photo: Eddy van Wessel


Friday, January 29, 2016

Start rebuilding Shingal to keep more Yezidis from leaving

Some shops have opened in Shingal, the Yezidi-town recaptured two months ago from the Islamic group ISIS who occupied it for a year and a half. The local telephone tower has been re-equipped, after having been taken out of use as part of ISIS’ no-connection policy. Water tankers drive on and off to bring water to soldiers and shopkeepers, and generators hum to provide electricity.

But the rubble still lies where it was when Peshmerga troops liberated the town in November. Even the collapsed Manara, a historical monument that was part of the face of the town, has been left untouched. As have the roads, of which many are blocked by the effects of the bombing campaigns that eventually led to ISIS fleeing the town.

Some of the enormous tunnel network under the town still has not been discovered. The same goes for some explosives and booby-traps ISIS left behind. And most importantly, ISIS still is out there, only at about 10 kilometres from the town.

Yet the Kurdish mayor of Shingal, Mahma Khalil, states that civilians will return as soon as the most important services have been restored. Give them water and electricity, and they will come back, is his message.

Read more here

Friday, January 22, 2016

The men’s right over women

The news of the sexual abuse in Cologne, Germany during New Year’s Eve reverberated across the West. Over 350 women have filed complaints with the police.

As someone living partly in the Kurdistan Region and partly in the West, I am touched by the way the incident is creating waves that have results for asylum seekers who recently came to Europe: borders are closing and single men are less welcome.

But it also affects those who already are living in Europe; in Germany some swimming pools will no longer accept single men.

Voice from the extreme right claiming that allowing Middle Eastern men in will lead to a rise in sexual violence, have become even louder. Now this can no longer be brushed aside as racist.

I am reminded of incidents we hear of in the region where some of the perpetrators originate: about taxi drivers who abuse women after they step in their cars in their own, and men who grope women in shopping centres and bars.

Read more here

Sunday, January 10, 2016

End the crisis: Kurds must help Kurds

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has started the New Year in a somber mood. To overcome, it needs the help and initiatives of all its citizens.

After four months without salary, many Kurds are desperate. Civil servants did not get their salaries, because the government does not have money due to the low price of oil, the continuing disputes with Baghdad and the consequent budget cut, on top of the costs of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS).

First the lower classes were hit, especially those civil servants who do not have a second job. But as people are tightening their belts, additional income from other sources such as owning a taxi, have decreased as well.

The Kurdish middle class is now also feeling the effect. Doctors, engineers and others working for the government on a higher wage, have hit the end of their reserves too. And with most of those around them not getting paid either, it has become harder to even find loans to tide things over.

Read the rest here

Saturday, January 9, 2016

No democracy without functioning parliament

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq presently has a parliament with not one, but two speakers. In some situations, this might be acceptable, for instance if they would share the presidency of the parliament, but in the reality of Kurdistan it shows that democracy has reached a stalemate.

Since October 12, 2015, the chosen chairman, Yusuf Mohammed, is no longer welcome in the capital of the region, Erbil, where the parliament is based. He is member of the second largest political party in the Kurdistan Region, Gorran or the Change-party.

His banning is the result of a political fight over the extension of the term of Kurdistan’s president Massoud Barzani, who ended his final official term in August without an agreement between the parties about his future. Constitutionally, the speaker of the Parliament then temporarily should have taken over, until a new president was elected. 

Instead, Barzani stayed on, creating a conflict with his supposed temporary successor plus his party, which turned violent when protests – also about the lack of salaries for civil servants - got out of hand.

All Goran MP’s were then evicted from Erbil, or were stopped entering, as were its ministers, who were part of a unity government lead by Barzani’s nephew Nechirwan Barzani. Three months later, they still have not returned to their posts, and their colleagues from other parties are still taking care of their ministries next to their own.

The speaker since has tried to do his job from his office in Sulaimani. He signed his last official document six days after he was prevented from returning to Erbil, on October 18, which was accepted by the parliament. And even though he still receives guests and delegations in his Sulaimani office, his documents have no longer been accepted into the parliamentary system.

His deputy, the senior KDP-member Jaafar Emniki, is now taking care of business in Erbil. Both the speaker and his deputy run their own websites, releasing different versions of the news.

When the internet site Niqash talked to MP’s of KDP, it was told that the parliament is functioning, apart from the ‘former’ speaker, who ‘had to leave his job as he could not act in an independent way’. The only unusual thing is at the parliament is not holding sessions, they claimed.

Yet the remaining MP’s may be going to parliament regularly, but they too cannot do their job, as the 23 parliament committees cannot hold their weekly meetings for lack of members and a quorum.

A parliament that is not discussing issues and voting on documents and laws, whose committees are not doing their work either, is a parliament that is not functioning. That means that the democratic system that it is part of, is not functioning either, because the parliament is chosen by the people to make sure the government is really working on their behalf.

The last time the Kurdish parliament suspended its work was during the civil war of the nineties. The present situation could bring us back to the time when two separate administrations and their parliaments were functioning in the Kurdistan Region, one in Erbil and one in Sulaimani.

Then, the conflict was between the two main parties, KDP and PUK, who both had their own territories. While now Gorran has taken over the former role of PUK, again a virtual wall has risen between Erbil and Sulaimani.

Not only is the parliament not functioning that melted the different territories into one Kurdish entity, these are once again following their own policy. Checkpoints, that were mixed before, are again one-party operations, and those who travel with permits or papers from the one area may have problems traveling in the other.

At the same time, the president has called to prepare a referendum about Kurdish independence from Baghdad. Which makes you wonder: does he intend this as a method to bring together again all Iraqi Kurds, or will the independence only cover the areas where his party is ruling?

The conflict between the parties is a major setback at a time the Kurds have plenty of enemies outside that should force them to unite. Instead, the young democracy has reached a stalemate. The longer this situation persists, the more difficult it will be to get it back on track, with politicians shouting at each other instead of talking to solve the problems, and civilians distrustful of their intentions and the reasons behind them.

The Kurds of Iraq were giving an example to their brothers in other Kurdish regions. They owe it not only to themselves, but also to others who may look at them for guidance, to end the strife – and as a first step get the parliament back in function again. That is the first demand for a government to be able to call itself democratic.