Kurdistan recently held parliamentary elections on July 25, 2009. The main topics in the vote were the rule of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and corruption. Just as important could be the economy. While there are many who tout the relative stability in Kurdistan and its foreign investment, the region actually lags behind in almost all humanitarian and economic indicators compared to the rest of the country.
The Kurdistan Region is made up of three provinces, Dohuk, Erbil, and Sulaymaniya. Irbil and Sulaymaniya have over one million inhabitants each, while Dohuk only has around 500,000. Dohuk is also home to over 100,000 internally displaced Iraqis.
Internally Displaced In Kurdistan
The relative stability and security in Kurdistan has not provided the population there the opportunities or services one would expect. The employment situation in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is mixed. In Iraq overall 12% of men and 13% of women are without jobs. Men in Irbil and Sulaymaniya do better at 9% and 10% respectively, but in Dohuk 13% of men are lacking employment. Women do far worse however. In Irbil the unemployment rate for them is 16%, followed by 26% in Sulaymaniya and 30% in Dohuk. The percentage of men and women involved in the labor force are also lower in Kurdistan compared to Iraq. In the rest of the country 18% of women and 81% of men are either employed or looking for work. The labor force participation in Dohuk is only 7% for women and 76% for women. Irbil at 12% of women, 77% of men, and Sulaymaniya at 15% of women and 78% of men, only do slightly better.
Iraq: 13% women, 12% men
Irbil: 16% women, 9% men
Sulaymaniya: 26% women, 10% men
Dohuk: 30% women, 13% men
Labor Force Participation
Iraq: 18% women, 81% men
Dohuk: 7% women, 76% men
Irbil: 12% women, 77% men
Sulaymaniya: 15% women, 78% men
In terms of poverty Kurdistan actually does better than Iraq in general. 22% of Iraqis live in the lowest per capita income quintile. Irbil at 15% and Sulaymaniya at 18% do better, although in Dohuk 33% of the population is in the bottom group.
Poverty - % Living In The Lowest Per Capita Income Quintile
Where the KRG lags behind is in education. Kurdistan has higher illiteracy rates, with 43% of women and 21% of men in Dohuk, 40% of women and 20% of men in Sulaymaniya, and 44% of women and 18% of men in Irbil in this situation, compared to 24% of women and 11% of men nationally. This is due to lower education levels. In Iraq 47% of women and 31% of men have less than a primary education. In Dohuk the rate is 65% of women and 49% of men, followed by 64% of women and 49% of men in Sulaymaniya, and 64% of women and 42% of men in Irbil.
Iraq: 24% women, 11% men
Irbil: 44% women, 18% men
Sulaymaniya: 43% women, 20% men
Dohuk: 43% women, 21% men
% With Less Than A Primary Education
Iraq: 47% women, 31% men
Irbil: 64% women, 42% men
Sulaymaniya: 64% women, 49% men
Dohuk: 65% women, 49% men
Services are also worse in the KRG. Kurds receive much less electricity than the rest of the country. 55% of Iraqis have more than 11 hours of power cuts per day or are not connected to the power network at all. In Kurdistan more than 80% of the population in all three provinces experience these difficulties. Kurdistan is also lacking in sanitation. 26% of Iraqis are not connected to the sanitation system. Dohuk is close to the national average at 28% not being connected, but Sulaymaniya at 38% and Irbil at 48% don’t do as well.
Electricity – More Than 11 Hours of Power Cuts Or No Connection To Network
Not Connected To the Sanitation Network
Since 2003, Kurdistan has been one of the most stable parts of Iraq due to its tight security, limits on migration, and domination by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). These two ruling parties however, have not been able to take advantage of that to provide jobs, education, or services to the population. Instead the PUK and KDP have been more interested in maintaining their control, and building up their two major strongholds, the cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniya. Outside of those urban areas the rest of the KRG has been left underdeveloped. This was the first year that this became an issue when Kurds went to the polls. Even then, the PUK and KDP seem to have maintained their control of the KRG. If the elections lead to an actual opposition however, those two parties may finally begin serving the population rather than themselves because now they actually have to compete for the loyalties of the people.
Dagher, Sam, “Strong Showing Seen for Kurdish Challengers,” New York Times, 7/26/09
Danly, James, “The 2009 Kurdish Elections,” Institute for the Study of War, 7/23/09
Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, “Dahuk Governorate Profile,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, April 2009
- “Erbil Governorate Profile,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, July 2009
- “Sulyamaniyah Governorate Profile,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, July 2009