Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—A war of words between different Kurdish political camps has escalated against the backdrop of a lack of cash flow into Kurdistan government banks, Asharq Al-Awsat has learnt.
The leadership of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, has cancelled a meeting scheduled with the leadership of the Kurdish Movement for Change (Goran), led by Kurdish politician Mustafa Nushirwan. Goran is the most prominent party in the Kurdish region’s opposition front. A source close to the PUK claimed that the meeting was cancelled due to pressure from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani.
This latest development comes at a time of intensifying media confrontation between Mullah Bakhtiar—an official working in the executive body of the PUK political bureau—and the Kurdistan regional government, headed by Nechirvan Barzani, the number two in the KDP. This confrontation has risen against the backdrop of the financial crisis currently afflicting the Kurdish government’s banks in Suleimaniyah province, the heartland of the PUK.
Mullah Bakhtiar had directed strong criticism towards the regional government because of the lack of cash flow in government banks in Suleimaniyah, which have failed to pay employee salaries and finance service and development projects. Bakhtiar said, “There are sacks full of dollars in the cellars of some houses, while the banks are suffering from bankruptcy,” describing the regional government’s economic policy as a “failure”.
This prompted government spokesman Sven Daza Yei to respond and demand that Mullah Bakhtiar identify the houses whose cellars contain “sacks full of dollars.” In return, Bakhtiar sought to escalate the issue even further. His office issued a statement claiming, “The word ‘cellars’ was used as a metaphor to mean all things secret, but in fact we can confirm that yes, the cellars in the houses of many corrupt individuals are filled with sacks full of dollars. If only the regional government would hold those officials and millionaires to account, who have become rich illegally throughout Kurdistan, having collaborated with contractors on their projects, or having played the role of contract brokers and obtained illegal shares from companies.”
During a press conference yesterday, the Kurdish regional government’s finance minister, Bayiz Talabani, announced that “the problem with the banks’ cash flow stems back to the ministry’s concerns with the annual budget, and the lack of funding from Baghdad” adding “this is a problem that we will address in the coming days.”
In the meantime, the summit meeting scheduled between the PUK and Goran was postponed at the last minute because “the leadership of the PUK came under great pressure from its NDP ally, and therefore it announced the cancellation of the meeting,” according to one leading source.
A few months ago, there was an important convergence between the PUK and Goran, following a previous summit meeting that brought Mustafa Nushirwan and PUK Secretary-General Jalal Talabani together. The two sides agreed on several issues related to political reform in the region. The leading source, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said: “There is now an orientation within the leadership of the two parties to change the form of the political system in the Kurdistan region, with the agreement to adopt a parliamentary system instead of the current presidential system. Both parties have also agreed to return the draft constitution to parliament for amendments, and have outlined the need for political reforms. However, the NDP rejects these initiatives.”
The source also criticized the NDP for monopolizing government affairs in Iraqi Kurdistan, saying, “If any citizen, throughout Kurdistan, is required to give a testimony or provide fingerprints, they are sent to Erbil. Likewise, any official government transaction can only go through the minister and his headquarters in Erbil. This mentality of governance is outdated in most states, but in Kurdistan it still exists and dominates.”