Kurdish reporters had been threatened and arrested for their writings on graft.
Kurdistan’s political system is dominated by the PUK and KDP. That power has led to corruption and nepotism. The crackdown and threats against journalists and free speech are not good signs for a public debate on these problems. The fact that Kurdistan is largely free of violence, and has an expanding economy could in the long term give rise to new actors that want a more open system. Until then however, the safety and wealth of the KRG actually strengthen the rule of the PUK and KDP who are benefiting from the business, and are able to claim that they are the reason why the north is safe compared to the rest of the country that still faces violence. The trade off for these is the acceptance of corruption in the regional government.
Clark, Kate, “Corruption in Iraqi Kurdistan,” BBC News, 1/11/08
Fifield, Anna, “Kurdistan’s press pays for tackling corruption,” Financial Times, 10/3/08
Hama-Tahir, Wrya, “Iraqi Kurds frustrated with own leaders, security forces,” Middle East Online, 2/18/08
Kurdish Media, “Kurdish lawmaker defends corruption in Kurdistan administration,” 5/26/08
Mahmood, Azeez and Mahmood, Rebaz, “Talabani Supporters Rally Over Media Controversy,” Institute For War & Peace Reporting, 4/4/08
Naqishbendi, Rauf, “Iraq: Flourishing corruption under American occupation,” Kurdish Media, 6/26/08