Sulaimaniyah shake-up gets cool reception
By Rebaz Mahmood in Sulaimaniyah (ICR No. 159)
government officials have been sacked in an effort
to tackle graft - but locals aren’t convinced.
Sulaimaniyah residents are sceptical that a recent
local government shake-up will change much in the
Mayors were fired and administrators in problem
ministries, such as water, electricity and fuel,
were moved to other posts ahead of last week's
The changes came in response to rising criticism
from residents of this relatively safe Kurdish
province, which is dominated by the Patriotic Union
of Kurdistan party. They have accused local
authorities of abusing and monopolising power,
systemic corruption and not providing basic
"Many people have become rich while thousands of
families are suffering from lack of water,
electricity and housing," said Halmat Shareef, a
musician in Sulaimaniyah.
Party and government officials launched a campaign
to win back the support of citizens – in particular
students, who have been among the most vocal
protesters – and promised to tackle corruption and
listen to voters' concerns.
"There are problems, and there is corruption. But at
the same time there is questioning and
investigations," said Hersh Muharram, who was
recently appointed director-general of electricity
after managing private projects for the local
government. "Changing officials is a good thing."
"The problems have grown and are receiving
increasing attention," added Qadir Hamajan, head of
the Sulaimaniyah municipality. "Even Iraqi president
Mam Jalal [Talabani] talks about them."
With about 90 per cent of ballots counted on
December 20, the Independent Electoral Commission in
Iraq reported that the main Kurdish coalition, the
Kurdistan Alliance, captured 87 per cent of votes in
Sulaimaniyah. The Islamic Union of Kurdistan, a
moderate party that ran on a platform challenging
the dominance of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
and the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iraqi
Kurdistan, took 11 per cent.
Shwan Atoof, head of the Sulaimaniyah youth centre
in the Kurdistan Youth Freedom Organisation, said
Kurds voted for strong Kurdish representation in
Baghdad and were not swayed by the local government
Critics have charged that the changes were a
pre-election manoeuvre to bolster support for the
alliance. Some who lost their jobs said they were
"What are the criteria of corruption?" said Serbast
Osman Qadir, manager of Sulaimaniyah's water
directorate who was demoted after 25 years of
service. "This was just a media campaign to attract
Kawa Hamafaraj, a management professor at
Sulaimaniyah University, said simply shifting staff
would not automatically improve the local
"The administrative philosophy should be changed,
from directors to civil servants to guards," he
said. "Everything should be in line with the law,
job descriptions should be specified and strict
monitoring needs to be imposed."
Chawder, a local weekly newspaper affiliated with
the PUK, recently published a confidential, 25-page
report revealing that no professional records were
available for 80 high-level Sulaimaniyah government
employees. The report, which was drafted by
Sulaimaniyah's auditing department, demanded the
government review the cases and determine if those
civil servants are qualified to hold their
Shara Mustafa, a civil servant, said, "Age,
experience, and skills are not criteria. If you have
party and nepotism, you will get anything.
"Ten per cent of the posts are given to qualified
people. In this government, we find posts for
people, instead of finding people to fill posts."
Rebaz Mahmood is an IWPR trainee journalist.
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