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July 27, 2009 / jeni

Kurdistan: Don’t Mention the Corruption!

Things may be looking up a bit in Iraq, but final prognoses are ill-advised until Kurdish and Arab leaders resolve the thorny issues of Kirkuk and oil rights. That’s even assuming that things remain stable in Kurdistan itself (for an interesting brief, see Lydia Khalil’s report for Brookings). Against this backdrop, the weekend’s elections in Kurdistan had the potential to shake things up, with the allegedly Obama-inspired Change movement challenging the powerful and enduring Kurdish establishment, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).  Change accuses both parties — each of which commands tens of thousands of peshmerga — of corruption and nepotism.

In the end, Change did well — especially in Sulaimaniya — and gained a parliamentary presence, mostly at the expense of the PUK (from which its leaders defected two years ago, leading some to question whether Change really represents a different approach). Anthony Shadid does a great job (per usual) of breaking down the political ramifications overall. The website Kurdish Media has more unconfirmed details on the vote (as well as some blushing editorials praising Change).

It is interesting to see a new opposition movement (one with potentially more appeal to Kurds than extremist leftist or Islamist groups) make use of official corruption as a mobilising tool. But Kurdistan would seem a perfect example of what I think of as “don’t mention the corruption” syndrome. No one — outside of domestic and international human rights groups — has any interest in pushing on issues that could lead to internal instability in such a fragile context. And unless Change organise their own peshmerga*, their ultimate influence on Kurdish politics is likely to remain limited.

* not an actual recommendation

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