[Marxism] Fwd: How the War With ISIS Has Exposed Kurdistan’s Internal Divisions | The Nation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 9 09:03:07 MDT 2015

Iraqi Kurdistan is plagued by a patronage system rooted in overt 
attempts between the two political parties to buy popularity. An 
estimated 1.4 million Kurds, out of an estimated 5-8 million, are on the 
government payroll. Adding to that is the reputation among the two major 
political parties of nepotism and corruption. Many of the most 
profitable companies, such as those controlling construction projects, 
are owned by a Barzani or Talabani, and relatives of the two leaders 
hold high-level government positions. The system may have been accepted, 
sometimes grudgingly, by an older generation of Kurds, but it alienates 
a younger generation.

“People don’t even go to work,” Abdulla (a pseudonym), a 26-year-old 
employee at an international oil company in Erbil, told me. “The 
government just gives them money to get votes in the elections.” To this 
recent college graduate working hard at an entry-level job, this system 
is a knife in his ambition. “The politicians set up businesses so they 
benefit themselves,” he said. “They do a lot of things that make us ask 

Like many people his age, Abdulla doesn’t support any Kurdish political 
party. He doesn’t even credit Barzani for enticing oil companies to 
Kurdistan. It’s not savvy political maneuverings that brought ExxonMobil 
here, Abdulla thinks. It’s the oil.

“Sometimes you think, with Barzani, what, no other person has done 
anything good? No one else is smart enough? No one else deserves it?” 
Abdulla said. “We believe that the US doesn’t want a strong government 
in the Middle East. They can put a lot of conditions on our weak 
government. They need oil? Here’s oil. They need weak people? OK, here 
we are.”

Abdulla is part of a generation with one foot in the future of Kurdistan 
and one foot in its past. He comes from a traditional family and still 
lives at home with his mother and sisters. Kurdish society, he says, is 
too insular; so far, the best outcome of foreign investment is the 
presence of foreigners in Kurdistan.

Although he praised the region’s economic progress, Abdulla criticized 
the trappings of wealth that have proliferated around Erbil. “Kurds 
would like to change their society,” he told me, dropping by the city’s 
Divan hotel, where I had a meeting. “Development is not malls, fancy 
buildings, and then when it rains the streets are flooded.”

The Divan’s gilded lobby, a favorite gathering spot of Kurdish 
politicians and Exxon employees, is routinely put forward as evidence 
that the Kurdish dream is already a reality. The contrast between the 
gleaming corridors and the rest of Iraq—the at-war part of Iraq—is an 
appealing one, and often invoked in descriptions of the region. But it 
is a distraction, too. I was meeting a Kurdish official who, like 
Abdulla and so many others, asked to remain anonymous. He criticized the 
political structure, a biased media and the lavish lounge where we sat 
talking. “We are not the big players we think we are,” he said with a 
tight smile. “We are only symbols and symbolism.”


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