Iraqi Kurdistan makes headway in fighting corruption and FGM

Iraqi Kurdistan makes headway in fighting corruption and FGM
Analysis: Acknowledging that problems exist is the first step in tackling them, reports Paul Iddon.
6 min read
21 June, 2017
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have not been paid in months, despite successes against IS [AFP]

The late Shah of Iran was interviewed by CBS's Mike Wallace in 1974. 

Shah of Iran: For instance the military purchases [Iran makes], it's government-to-government. If there is any corruption it's from your country or from the government of every other country from which we buy. So this is the unfairest and most unjust thing I have heard.

Mike Wallace:
Is it possible, your majesty, that you're so busy and because you have so many things you have occupying you that it could be going on behind your back, sir?

No, it's impossible because I have five inspectorate organisations and sooner or later they will be caught.

Contrast this with how Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, responded to allegations put to him by Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and former Pentagon official, that his leadership is deeply corrupt and nepotistic.

Masoud Barzani: I don't say our situation is exemplary or that we're perfect. We do have many deficiencies. But what he [Rubin] wrote … in fact some of it is right but most is exaggerated. We know we have deficiencies and they're being fixed.


Strikingly, the Shah could not seem to comprehend the notion that corruption could even be possible in his Iran. His mantra about independent channels of inspection or "feeling the pulse of my people in my hand" were thoroughly disproven by the tumultuous 1979 revolution in Iran.

In Barzani's case, he is at least ready to admit "deficiencies" and only disputes claims over the extent of corruption in Kurdistan.

Today Iraqi Kurdistan faces innumerable problems. The region's bloated public sector payroll, funded largely by income generated by oil revenue, hasn't been able to pay salaries to its employees for several months.

This means salaries also haven't been paid to the region's Kurdish Peshmerga armed forces - who put their lives on the line (1,600 of them so far have paid with their lives) to defend the region against the Islamic State group and to push the marauding militants away from its frontiers.

Government employees, for example, will need to register themselves upon a biometric database and can only collect their salaries after their registered fingerprint identification is matched

Now the public sector here is being overhauled and the crippling corruption inherent within it is being tackled by new and comprehensive reforms. Government employees, for example, will need to register themselves upon a biometric database and can only collect their salaries after their registered fingerprint identification is matched.

This will stop people manipulating the system and taking more than one salary, an issue which famously affected the Iraqi army.

"Transparent mechanisms" are also apparently going to be introduced in the energy sector, from which the region has acquired most of its income in recent years, with the London-based Ernst & Young accounting firm auditing the region's oil and gas exports annually.

Three separate incidents caused Kurdistan's current economic crisis:

1) Baghdad's cutting off the Kurds' constitutional share of 17 percent of Iraq's oil revenue in February 2014 when the Kurds made a deal to export their gas and oil to neighbouring Turkey

2) The IS assault in August 2014 plunged the region into a war which did not really end until November 2016.

3) The sudden plunge in the global price of oil in December 2014 hurt Kurdistan - like it did many other states which rely heavily on income from oil exports.

When these three crises struck in the same year, the Kurdistan Regional Government began efforts to diversify the economy and revitalise sectors such as agriculture.

Until Saddam Hussein's Anfal campaign against them in the late 1980s, most Kurds lived in an agrarian village-based society. Saddam's genocidal campaign saw the destruction of 4,000 Kurdish villages (out of approximately 4,600) and the region became much more urbanised over the following two decades as a result.

The aforementioned Shah's rapid urbanisation and modernisation of Iran in the 1960s and 1970s, in which a similarly rural and largely illiterate society was transformed into a largely urban one in less than two decades, at least partially contributed to the revolution which deposed him.

But despite its rapid urbanisation, Kurdistan has not suffered the same fate as Iran at the hands of those sectors of society traditionally opposed to, or fearful of, modernity.

In recent years it has taken steps to weed out cruel practices against women, particularly honour killings and female genital mutilation (FGM).

Honour killings are still a problem in Kurdistan. The authorities recognise this and subsequently "repealed sections of the Criminal Code that permit reasons of honour as mitigations for crimes of violence committed against family members".

This alone has not stopped the problem. Nevertheless, criminalisation of the practice, something which hasn't yet been done in the rest of Iraq, is a step in the right direction.

Regarding FGM, the region has made significant progress in a relatively short span of time. A staggering one in every two women and girls in the Kurdish region were believed to be subjected to this practice just a few years ago.

Iraq's UNICEF representative, Marzio Babille, pointed out that this is no longer the case:

"There is a decrease in prevalence of this practice across Kurdistan provinces, which means that what we thought to be the case in 2011 and 2012, with more than 47 percent of women practicing FGM on their daughters, is now progressively down by more than one third." 

Babille said a greater awareness of the harm this practice causes has seen its visible decrease and is "confident that, in very few years from now, this practice will be eliminated from Kurdistan".

If Kurdistan 'were considered separately from the rest of Iraq, it also would not meet the necessary standards for designation as a 'country of particular concern'

In other areas, Iraqi Kurdistan stands out at a regional level regarding rights of religious minorities. An independent report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released earlier this month described Kurdistan as "a haven for minorities fleeing the turmoil and sectarian violence in the south of Iraq". 

The report concludes that if Kurdistan "were considered separately from the rest of Iraq, it also would not meet the necessary standards for designation as a 'country of particular concern' under the International Religious Freedom Act. Though violations of religious freedom do exist in the KRI [Kurdistan Region of Iraq], they are not systematic, ongoing and egregious".

All these examples indicate that problems do exist in Kurdistan and there is still a long way to go to solve many of them. Nevertheless, the frank acknowledgement of these problems and the taking of steps to rectify them is undoubtedly a positive development which should be recognised and encouraged.

Paul Iddon is a freelance journalist based in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, who writes about Middle East affairs.

Follow him on Twitter: @pauliddon