Known as the “terrible child” of the Iraqi Kurdish national movement, Nawshirwan Mustafa had risen to the highest reachable position in Suleimania. He was a member of the political bureau and deputy secretary general of the PUK — the secretary general being none other than Jalal Talabani, who is at the same time president of the Republic of Iraq and the lifelong head of PUK– when he decided in February 2007 to resign and become a ” simple militant “. A simple militant who is publishing a newspaper, Rozhnama, coupled with a popular web site, in which he says loudly what many people dare not even whisper, and who is now preparing to launch a satellite TV, KNNC (Kurdish News Network Channel) to bring news, but ” no singing and dancing”, he asserts with conviction.
“The time has come to focus on internal issues”, Nawshirwan Mustafa states at his house in Suleimania. One such issue is the effects of corruption on the people by the people. It is one of the major problems that have risen in recent times. It has serious and harmful impact on the society. It prevents the nation form developing. Here is the link to other issues that affect the people in one way or another. “But I am saying what I have to say with a friendly voice. I am not in opposition. I have good relations with both Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani — head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). We all talk together. I am their friend, not their ennemy. I want to make reforms in the government, the parliament, and in the bureaucracy. It is better, when there are problems, to discuss them”.
Lack of services
The first challenge, Nawshirwan Mustafa says, is the lack of services: the Kurds have been their own rulers for 17 years, but they still have certain issues to address. Currently a severe shortage of electricity hampers Kurds from going about their daily business. The government provides only about one hour of electricity per day ; those who can afford it, buy seven or eight hours of electricity from the owners of private generators, others must manage without power.
Water is also an acute problem, as demonstrated by the recent cholera epidemic in Suleimania. There is also a severe shortage of housing. Rents are skyrocketing, and young people cannot afford to marry unless thy are prepared to live with their parents. Infrastructural development is lagging behind and there is a shortage of schools, even in big cities: “In Suleimania we have schools running with four shifts. How is it possible when the budget for the Kurdish region is 6 bn$ “, questions Nawshirwan Mustafa, echoing a widely popular feeling.
Another problem, adds Nawshirwan Mustafa, is the lack of transparency in the running of government affairs. “There is no transparency on budgetary matters. Ordinary people do not know anything about the budget of KDP and PUK or the budget for education. What do people know about the oil contracts? And there is no transparency on foreign affairs: nobody knows what is going on between the Kurdish leaders and Bagdad, or between the Kurdish leaders and the Americans”.
“I know the budget, because I was part of the leadership. I was one of them”, he notes, adding : “But I cannot tell you because I do not want to make trouble. Again, I stress, I am not the ennemy of Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani but I do want them to make things public. It is in their favour to do so. I want to instill in public opinion a real desire for reform”.
Nawshirwan Mustafa goes on to identify the most serious problem facing Kurdish society as corruption. “I am not only speaking of bribery, but also of cronyism and nepotism”, he says, adding: “Unless you are close to one of the parties (PUK and KDP), you have no chance of being a minister or a deputy minister. The parties are interfering in the media and the judiciary. The judges are appointed by the parties. The parties control everything in the society. We are in a totalitarian system, like in the former Soviet bloc, or the Romania of old”.
“Of course, I am proud of what we have accomplished ; we have a government, a parliament. But now is the right time to speak out about our problems. The party is appointing everybody, from village heads to the governors of the provinces, even the heads of the universities,” says Nawshirwan Mustafa, echoing a grievance felt by much of the population, from disfranchised young students to sceptical journalists. He claims that even the acceptance of students for PhD course depends on the party. “Not only it is necessary to be a member of the party, but it is necessary to have somebody inside the leadership supporting you”. In Suleimania, the office of democratic organisations controls all the jobs in the trade unions. “Even the prime minister did not choose his ministers”, claims Nawshirwan Mustafa, “the parties did — fractions and blocs inside the parties”.
Claiming that there is a 100-fold difference between the highest salaries and the lowest salaries in the government, the former leader of Komala, a Maoist Kurdish organisation, observes : “Our society is divided in two different classes… We now have a very rich class and a very poor one in a society of freedom fighters turned statesmen”.
Asked why the PUK did not nominate a candidate for the post of prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government last autumn, as agreed by KDP and PUK in their “strategic agreement”, and why the PUK accepted that the KDP’s Nechirvan Barzani remained prime minister”, Nawshirwan Mustafa surprisingly backs off and declines to comment: “I was one of the founders of PUK in 1976, so I do not want to speak about some problems… I have some moral commitments”.
He only volunteers, “The people do not care who is prime minister. They want someone who can provide services and social justice. The people expected that after the unification of the Kurdish PUK and KDP administrations, there would be change. But there is no change”.
“There is no opposition in Kurdistan”, mulls Nawshirwan Mustafa. “All the political parties, big and small, participate in the government. It was necessary to speak with one voice in Bagdad until the Iraqi constitution was written. Now however the time to speak up has come”.
“Born in 1944, I joined KDP in 1961, at the age of 17, when Jalal Talabani opened the KDP legal office in Souleimania, under Qassem. We are the lucky generation, we saw the victory and the freedom of our country. Sheikh Mahmoud was banned from his home town for 40 years. Sheikh Said and Qazi Mohammed were hanged. General Barzani died in exile. We are the lords of our country. But, he concludes, I do not want to be like the emirates, I do not want Kurdistan to be a nation of parasites.”
(The Middle East magazine, May 2008)