PUK may face meltdown unless it stops shooting protesters

Kurdishaspect.com - By Shwan Zulal

Violence erupted again in Slemani (Sulaimaniyah) yesterday, resulting in many injuries among protesters and police. The emergency hospital in Slemani said that 48 people were admitted, seven of them suffering from gunshot wounds. The latest violence was blamed on a breakaway group from the main square where the demonstrations are taking place and confronted by heavy-handed security forces. It not clear who started the aggressions but both sides are blaming the other. Tear gas, machine guns and stones were used to by the security forces, meanwhile the protesters hurled stones and sticks at the security forces, according to the media outlets in Kurdistan.

A pattern is emerging from the latest violence as a hardcore group determined to confront the authorities are losing patience. Every three week there appears to be some altercations and a clash between the two sides ensues. Could this be part of a conspiracy as many believe or just a built up of frustration by the protesters and authorities. Protests have been ongoing for two month now and many are tired and want to go back to their lives including the authorities. Nevertheless, both sides are not willing to compromise and just like any other political decisions in Iraq, it is going nowhere.

The only strategy by the incumbent political parties is to wait it out and hope it goes away. The protesters demands can only be called legitimate, as the authorities including the President himself have called it so. However, the authorities are only willing to call it so and do absolutely nothing about it. PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) want to be seen willing to change, knowing that they cannot defend the way things are and have been in the past. Yet the government have to make any concrete commitment to any changes to the current arrangements. It is not clear what the authorities are planning to do with the continuing protest, as there is no end in sight.

The protests in Slemani is fast becoming PUK problem as the KDP stronghold areas have yet to show their discontent. Part of the protesters frustration is that the capital Erbil has not yet being able to join them in the protest even after numerous attempt by activist to obtain a permission to do so.

The latest shootings and heavy-handed approach by the PUK militia indicates that the sense of desperation is growing among PUK leaders. PUK has been calling for reforms and just last week PM, Barham Salih announced an initiative to return public property taken unlawfully by political parties and it appears to be a flop already. KDP has not commented and did not respond to the PM's appeal, and as things stand PUK is the only party "committed" to return such properties.

PUK have a dilemma at the moment, they know if they try to push the protesters too hard, they risk losing supporters and in particular military support. If shootings and violence becomes a daily occurrence, defections among PUK ranks will be grater and could include senior military commanders. Many of PUK supports and military personal are still loyal to the party due to the patronage system and the risk of losing their jobs and salaries. Nevertheless, if the situation deteriorates further, PUK may find itself losing control over its security forces.
Ignoring the protesters demands by PUK is a not option and sooner or later they have to stand up to their partner in government and demand immediate changes to the political system. Otherwise, within a very short time, PUK would become history and Goran (Change movement) will have to fill the power vacuum. Although Goran is a none militia based political party, its leader, Nawshirwna Mustafa who used to be the previous deputy leader of PUK still has a large following among PUK supporters and military grass roots. If this happens, it is not clear how the new power would deal with KDP, and what would be KDP's reaction to it. 

The main reason protesters are in Maidani Azadi (Sera Square) is to end militia politics and if PUK withers away and Goran steps in its shoes, Kurdistan Region will still end up with two militias dominating politics. PUK and KDP need to listen to what people are asking for, and continuing as if nothing has changed would only make things more complicated. They are the incumbent parties therefore; they can end this stalemate by listening to people demands. Accusing opposition parties of inciting violence and disorder does not help, as the opposition parties are not armed and they do not have the intention to do so. They are merely reflecting what the public in Kurdistan yearn for which is a more transparent politics along with strong and accountable government. 


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April 18, 2011
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