Is Iraqi Kurdistan a Democracy or a
Monarchy?: Jobs for the kids
By Zanko Ahmad, Sulaimaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan,
August 17, 2012
Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani (top right) his
son Masrour Barzani (centre right) the head a newly
formed Security Council of Kurdistan and the
director of Kurdistan Intelligence Agency.
his 2nd son Mansour Barzani
a high Kurdish military official. Massoud Barzani's
nephew Nechirvan Barzani
(centre left) the
prime minister of Kurdistan. Iraq's president Jalal
Talabani (bottom right) and his 2nd son Qubad Talani
(bottom left) the Kurdistan Govt representative in
the United States.
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Two families in Iraqi Kurdistan seem to reserve all
the top political jobs for relatives. Recently the
‘crown princes’ both got new, high level jobs. The
question: is this a democracy or a monarchy?
A month ago, the President of the semi-autonomous
region of Iraqi Kurdistan appointed his
son to head a newly
formed Security Council for the
The new Iraqi Kurdish Security Council takes
responsibility for internal security and for the
local military and intelligence services in the
region, which has its own government, legislature
and economy, independent of the rest of Iraq. And
because all of the various security apparatuses in
Iraqi Kurdistan are represented on this new body,
decisions regarding military matters in the area can
be made swiftly – which makes the job of heading it
an important one.
So when President Massoud Barzani appointed his son,
Masrour, to head the Council, local observers
quickly pointed out that this seemed to be yet
another indication of Barzani’s intention to
continue to dominate politics in the area, by
continuing to appoint family members in high places.
Almost all of the senior posts in the region are
already held by members of two Iraqi Kurdish
families: the Barzanis and the Talabanis. In
practical and political terms, power in the state is
held by two main parties, the Kurdistan Democratic
Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK),
which are headed by, respectively, Massoud Barzani
and Jalal Talabani.
And although, according to local electoral
legislation, Barzani senior’s term as president is
supposed to end in 2012, the political landscape in
Iraqi Kurdistan doesn’t seem to have thrown up
anyone who can challenge him – outside of his nephew
Najirvan Barzani, currently the KDP’s deputy head
and Iraqi Kurdistan’s Prime Minister, who many say
is being groomed to inherit his uncle’s job.
Barzani’s own son is also taking steps upward.
Having headed the KDP’s own security services since
1995, Masrour has been known in security circles for
some time. His key position inside the state’s
military has now been cemented by this appointment,
which also has ministerial level status.
In addition to the positions held by Nechirvan and
Masrour, many other members of the Barzani family –
brothers, nephews, cousins – occupy sensitive
military, administrative and commercial positions.
In fact Barzani senior himself inherited his
position as head of the KDP when his father,
Mustafa, former head of the party, died in 1979.
And all of this is well acknowledged inside Iraqi
Kurdistan. When the announcement of Masrour’s
appointment to the new Security Council was made,
politically-conscious wits wrote sarcastic messages
on Barzani’s Facebook page asking him to: “quick,
prepare another member of his family to head the
Iraqi Kurdish parliament”. This is in reference to
the fact that two out of the three top jobs in the
semi-autonomous region belong to Barzanis. This new
job atop the Security Council makes three out of
However the desire to retain power in loyal family
hands is hardly confined to the Barzani clan and the
KDP. The other major political party in the region,
the PUK, headed by Jalal Talabani, is doing similar
things. The so-called “green sector” is following in
the footsteps of the so-called “yellow sector”.
The coloured sector names were first used during
1990s when the KDP and PUK fought one another in an
Iraqi Kurdish civil war which saw what is now Iraqi
Kurdistan basically divided in two, with areas
around Erbil and Duhok under KDP control and the
Sulaimaniyah area under the PUK’s control. Green (PUK)
and yellow (KDP) were the colours of the two party’s
And even to this day, although the two parties now
rule the state together, those geographic
delineations exist with Barzani and his opposite
number, Talabani, holding most authority in areas
they traditionally oversaw.
In Talabani’s territory, around the city of
Sulaimaniyah, his wife, businesswoman Hero Ibrahim
Ahmad, heads the PUK party’s key branch there. Other
Talabani relatives – sons, brothers, uncles, spouses
– head other important commercial, administrative
and security departments.
And in what many saw as a tit-for-tat response to
the appointment of Masrour Barzani to the newly
formed Security Council, the Iraqi Kurdish cabinet
undertook to form another new government authority,
with the interesting name of the Department of
Coordination and Follow Up.
The department as to be related to the office of the
Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister and its tasks would
apparently involve coordinating the work of various
different government institutions. Additionally the
department was to be headed by Talabani’s son, Qubad,
who has been working in Washington as Iraqi
Kurdistan’s representative to the USA up until
Local writer and political observer, Rayan Mohammed,
believes that giving Qubad the post is a response to
the job Barzani’s son, Masrour, just got. And
Mohammed thinks that in this way Talabani is also
grooming his son for success at the top of the
political food chain.
By appointing their offspring to such prominent
positions though, Mohammed believes that the two
ruling families of Iraqi Kurdistan are damaging the
aspirations of the local electorate for a truly
democratic state of their own.
“What Talabani and Barzani are doing just confirms
that any high ranking positions in Iraqi Kurdistan
are now being handed out on a kinship basis, rather
than on the basis of a person’s competence and
capacity,” he argues. “Distributing senior
government positions like this leads to a closed
political system; it smacks of some kind of
Mohammed also argues that Talabani and Barzani are
working with an outdated system, imported from
neighbouring Arab countries, that is no longer
acceptable to most voters in the region.
Referencing the Arab Spring protests that saw so
many non-democratic leaders in the Middle East
toppled, Mohammed concludes: “the experiences of
these Arab countries prove that there is no longer a
place for this kind of inherited authority. And when
the people’s anger grows, the father and son
figureheads are removed.
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