US court summons Iraqi Kurdistan PM Masrour Barzani over multiple charges

US court summons Iraqi Kurdistan PM Masrour Barzani over multiple charges
The defendants face charges such as "atrocities, violence, murder, genocide, abduction, torture, collaboration with terrorists and financial crimes."
4 min read
19 February, 2024
Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) prime minister Masrour Barzani. [Getty]

On 15 February, the US District Court for the District of Columbia summoned Masrour Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraqi Kurdistan, within the next 21 days to answer a civil court hearing filed in the US against him and other defendants in the ruling Barzani family as well as another Kurdish ruling party for multiple charges in almost 25 legal cases, according to court documents seen by The New Arab.  

The lawsuit, numbered 1:24-cv-00278, was filed on 30 January 2024 by the Kurdistan Victims Fund, a nonprofit foundation in the US, represented by Maki Ravand, an exiled Kurdish activist in Germany, and John Does 1-5000. Ravand, a native Kurd, was born in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1965.

The defendants' list includes Masoud Barzani, the president of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and key relatives and aids. The charges against the defendants include but are not limited to "atrocities, indiscriminate violence, arson, murder, attempted murder, genocide, abduction, hostage-taking, kidnapping, torture, collaboration with terrorist organizations, and financial crimes."

According to the legal case in which TNA obtained a copy of the summons, the plaintiffs argue that those actions violate basic human principles, international norms, and numerous laws and statutes of the US and international treaties.

The charges also include the "murder of a US government employee" and the assassinations of Kurdish journalists Sardasht Othman, Wadat Hussein, and Kawa Garmiani, as well as "silencing journalists and political opponents and those who present perceived threats to Defendants' political, economic, and commercial power, and for concealing, facilitating and expanding Defendants' widespread criminal actions in pursuit of illicit wealth and to injure Plaintiff." 

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is a coalition among the two main ruling and rival parties: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The KDP, led by the Barzani family, dominates Erbil and Duhok provinces, while the PUK, led by the Talabani family, rules Sulaimaniyah and Halabja provinces.

"It is very difficult for me to summarise the lawsuit, which is 327 pages and includes 25 cases, and as per my lawyers' advice, I cannot provide more information on the lawsuit until the court issues its verdict," Ravand told TNA. "According to the US court system, in the first session, only lawyers can attend; in the next sessions, the lawyers and the judge can ask certain defendants to attend the court. I expect the hearing to last over a year and a half."

He also stressed that no defendants can slip away from attending the hearings because some of them have US nationality or Green Cards. 

TNA contacted Peshawa Hawramani, the KRG formal spokesperson, and the KRG representative in Washington; however, they were not immediately available to comment. 

"If you fail to respond, judgment by default will be entered against you for the relief demanded in the complaint. You also must file your answer or motion with the court," reads part of the legal document issued by the US District Court for the District of Columbia and published online by Kurdish activists.

In 2022, Shnyar Anwar Hassan, a US citizen from Iraqi Kurdistan, filed an "assault, battery, and defamation" lawsuit against Masrour Barzani, the KRG's prime minister, in the US District Court, Virginia Eastern District. The court's decision is pending. 

 Sardasht Osman, a 23-year-old Kurdish freelance journalist and university student from Erbil, the capital city of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, was kidnapped on 4 May 2010. His body was found dead the following day in the city of Mosul, the centre of Ninewa Province.

Three key press freedom organizations, the Free Press Unlimited (FPU), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and the Committee to Protect Journalists CPJ on 3 May 2022 published their joint investigation entitled, "The Assassination of Sardasht Osman: Debunking the Official Story", in which they revealed that top Kurdish officials are likely to be behind the cruel and cold-blooded murder.

"On 13 December 2009, Sardasht wrote a satirical article accusing the family of President Barzani of corruption and nepotism, a 'red line' in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). The article, titled "I Am In Love With Barzani's Daughter," juxtaposed the hardships of average Kurdish citizens with the lavish lifestyle of the Barzani family."

"Journalists Sherwan Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari, imprisoned in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I) since October 2020 following a grossly unfair trial, are facing new spurious charges. Guhdar Zebari was scheduled to be released on 16 August but was informed on the same day that he has been charged with another offence," Amnesty International said on 24 August 2023 in a letter addressed to Dindar Zebari, the Coordinator Office for International Advocacy (OCIA) in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).  

The KRG authorities freed Guhdar Zebari on Saturday, 17 February, after spending three and half years behind bars. 

Sherwani, with hundreds of other activists and teachers from the Badinan area of Duhok, were arrested by Kurdistan Region's Security Council (KRSC), which is affiliated with the KDP, after a series of anti-government protests emerged in Dohuk in 2020.