Frustrations mount in Iraq's Kurdistan region as two retirees die while waiting for their delayed salaries

Frustrations mount in Iraq's Kurdistan region as two retirees die while waiting for their delayed salaries
Two Kurdish elder retirees passed away in Kurdistan Region Government in Iraq (KRG) while waiting to receive their January salaries from the regional government, as frustrations mount over delayed payments.
4 min read
21 March, 2022
Retirees wait in a long queue in front of the Tanjaro governmental bank in Sulaimaniyah to receive their salaries, 20 March 2022. [Dana Taib Menmy/TNA]

Two elderly retirees of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) died early Sunday while waiting to be paid their delayed salaries in front of a governmental bank in Sulaimaniyah city. 

"Early today two retired men, Azad  Esmael, 76, and Aziz Ebrahim, 70, died in front of Tanjaro Bank in Sulaimaniyah as pensioners overcrowded and pushed to enter the bank," Saman Nadir, head of the emergency centre in Sulaimaniyah told The New Arab during an interview over the phone.

 The KRG administers a semi-autonomous northern region of Iraq since 1992. Since 2014, the KRG exports nearly 45,000 barrels of oil per day independently from the Iraqi federal government in Baghdad.

Presently, the KRG claims it is facing a cash liquidity crisis and is struggling for years to pay more than one million employees on the public payroll.

Several retired people, who were waiting in a long queue to receive their salaries, confirmed the incident and said they were waiting since Sunday early morning. 

"According to the spokesperson of Sulaimaniyah health directorate, after the corpses of the two men were examined at Sulaimaniyah forensics, the causes of their deaths were determined to be heart attacks," Sarkawt Ahmed, spokesperson of Sulaimaniyah police told The New Arab in a phone call.

Sami Hama Salih Ahmed2
Kurdish retirees wait in a long queue in front of Tanjaro Bank in Sulaimaniyah to receive their salaries, on 20 March 2022. ​​​​​[Dana Taib Menmy/TNA]

The spokesperson further added that he cannot confirm whether the two men died because they fell under as retirees tried to push into the bank, noting an investigation on the incident has begun. 

"I have served the KRG for 37 years, and I have been waiting to receive my January salary,” Sami Hama Salih Ahmed, a retired employee of the KRG's ministry of endowment told The New Arab in front of Tanjaro Bank. "Nearly five thousand people are waiting here to be paid at this bank, but we are all silent and do not dare to ask for our rights."

Ahmad held his fellow retirees responsible for the deaths due to not waiting in a regular queue and pushing each other. He also held responsible KRG's senior officials for the situation in the region.

 "The senior KRG officials in general, the KRG minister of finance, the director of the banks, as well as the governor of Sulaimaniyah are particularly responsible for this situation because when you see all these big mansions belong to them," Ahmed said. "I do not think the KRG has a cash liquidity problem. The Iraqi government has sent money, so where is the money?"

Several other retirees spoke to The New Arab on condition of anonymity, saying that the KRG officials "should have regulated paying the salaries whether organised by their names or through advanced bank credit cards."  

Kurdish retired people
Kurdish retirees wait in a long queue in front of Tanjaro Bank in Sulaimaniyah to receive their salaries, on 20 March 2022.
[Dana Taib Menmy /TNA]

"The two men died because of overcrowding, while bank officials told us that there is no money, but now it seems they have brought some money in," a 70-year-old retired teacher told The New Arab, speaking on condition of anonymity due to fears over reprisal from the local authorities. 

Another elderly woman with special needs told The New Arab, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that she is unable to "wait in the queue due to health problems." 

"My daughter is waiting in the queue on my behalf," she added. "We are here to receive only 200,000 Iraqi dinars (approximately $US 140) which is the salary of my deceased husband. He worked as an ambulance driver for 37 years serving the KRG ministry of health." 

Following the incident, Awat Sheikh Janab, the KRG minister of finance and economy from the Change Movement (Gorran), sacked the director of Tanjaro Bank and established an investigation committee that includes representatives from the Kurdistan region's public prosecution, Zamenpress, an outlet close to Gorran reported.

Since 2017 the KRG has kicked off a process of biometric registration of its public sector payroll beneficiaries and to establish electronic banking and payment services for the public payroll, but the process is as of yet to be operational.

The New Arab contacted Samir Hawrami, official spokesperson of Qubad Talabani, the KRG deputy prime minister, and Lawk Ghafuri, head of the KRG foreign media relations, but they were not available to comment.

On its part, the KRG blames Baghdad for the delay in paying its employees, saying that the federal Iraqi government did not send monthly assistance, amounting to 200 billion Iraqi dinars (estimated at nearly $US 137 million), in time. But local citizens and Kurdish lawmakers say the KRG can pay at least some of the salaries owed to its civil servants.

The Iraqi federal government has agreed to the 200 billion Iraqi dinars in order to assist the KRG to pay its employees' salaries, K24, an outlet close to the KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, reported last week.