Since the breaking off of peace negotiations between the Turkish government and the PKK last July, the level of violence in Turkish Kurdistan has been constantly rising — a phenomenon largely due to the State’s own activities.
Police and troops seem to be using the same kind of collective repression that they initiated in Cizre on 4 to 13 September on all the towns they have attacked over the last few weeks. Diyarbekir is now experiencing its first curfew. Different actions are nearly always used simultaneously: the town is surrounded by security forces using armours cars and even helicopters; tanks may shell the town from the surrounding hills (as at Cizre); the town is kept under continuous curfew for days, or even weeks, at a time and public services such as water and electricity and medicines are cut for the duration of the curfew. The inhabitants of quarters so isolated are absolutely forbidden to go onto the streets to fetch food, water, medical treatment medicines while police snipers lie in ambush in the areas concerned and aim at anybody they see, even children, without seeking, before opening fite, to judge whether their targets are really endangering them or their colleagues. (Some inhabitants housebound in this way have testified that they had to drink the eater from their toilets.) Those wounded this way could not even be taken to a place of treatment as the security forces prevented ambulances going to those wounded to take them to a hospital or health centre. Consequently thei r bodies often remained lying in the street where they had been hit without anyone daring to go and collect it — sometimes the body of a deceased family member remained in their home for days before they could be taken to the mosque.
Masked militiamen sometimes accompany the police and Army patrols who it has not yet been possible to identify positively, but who behave more like members of ISIS than state officials, shouting “Allahu Akbar” and leaving Islamo-nationalist slogans on the walls with the name they have adopted of “Allah’s Lions” (Esedullah).
Alongside the loss of human lives and acts of violence, the photos broadcast on the social networks by the inhabitants testify to massive material damage. On the 34rd, some inhabitants of Cizre testified that they had been obliged to hide in the cellars of their bock of flats because of the shelling: 23 people from 4 different families, including two babies, were obliged to share a two-roomed unheated cellar (it should be mentioned that tht e winters in this part of Kurdistan are much harsher than in France).
A resident of the town of Silopi, very close to the Border with Iraqi Kurdistan, told AFP News Agency that the firing had broken the windows, that the water had been cut off and the flat had been rendered uninhabitable because by cold. In Diyarbekir, after six days of continuous curfew the security forces burned down the historic Kurşunlu mosque, not far from the place where the Bar Association president, Tahir Elçi, had been assassinated in the middle of the road. just as he was protesting and the destruction of local heritage. Just before he was shot down he had said: “We do not want clashes, guns and operations in this historic place”. In another part of old Diyarbekir, Hasiri, a house hit by police gunfire caught fire and the neighbours had to act, still under police gunfire, to bring the children out of it. According to a report by the opposition party CGP (a Kemalist party, formerly in power and this not inclined to sympathise with Kurdish activists who Erdogan was attacking so fiercely) tens of thousands of the inhabitants of the Diyarbekir’s old town had been forced to flee from their homes.
The security forces also carried out many arrests, sometimes with acts of violence: an aged couple of a village of the Sirnak district were obliged to walk 60 Km to the city’s police headquarters. N Cizre, on the 27th, a baby and her grandfather were shot dead: the little 3-month old girl is said to have been hit in the head by a bullet. The grand father, seeing she was still breathing, was then shot down as he tried to take her to an ambulance. The family testified that the shots came from the Cizre public hospital, which was controlled by the security forces. This cannot fail to recall the events and massacre at Robiski, whose fourth anniversary was on that day: In the night of 2011, after some Turkish fighter planes had killed 34 Kurdish youths in the Sirnak region as they were crossing the border om a smuggling expedition. The soldiers had forbidden any First Aid to go near the site, and so several of the wounded, who had survived the attack lost all their blood or died of cold . . .
The protests against these unacceptable practices aroused an extremely violent reaction from the security forces. Thus all the protests called by the “pro-Kurdish” HDP party were systematically broken up by water canons and tear gas— sometimes reinforced by gun fire with real bullets: on 14 December at Diyarbekir, two young protesters of 21 and 25 years of age were killed in clashes with the security forces, two others were wounded and about forty arrests were made. On the 23rd, also at Diyarbekir, while thousands of people were tyring to march on the old city, blockaded since the 2nd, they were dispersed in the same way and a 16-year old boy was killed by a bullet through the chest. In Van, on the 22nd, a demonstration of 500 was broken up in the dame way with 18 arrests. On the same day hundreds of demonstrators from Sirnak, trying to enter Cizre and Silopi were prevented from doing so by the police with teargas. There were also demonstrations in support of the Kurds in the west of the country: at Ankara on the 18ththere were clashes between police and students from the Middle East Technical University (METU) who wanted to march to Erdogan’s palace with a banner bearing the slogan “The Kurdish People is not alone”. Six of them were arrested, including two women. On the 26th, 300 demonstrators marched through Kizilay Square to protest at the violence in the Southeast of the country forming a “peace chain”.
On the 15th of the month, Prime Minister Davutoğlu, to justify the brutal and indiscriminate methods used, described them as a collective punishments, arguing that the curfew s had been “imposed to prevent Kurdish activists from massacring civiliams”!! At the same time the Minister of the Interior, Efkan Ala, declared to the State’s News Agency Anatolia that “the terrorists wanted to paralyse everyday life in these towns by intimidating the inhabitants who they had held to ransom”. In reference to Cizre (100,000 inhabitants) and Silopi (80,000 inhabitants) Mr. Davutoğlu also declared that these operations aimed at “cleansing these districts of terrorists house by house”.
As could be expected, the leaders of the pro-Kurdish HDP criticised these excuses. Its co-President, Mrs. Figen Yuksegdağ burst out at a press conference “There are people living in those houses Davutoğlu!” while its other co-President Selahattin Demirtaş asked the government before a group of journalists asking “Are you trying to be heroic by sending 6 generals and 10.000 soldiers against a handful of PKK members in Cizre? (…) By carrying out an operation with such vast forces you are just showing your own impotence”.
Moreover Demirtaş remarked that they could not be reduced, as the government members were arguing, to a battle between the security forces and “15 or 20 PKK members”. “If that were the case the issue would have been resolved long ago (…) The people in the (Turkish) Kurdistan region want autonomy. (The AKP politicians) carried out a coup d’état after (the elections of) 7 June” he continued. “The West of Turkey, in particular, must understand this: what you are criticising by talking about trenches and barricades is, in fact, a resistance to this coup”. T he President of Turkey described Demirtas’s statement about autonomy of the Kurdish regions as “treason” and “unconstitutional” adding “the will of the people is stronger than arms”. According to the Anatolia Press Agency, Public Prosecutors started criminal proceedings against Demirtaş on 28 with charges of “crimes against the constitutional order”. At the same time Prime Minister Davutoğlu cancelled a meeting with Demirtaş at which they were to have discussed constitutional reforms.
International condemnations have also begun to be expressed. On 22 December the European Union broke its long silence by reacting in a small way with a communiqué from the spokeswoman of the EU External action Department, Maja Kocijancic, suggesting that the only way of resolving the conflict taking place was to return to the peace process began earlier and calling on the Turkish authorities “to act in a proportionate manner and show some restraint”. Four days later 15,000 Kurds marched in Düsseldorf to denounce the curfews and also criticise the EU for having preferred maintaining its “refugee deal” with Erdogan (3 billion euros against a fictitious closing of the borders) to its own principles of Human Rights … On the 29th, the co-Vice President of HDP, Mrs. Meral Danis Beştaş, filed a complaint against Turkey at the European Human Rights Court regarding the long-term curfews, which According to the Turkish Constitution can only be authorised in periods of martial law or a regional state of emergency, without which, she writes in her plea, imposing them is contrary to Article 19 of the Constitution and Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
On 23rd, Human Rights Watch (HRWO published a report calling to question the excessive violence and the blanket on information carried out by the Turkish State since the beginning of military operations in Turkish Kurdistan:
“The governor of Sirnak Province, in which Cizre is located, stated to the Media on 17 September that with the destruction of considerable quantities of explosives, “the bodies of 7 terrorists were recovered, 17 members of the separatist terrorist organisation were arrested” and that “the losses of the terrorist organisation are estimated at 40-42”. The governor made no mention of deaths of ordinary civilians, whereas the Diyarbekir Bar Association and other groups have identified 16 civilians ding of wounds from bullets and shrapnel and five others who died because they had been unable to obtain medical treatment during the curfew. Human Rights watch has recorded 8 deaths from bullets.”
“When the curfew on Silvan was lifted, the governor of Diyarbekir (Province), in which Silvana is located, announced that two policemen and a gendarme, “2 citizens” and “10 members of the separatist terrorist organisation” had been killed. Human Rights Watch has recorded five deaths, four of which seem to have been civilians. Similarly at Nusaybin the official statement of the Deputy Governor mentioned “the deaths of 3 citizens from shrapnel” whereas Human Rights Watch recorded 3 deaths from bullets and other cases have been reported to it. “Neither Sivan’s Assistant Governor nor the Deputy governor of Nusaybin have answered to requests to meet Human Rights Watch.”
HRW also urges the Kurdish armed groups “to stop digging trenchers containing explosives” so as to prevent the security forces from entering their quarters. However, a senior PKK official, Murat Karayilan, stated that these trenches and barricades had been set up precisely to protect Kurdish civilians against Turkish attacks.
Thus the vicious circle of violence does not seems to be ended soon, especially as the Turkish government is not inclined to listen to the various appeals made to it. It prefers to “justify” its actions by regularly publishing figures of the number of separatist activists killed. According to it they are: 8 at Silvan and Cizre on the 16th, 25 at Cizre and Silopi and 36 from air strikes on Iraqi Kurdistan on the 17th, 49 à Cizre and 6 at Silopi on the 18th. …
However these figures are completely unverifiable — journalist are clearly not welcome in the operation areas. While the Army announced it had killed 89 activists at Cizre, or which only 9 on the 20th, then raised the number to 102 before announcing on the 23rd having killed 123 in one week, a figure increased to 168 on the 25th. Similarly Murat Karayilan has not been slow in disputing these successive figures: “Where are their bodies, where are their arms? These figures are lies” he stated in an interview with the (pro-PKK) Firat News Agency. He then added “the conflict is developing into a civil war” and had entered into a “new phase”.
In fact the PKK activists have regularly continued to hit back at the security forces. On the 15th a bomb placed by the roadside in Silvan district “killed three policemen and wounded three others; on the 17th a soldier was killed at Cizre, on the 22nd 2 soldiers were killed and 6 were wounded in another attack using a roadside bomb ne at Bitlis … HRW estimates the number of deaths among the State’s security forces at 200 since the renewal of fighting but it is probable that others will be hit: Cemil Bayik, President of the PKK Executive Committee and the party’s N° 2 announced on 29th an intensification of the civil war in Turkey, adding that the PKK reserved the right to deploy more fighters in Turkey’s Kurdish towns, since “it is our duty to protect the people”. He also announced “the creation of common front with other groups against the Erdogan regime”.
According to an HDP communiqué dated the 30th, 360 civilians, including 61 children and 73 women have been killed since the end of the peace process last summer and the beginning of operations: “Contrary to their affirmations that they are guaranteeing peace and security, the authorities are creating fear amongst the people, unconcernedly killing civilians and destroying cultural heritage”.
On 29 December last, faced with the deterioration of the situation in Turkish Kurdistan, the Union of Southeast Anatolian Municipalities (Güneydoğu AnadoluBelediyeler Birliği – GABB) issued “an urgent appeal to all the worlds democratic forces to oppose the anti-democratic measures of the Turkish State” for all the governments to “start a dialogue with the Turkish State so as to restart the peace process that was taking place for two and a half years but which was broken off on 25 July 2015”.
Here is a full translation of this appeal.
“Appeal of 29 December by the Union of Southeast Anatolian Municipalities
“In the context of the armed conflict that has been resumed in the Kurdish regions of Turkey following the June 2015 elections, 186 civilians have been killed, most of who are women or children, hundreds have been wounded and thousands arrested. Seventeen of the co-mayors, members of our Union (municipalities run by the HDP, the pro-Kurdish party, have set up a system, modelled on that used in their own party organisation, of man/woman parity, with mayors and co-mayors) are still locked up and 25 of them have been suspended from office; warrants for their arrest going back to July 2015. Faced with such violations of Human Rights, it is urgent that talks be resumed for the resolution of the Kurdish question in Turkey.
Since last August, in reaction to the renewal of the Turkish State’s repressive policy, popular assemblies in numerous Kurdish towns have called for autonomy. The Turkish State has answered this demand, whose aim is to create decentralised structures offset over-centralisation, by a completely disproportionate State violence. In all Kurdish towns where this demand had been expressed, in particular Cizre, Sur (the walled old town of Diyarbakir) Siven, Nusaybin, Dargeçit, Silopi and Yüksekova, the State has imposed a curfew that has lasted for several weeks during which civilians have been killed by Turkish security forces, while masses of the population has fled. Over 20,000 people have had to leave the conflict zones and the number will continue to increase. Moreover many historic buildings in the Sur quarter, which have been listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites, have been destroyed or are endangered by the fighting. The Kurşunlu mosque and the Pasha’s hammam (baths) that go back to the 16th Century were taken as targets by the Turkish security forces and were so completely destroyed that any future restoration seems impossible.
Since the resumption of armed conflict, 18 towns of 100,000 inhabitants or more have suffered from curfews, which are still in force, five o them since 21 December. Since 14 December, attacks by the security forces on urban areas have reached a fresh level of destruction. Tanks and heavy weaponry, normally used in conditions of conventional warfare, are being used by the Turkish Armed Forces in towns where hundreds of thousands of people live. In the last few weeks the police and Army presence has been increased in a spectacular manner in our region. According to official statistics, 14 Generals, 26 Colonels and 10,000 soldiers have been transferred to the city of Sirnak alone and we expect another 5,000 troops in the next few days.
Furthermore, the National Education rectorates of Cizre and Silopi have asked their teachers to leave these towns. The Health Ministry has instructed the hospitals in our region to increase, as far as possible, their medical equipment, staff and supply of medicines. All public demonstrations against the curfew and breaches of Human Rights are brutally repressed by the police.
All this leads us to think that the violations of Human Rights that have taken place in our region over the last few months are going to increase and worsen.
This is why we a appealing to all the world’s democratic forces to oppose the Turkish State’s anti-democratic measures.
To avoid more deaths and new violations of Human Rights in the coming days, before it is too late, we are asking concretely:
that News Agencies, reporters, journalists come to the conflict zone to see and give an account of what is happening;
that governmental and non-governmental organisations concerned with Human Rights send delegations to become aware and report on the violations being perpetrated in the conflict zone;
that international delegations come to visit the arrested co-mayors and take note of the conditions of their internment and of the legal proceedings taking place;
that international political leaders call urgently on the parties involved to withdraw their armed forces from urban areas, especially heavy weapons, do as to make a bilateral cease-fire possible;
that the governments break their silence and begin a dialogue with the Turkish State in order to restart the peace process that was taking place over the last two years and was broken off on 25 July 2015.
co-president of the GABB
co-mayor of Diyarbakır »
In Iraq, as in Syria, the Kurdish struggle against ISIS in continuing. In Syria, however, over and above its strictly military aspect, the Kurdo-Arab alliance in the lead in the struggle against ISIS, which calls itself the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) has decided to set up a political body that would enable it to be taken into account internationally in the pending negotiations on the country’s future.
On the 1st December, the SDF, supported by the Americans and whom the Russians are also supplying with arms, recapture the Hassaké dam, about 25 Km South of the town of that name, and advanced towards Sheddadi, 46 Km further South. This town is, after Raqqa, the Jihadist organisation’s second most important stronghold in Southeastern Syria.
Their advance has been slower because of the mines laid by the Jihadists. The SDF is made up of several allied units: the biggest being the Kurdish YPG (men) and YPJ (women) both of which are linked to the Kurdish YPD party. The other units are the Syriac Military Council, the al-Sanadid Arab tribal group, the Al-Jazira brigades, the al-Thuwar group and the Burkan al-Furat Battalion. Since its creation in October 2015, this alliance has proved to be most effective in the fight against ISIS, since in month it recaptured over 210 villages. Since the creation of the SDF other opposition geroups have regularly expressed their wish to join.
Nevertheless the Syrian Kurds are faced with an increasingly marked hostility from Turkey, which has shelled their positions on several occasions, and the SDF, like the PYD was totally ignored by the organisations in the “Syrian Opposition Conference” that met in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia over the 9th and 10 December. In reply to this exclusion, a “Democratic Syrian Conference” took place at Derîk (Al-Malikiya) in d’Hassaké province (i.e. on Syrian soil). This conference brought together the Kurdish PYD and various opposition groups in order to give the SDF a political representation.
This Conference consisted of 103 delegates, including representatives of the Autonomous Democratic Administration (TEV-DEM) the administration set up to manage “Rojava”, or Syrian Kurdistan, a number of other Kurdish political groups, Arabs, Turlomenians, Assyrians as well as independent public figures, intellectuals, journalist and Arab tribal leaders. It discussed the future setting up of a decentralised political system for Syria.
“This is the first time since the beginning of the Syrian crisis that a national opposition conference has been organised inside the country, in areas liberated from both the despotic regime and the terrorists”, declared the conference organiser Abdulkarim Omar.
On the 10th the Derik conference announced that it had elected a 42-member “Syrian Democratic Council”, which immediately declared it was ready, in negotiation with the regime, to seek a solution for the transition period, which should lead to elections and a new Constitution respecting the rights of the Kurds within a Federal Syrian republic
On the same day, the Rojava Autonomous Administration, following its exclusion from the Riyafh talks, published a declaration recalling that those taking part in the Vienna meetings hoped “to take the initiative of bringing together the Syrian opposition ina balanced delegation so as to negotiated directly with the regime so as to put an end to this blood-soaked war”. However, external powers had interfered with this project to defend their own interests and that in consequence “the Riyadh conference is taking place without any real representation of all the components of the Syrian people”. Then declaration concluded that since the Rojava Administration had been excluded from this conference it would not be concerned by its decisions, which had been taken with consultation with it and so could not be imposed on it.
On the 18th the US Secretary for Defence decided that the cooperation of the American special-forces with the Syrian Kurds had been a success. This statement came while, according to a source close to the discussions on Syria in New York, both the Americans and Russians considered including the Syrian Democratic Council in the delegation that would begin negotiations with the regime. Rumours mentioned Salih Muslim and Haytham Manna to start discussions with the 33-member “Supreme Council” created in Riyadh. Manna himself has walked out of the discussions at Riyadh in protest at the inclusion of Islamist extremists. On the 16th Serguei Lavrov had declared that the Syrian Kurds “should be party to all discussions on the future of Syria”. The new Syrian Democratic Council, despite its recent creation, is thus in a good position to defend its points of view in future negotiations — to the probable annoyance of Turkey, which has always argued for the exclusion of the Syrian Kurds from any such political processes.
It should be recalled that on the 19th the UN Security Council approved the peace plan for Syria. The UN should present the Council with options for controlling the ceasefire within a month. On the 24th the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem announced, in reply that the Syrian government was ready to take part in discussions at Geneva at the end of January and that he hoped that these would enable the forming of a government of national unity: “This a government” he declared, “will form a Constitutional Committee to work on a new Constitution with new election legislation so that parliamentary elections can take place about 18 months later”.
However, despite these political discussions military situation in the field has in no way eased. On the 11th, an ISIS attack, using two trucks filled with explosives, hit Tell Tamer, in Hassaké Province, which is controlled by the PYD. It killed at least 50 people and wounded 80 more. The explosions, late in the evening, damaged a hospital, close to a residential area and a market. The victims seem all to have been civilians, though some of the Kurdish police were also hit.
On the 13th some jihadists close to the al-Nustra Front, the Ahrar al-Shams together with other groups fired some mortar shells at the Kurdish Cheikh Maqsoud quarter of Aleppo. The Syrian Kurds accuse Turkey of supporting them. The YPG’s riposte to this attack started to larger scale clashes. The Afrin Region, Northeast of Aleppo has also been besieged for several weeks by the al-Nostra Front. On the 7th Masud Barzani had called on the international community to support this region and to deliver food and medicines to the civilians there.
On the 17th
Exchanges of fire took place at Qamishlo (the Kurdish name for Qamishli), in the Jezeera region, just South of the Turkish border, opposite Nusaybin. This tume the clash was between the Kurds and a pro-regime militia. These clashes began when the asayish (Kurdish police) arrested a drunker member of this militia who had fired on a Kurdish policeman on traffic control duty. They resumed even more intensely the next morning when the militiamen tried to conscript some young resident of Qamishlo into the Syrian Army. The Rojava Administration and Damascus are in competition over conscription here — which is often opposed (in both cases) by the youth concerned — some of whom complain that they have done their National Service twice.
Towards the end of the month the SDF renewed their Southward advance from Kobané. Last July, before the formation of the Arab-Kurdish alliance, the fighters had already driven the Jihadist organisation from the town of Sarrin, in Aleppo Province.
On the 23rd the SDF, backed by US air strikes, launched a fresh attack on ISIS to the South of this town, aiming at freeing the area up to the Tishrin dam, o the Euphrates.
On the 21st it had was 21 Km from the dam and engaged, according to the Syrian Centre for Human Rights (SCHR), in heavy fighting with the Jihadist on the Eastern bank of the river. On the 27th they succeeded in capturing the Tishrin dam.
A few days later, in the evening of the 30th, Qamishlo was subjected to several ISIS suicide attacks, which caused at least 16 deaths and 22 injured in two restaurants located in Christian quarters controlled by the pro-regime forces and a youth Centre. The YPG succeeded, just in time, in preventing a fourth explosion by shooting the man carrying the bomb.
The Iraqi Kurdistan Region is still threatened by the ISIS organisation — and this in a particularly sensitive context as it involves internal political tensions — which are, moreover, constantly revived by a major economic crisis — and some external tensions: recent ones between Baghdad and Ankara regarding the presence of Turkish troops in the Mosul region. All this while relations between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government remain difficult…
Despite the “painful awakening” of the summer of 2014, when Erbil suddenly seemed likely to fall into the hands of ISIS, the Jihadist threat seems abated. This is partly true, but is is also because the media have turned their cameras and attention to other events. The ISIS threat is still very present, nor has it abandoned its projects. The Peshmergas, 1,300 of whom have fallen in battle since the summer of 2014, continue to repulse its attacks. Thus on the 1st of the month they shot down a Jihadist reconnaissance drone flying over their lines before repulsing a an offensive in Nineveh Province, North of Mosul, part of which was aimed at the Bashiqa base, which is just where are stationed the Turkish troops whose presence cause friction between Baghdad and Ankara. The latter, indeed, announced that four of its soldiers had been wounded in the attack. Two Peshmergas were killed by suicide attacks but two other jihadists were shot before being able to detonate their load. Over 70 Jihadists are said to have been killed, though this figure has not been confirmed.
The, on the 27th the Kurdish special forces, with the help and advice of US commandos, carried out a night rais on a Jihadist cache Southeast of the Arab locality of Hawijah, in the course of which several ISIS commanders were killed. It should be remarked that the next day, the 28th, Iraq announced that it had completely taken the city of Ramadi from the Jihadists. Also on that day 14 Peshmergas were killed in a suicide attack in the Sinjar region, Northeast of Mosul, while they were finishing the cleansing of three of the region’s districts of the explosive booby traps left by ISIS so that the population could return.
The Peshmerga top command continues to coordinate with the international coalition, especially with the Americans, to discuss the retaking of Mosul, whose dam is now in Peshmerga hands, after some heavy fighting in the course of which it was seriously damaged. The dams protection should be reinforce by a 450-man Italian contingent, since the Italian company Trevi has secured a 1.83 billion euro contract to carry out the repairs needed — though the military situation has not yet permitted this to begin.
While these incessant military operations are taking place, the Kurdistan regional Government is facing increasing difficulty is meeting its financial commitments.
Indeed, though the KRG’s budget was almost completely dependent on its oil sales, the price per barrel had fallen from $130 in 2013 to $31 in December 2015, while it still had to pay the wages of nearly 1,4 million government officials and provide assistance to the 1.8 million refugees and displaced people on its soil as well as paying substantial sums to the oil companies operating on its oilfields such as DNO (Norway) et Genel Energy (USA). The sums involved probably exceeded two billion dollars and might even reach six billion. The situation was becoming increasingly urgent: at the beginning of the month a London Court ordered the KRG to pay nearly 2 billion dollars within 28 days to the Emirate company Dana Gaz. Le KRG had already had to borrow 730 million dollars a month and the economic situation was having its impact on the fight against ISIS: a plan to create three new Peshmerga brigades had to be dropped as the KRG couldn’t cover the pay for fresh troops, and there are rumours that some Peshmergas, obliged to buy their own ammunition, may have left the front, demoralised.
The delay in paying the wages of the Region’s employees, and particularly the trachers, have aroused social tensions in addition to those caused by the political deadlock shaking the Regionsince the legal end of Masud Barzani’s term of office as the federal Region’s President, last August. Serious disagreements between the political parties followed from this — especially between Barzani’s KDP and the Gorran (Change) movement (itself the result of a split in Jalal Talabani’s PUK), which now is the majority party in the Southeast part of the Region, the KDP maintaining a strong majority in the Northwest. While discussions are still going on between the five main political parties of Kurdistan to try and find some common ground, they have, so far, been bogged down by two refusals: the KDP refuses to allow the Speaker of the Kurdish Parliament (a Gorran member) to return to his post in Erbil (where Parliament sits) and the parallel refusal to allow the four Gorran ministers to return to the cabinet from which they had been expelled by the KDP Prime Minister last October. Gorran is refusing to discuss anything until these demands have been met . . .
In consequence the Region’s Parliament has been virtually dead since last October, the KDP accusing Gorran of having incited attacks on its premises in the Eastern part of the country at the end of 2015 which resulted in the deaths of several of its cadres, and says that the movement it is now part of the opposition, while Gorran denies all responsibility for those events and demands to be included in the government
The way the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s internal political process is being bogged down comes at a time when its economic situation is deteriorating seriously. According to the World Bank the Region’s growth was only 3% last year, as against 8% in 2012. The unemployment rate has doubled in the last two years. Since the Region does not yet have any reliable statistical centre, these figures should be treated with caution. The worst estimate is that of the Investors’ Union, Mala Yassin Mahmoud, who estimated, on the 2nd of the month, that the unemployment rate was 20-25%, adding that 700,000 had lost their jobs in the private sector since 2013.
The head of the Suleimaniyah Statistical Directorate, Yassin Mahmoud, for his part advanced somewhat lower figures: and unemployment rate of 7% in 2013 and of 10%in 2014, adding that there were no reliable figures for 2015 and that, in view of the large number of civil servants, it was ridiculous to talk about 700,000 job losses in the private sector.
However, a study last August by the World Bank in co-ordination with the KRG Statistics Office calculated a steadily increasing level of unemployment level between 2013 (before the war against ISIS and the refugee crisis) and 2015, going from 6.3% to 12%, and especially a considerable increase in the level of poverty in the Region’s three provinces. This has risen from 3.5% to a record level of 12%. The level of poverty is a more reliable indicator of the social tension in the Region, where the levels of social welfare are in no way comparable with those in Europe . . .
To cover its payments, the KRG has recourse to several “emergency” methods. For short-term liquidities, it began to seize funds deposited in the local branches of the Iraqi Central Bank. This measure, adopted when the previous Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al Maliki, had cut off the Kurdish Region’s share of of the Federal budget following disagreements over the management of oil, and has been extended through necessity. Then, during 2015 the KRG tried to issue 500 million dollars worth of bonds. The Central Government opposed this measure but the drop in oil prices buried the project anyhow.
As a longer-term measure, the KRG envisaged various means of increasing its revenue and reducing its expenditure. Regarding the first, it planned to increase oil exports to 1 million barrels a day as against the present 650,000, so as to pay the wages in 2016. However, the difficulty the KRG is having in paying the oil companies working on its land creates the danger, in the long term, of having a negative effect on oil production and on the investments that would have ensured the increased production. Several companies have made remarks to this effect, but payments have since recompensed.
With regard to reducing expenditure, the Electricity Minister announced on the 11th, that he envisaged as from 2015, to limit the supply to households to 20A per household in the hope that this would enable electricity to 24 hours a day. It is true that the Region’s population has increased from 3.8 million in 2005 to 5.5 in 2015, to whicxh must be added 1.8 million refugees, as well as supplying ,ost of the power needed by th so-called disputed territories, because outside it official jurisdiction although contrlled by it since July 2014, like, for example the city of Kirkuk . . . Thus requirements have risen to 5000MW, whereas production is only 2800ME. The Kurdistan Investments Committee has even suggested privarising the Ministry of Electricity.
Finally, on 20th December the Council of Ministers, in a session devoted to the economic situation, decided on budget cuts — in particular 69%to 30% in the salaries of high-ranking civil servants and more drastic measures were announced on the 30th such as the fusing of a number of ministries.
Iraq is equally confronted with difficulties. On the 21st, the Iraqi Central Bank devalued the dinar by 1.37%, adjusting its exchange rate from 1.166 to 1.183 dinars to the dollar. On the same day, the Iraqi Oil Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, indicated that Baghdad and Erbil had failed to reach agreement on the question of oil management.
According to a report by Members of Parliament Farsat Sofi and Goran Azad, published on the 24th, the KRG has accumulated a debt of 18 billion dollars. The 2015 budget having a deficit of 8,000 billion dinars (about 5.8 billion dollars) and, according to the same source, the 2016 budget would be 3,000 billion dinars (about 2.5 billion dollars at the new rate of exchange).
It is in this complicated military, economic and political context that the Kurdistan Region finds itself, caught between increasing tensions between Baghdad and Ankara regarding the presence of Turkish soldiers in the Bashiqa base, not far from Mosul. Masud Barzani, clearly not wishing to be involved in this issue, has tried the difficult task of acting as mediator between the two. For the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, hemmed in and militarily threatened the balancing act is a sensitive one. It is out of the question to quarrel with Turkey to the North, which is the only outlet for the oil exports essential for restoring the Regions economic base — but it must avoid deteriorating relations with Baghdad to the South, which is refusing to allow the Region the prerogative of exporting its oil which it demands. Yet what has Baghdad to offer the Iraqi Kurds in terms of assistance economic assistance or even attraction?
According to Nuri Usman, Director of the Kurdistan Co-ordination Committee, 2015, the year of economic reforms, will be even more difficult that 2015.