Saturday, March 14, 2009

News from the Kurdish Region

Until the old man is out of the way, everyone else who hungers for power in Iraqi Kurdistan is on hold. It could be a long wait. Despite his chronic bad knee and a Mayo Clinic heart operation last August, 75-year-old Jalal Talabani, Iraq's president, is a survivor. At present, he and his longtime rival, Massoud Barzani (together with their families and their respective political machines), still control the largest part of what's worth controlling in the three northern Iraqi provinces that make up the autonomous region. Government ranks are filled with their relatives. Barzani himself is president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, while his nephew Nechirvan is its prime minister and his son Masrour is in charge of intelligence. Talabani's son Qubad is the Kurds' man in Washington, while a nephew heads counterintelligence. Backers once touted Kurdistan as the model for a democratic Iraq--perhaps even for a total makeover of the Middle East. But if anything, the place seems more and more like a stagnant, feudal principality.
Kurdistan used to be the Americans' favorite part of Iraq. Temperate and stable, pro-Western, mostly secular and gleefully capitalist, it was a haven from the chaos and bloodshed that engulfed the rest of the country. It was never perfect--then as now, corruption was endemic, human rights were patchy and civic life was dominated by the same two parties: Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Still, most Kurds could live with the flaws as long as the regional government defended their hard-won autonomy and kept away the suicide bombers.
But as the rest of Iraq keeps growing more open and democratic, the enclave remains stuck in its old ways--and ordinary Kurds are noticing. Businessmen grumble at having to form partnerships with government cronies; voters are demanding more choice. One recent survey in the region found that 83 percent of respondents say the place needs to change. "We're fed up with a government that forgets about people," says Mousa Rasoul, 39, owner of a small business in the town of Sangasar. Those complaints are not to be ignored, a senior Kurdish official agrees. "If we don't respond, others will come and take over this place," he tells NEWSWEEK, asking not to be named on such a risky topic. "Whether it is the Islamists or someone else. We cannot count anymore on revolutionary rhetoric to justify our rule."

The above is from Lennox Samuels' "The Myth of Kurdistan" (Newsweek) which explores the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistan Regional Government. The exploration comes as Khalid al-Ansary, Tim Cocks, Waleed Ibrahim, Tim Cocks and Janet Lawrence (Reuters) report Jalal Talabani has announced when his term as Iraq's president ends with this year, when he'll be 76-years-old and, of course, there is his history of heart problems. He refused to follow doctors' orders regarding what to eat. Refused the orders mere hours after leaving the hospital, wasn't even on the flight back to Iraq yet. Collapsed in a US bookstore and had to be escorted out. And that was one year before he had to come back to the US for heart surgery. Translation, the news isn't at all surprising.

Whether he'll be able to step down this December will depend upon whether or not elections are held. They're supposed to take place but if they're delayed until January, presumably he and Iraq's two vice presidents would remain in office until elections were held.

Turning to today's violence . . .


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports two Baghdad missile attacks (no one killed, no one wounded), a Baghdad sticky bombing which wounded an "Awakening" member's family -- "mother, father, two sons and a daughter," 2 Baghdad roadside bombings which wounded four people and a Diyala Province roadside bombing which claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi service members.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police woman wounded in a Mosul shooting
Diyala. Reuters states she was shot dead.

Meanwhile, Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports Jawad al-Bolani, Iraq's Interior Minister, has declared there needs to be a "war of intelligence" -- and who better to conduct then the thug-laden Interior Ministry? Does no one notice the roundups carried out in the last few weeks by the Interior Ministry? al-Bolani got extremely lucky that no reporters worked the press conference so he could say he that recruiting's on hold due to budget cuts. Real reporters might have pointed out that since October the police were supposed to be bringing in "Awakening" Council members and they really haven't. Shi'ite thugs don't want to mix with Sunni thugs. But if the recruiting process is too difficult, the "Awakening"s have been doing the same thing the Interior Ministry does and would need recruiting or training, just to be put on the payroll -- as most assumed they would be.

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