Kurdistan Regional Government

Kurdistan Regional Government
   The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), or Kurdistan Regional Administration (KRA), refers to the Kurdish self-government that has administered the Kurdish region in northern Iraq since 1992. Since the adoption of the new Iraqi constitution in October 2005, the KRG has gained constitutional legitimacy as a constituent state in a democratic federal Iraq. As of 2010, the KRG consists of the three provinces of Irbil, Sulaymaniya, and Dohuk, with a combined population of some 4.5 million. For the first time ever, most Iraqi Kurds now think of their government in Irbil, not the one in Baghdad, when the concept of government is broached. Thus, at the present time (2010) the Iraqi Kurds not only possess their most powerful regional government since the creation of Iraq following World War I but also play a very prominent role in the Iraqi government in Baghdad, including the posts of president (Jalal Talabani), until August 2009 deputy prime minister (Barham Salih), foreign minister (Hoshyar Zibari), and six other cabinet positions. This dual governmental role stands in marked contrast to the situation that existed before the events of 1991 and 2003, when the Kurds were treated as second-class citizens and worse.
   Nevertheless, enormous problems remain. For example, the actual division of power between the Iraqi government and the KRG remains in dispute. These contested powers include the ownership of natural resources (mainly oil) and the control of the revenues flowing from them, the role of the KRG army, or peshmergas, and the final status of Kirkuk, as well as several other disputed territories such as Sinjar and Khanaqin, among others. The ultimate question, therefore, is how long this new unique Kurdish position of strength will last. Many Arabs resent the Kurdish claims to autonomy as a challenge to the Arab patrimony and a federal state for the Iraqi Kurds within Iraq as merely a prelude to secession. Indeed, unofficial referenda held in February 2004 and again in January 2005 almost unanimously called for independence despite the opposition of the main Kurdish leaders who argued that independence would not be practical given strong regional opposition. In the summer of 2008, Kurdish and Arab Iraqi forces came close to actual blows over territorial disputes in Khanaqin. When the Kurdish parliament unilaterally approved a new constitution for the KRG in June 2009, Baghdad denounced the move as tantamount to secession. Clearly, the Iraqi Arabs are getting their act together and, despite the supposed constitutional guarantees, are once again trying to reduce the Kurds.
   After the Gulf War of 1991 and the failure of the ensuing Kurdish uprising in March 1991, the mass flight of Kurdish refugees to the mountains and borders of Iran and Turkey forced the United States to launch Operation Provide Comfort (OPC). OPC created a safe haven and maintained a no-fly zone to encourage the refugees to return to their homes by protecting them from further attacks by the Iraqi government. In addition, the unprecedented UN Security Resolution 688 of 5 April 1991 gave the fledgling KRG support by condemning "the repression of the Iraqi civilian population . . . in Kurdish populated areas" and demanding "that Iraq . . . immediately end this repression."
   On 19 May 1992, elections in the protected Kurdish region resulted in a virtual dead heat between Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) both for the position of supreme leader (president) and parliament. A number of other parties also competed, but none of them met the qualification of receiving 7 percent of the vote to enter parliament. The KDP and PUK decided not to pursue the selection of a president and to share power equally in parliament. Parliament met for the first time in Irbil on 4 June 1992, and an executive with Fuad Masum as the prime minister was established on 4 July 1992.
   At its inception, the KRG was handicapped by the refusal of the surrounding states of Turkey, Iran, and Syria (not to mention Saddam Hussein's Iraq) to countenance the concept of any type of Kurdish administration or state. Each feared the precedent it would set for their own restless Kurds. In addition, the KRG suffered from immense economic problems and a seeming paralysis of decision making due to power being shared equally between the KDP and the PUK, as well as Barzani's and Talabani's decision not to participate in the administration.
   In December 1993, fighting first broke out between the PUK and the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan. Then, on 1 May 1994, the PUK and the KDP began a bloody on-again, off-again civil war that took over 3,000 lives, caused untold suffering and destruction, and threatened the very existence of the KRG. The KDP-PUK fighting led to the creation of two rump governments or administrations: the KDP's in Irbil and the PUK's in Sulaymaniya. Only one parliament continued to meet in Irbil. After repeated attempts by the United States — as well as on other occasions Great Britain, Iran, and Turkey—the United States finally managed to broker a cease-fire in September 1998.
   As of 2010, some 4.5 million people live under the KRG, including perhaps 100,000 to 200,000 Turkomans and 50,000 Assyrians.
   Given recent developments, probably more than 80 percent of the population is now urban and only 20 percent rural. Irbil has some 1,000,000 people and Sulaymaniya around 750,000. On 7 May 2006, the two separate KRG administrations were finally unified with Massoud Barzani (already serving as the president since 12 June 2005) as the president and his nephew Nechirvan Idris Barzani as the prime minister. It was agreed that the PUK would hold the later position in the future. Jalal Talabani eventually became the largely ceremonial president of Iraq.
   However, the Kurdish people remain frustrated at the lack of services, transparency, women's and youth's rights, institutionalization, and, of course, the continuing nepotism and corruption. Nawshirwan Mustafa—who resigned from his post as the number two man in the PUK in December 2006 and eventually set up his own political Gor-ran, or Change Party, to contest the 25 July 2009 elections—charged that both the KDP and PUK receive $35 million a month as part of the funds transferred to the KRG by the central government in Baghdad but did not have to account for it. Senior leaders of both parties hide their ownership of large companies by funneling tens of millions of dollars through midlevel party members or reliable friends. Both the Barzanis and Talabanis have small groups that are running everything for them. The PUK, for example, owns Nokan, a conglomerate in Sulaymaniya, with interests in construction, trade, and food. Steps also need to be taken to separate the interests of the two ruling parties (the KDP and PUK) from those of the KRG.
   Despite claims that the KRG is business friendly, huge economic problems also remain. For example, there is no banking, taxing, insurance, or postal system. The public payroll gobbles up three-quarters of the budget, and as discussed above, crony capitalism and nepotism thrive. The government is still unable to provide regular electricity and affordable fuel. As many as 900,000 people are internally displaced. Honor killing of women remains a problem, but attempts are being made to control it.
   Nevertheless, over the past several years the economic situation in the KRG has improved dramatically as the region was spared the horrific civil war that engulfed Arab Iraq to the south after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. What is more, the Kurds now receive 17 percent of the Iraqi national budget. Earlier the KRG was receiving 13 percent of Iraq's funds originally allocated from the oil the United Nations allowed Iraq to sell under UN Security Resolution 986 of 14 April 1995. From 1997 to 2001, the UN oil-for-food program also had pumped some $4.6 billion into the KRG. Despite some serious inefficiencies, most Kurds are now better off than are Iraqis under Baghdad's administration. Trade over the border with Turkey in particular has also been profitable.
   New roads are being built; refugees are being resettled; food supplies are adequate; water and electricity are available; and shops are full of refrigerators from Turkey, soaps from Syria, and even potato chips from Europe. Nongovernmental organizations contribute to all this with literacy and community-building organizations not addressed by the United Nations.
   A civil society is also emerging, with dozens of newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations representing a broad spectrum of opinion. People have freedoms impossible to imagine in the rest of Iraq. In addition to the KDP and PUK, there are numerous other much smaller political parties, and criticism of both administrations is tolerated. The entire region under the KRG has 10 hospitals. Better medical training, however, is needed, and some medical specialties such as neurosurgery and plastic surgery are lacking. The electricity is often turned off, but hospitals have their own generators. The incidence of cancer is high, probably because of the usage of chemical weapons in the past and the current lack of chemotherapy. Most services require only a nominal fee.
   There are seven separate universities now operating: Sahahaddin, the University of Kurdistan (Hawler), and Isik in Irbil; Sulaymaniya and the American University in Suylaymaniya; Koncak; and Dohuk. However, essential infrastructure is still not complete. The future of the KRG is, of course, very uncertain. Protection from Baghdad is the ultimate concern, and this security will become problematic once the United States withdraws from Iraq after 2011. During 2009, the KRG was able to improve political relations with Turkey.
   Possibly as a result of these uncertainties, the KRG parliament suddenly approved a new constitution for the region in June 2009 and called for it to be ratified during the Kurdish regional elections scheduled to be held on 25 July 2009. Although this constitution declared that it adhered to the federal Iraqi constitution, defined Kurdistan as a region within Iraq, recognized the rights of all ethnic groups and their religions living within the region, provided for women to receive 30 percent of the membership in the KRG parliament and non-Kurdish ethnic groups 10 percent, and supposedly declared that it respected the will of the people of Kirkuk and the surrounding areas, it was criticized for granting too much power to the KRG president, unilaterally claiming Kirkuk, and being submitted for ratification too quickly. As a result, it was decided not to try to ratify the document during the elections held on 25 July 2009.
   The elections for a president and new parliament proceeded, however. Approximately 78 percent of 2.5 million eligible voters participated. Massoud Barzani was reelected president with a large majority of almost 70 percent of the popular vote. Four years earlier he had simply been elected president by the KRG parliament. More dramatically perhaps was the strong showing of Nawshirwan Mustafa's Gorran (Change Party), which garnered approximately 24 percent of the vote and gained 25 seats in the parliament, largely at the expense of the PUK. The joint KDP/PUK Kurdistani List won only 57 percent of the vote and saw its seats in parliament fall from 78 to 59 out of the 100 elected seats, which did not count 11 additional seats reserved for various minorities. The Service and Reform coalition of four small leftist and Islamic parties garnered almost 13 percent of the vote and gained 13 seats in the new parliament. Despite his party's relatively poor showing, Barham Salih, the main PUK candidate, eventually was chosen to be the new KRG prime minister replacing Nechirvan Idris Barzani, who along with Kosrat Rasul became one of the two KRG vice presidents. However, Rasul resigned a few months later. Kamal Karkuki became the new speaker of the parliament. The KRG maintains a website at www.krg.org.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

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