Aso Kamal, Kurdish socialist activist, spoke to Solidarity about class struggle in Iraqi Kurdistan.
There is a recession in Iraqi Kurdistan, and there are strikes and demonstrations happening all the time.
Since 2006, Kurdistan has had a share in the world oil market. From 2013, the oil price fell and the budget of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has fallen. The price was $100/barrel but now it is more like $30/barrel. So there is a currency crisis and an economic crisis. Now the KRG is $22 billion in debt. They are selling one million barrels of oil a day, from Suleimaniya, Kirkuk, Erbil, Dohok.
For the last six months, the KRG has not paid any wages to its 1.5 million civil servants. There are strikes and boycotts everywhere. Public services are collapsing. Doctors, teachers, workers and everyone who is owed pay from the government is on strike. In February, the KRG said that they had to cut wages in order to manage their way out of the economic crisis. The civil service minimum wage is £100 a month for most government departments and the KRG wants to cut this by 25%. The people have not accepted it, they have said that the KRG rulers have a lot of profits being put away in European banks and so on.
The KRG wants to use religious leaders in their battles. There is a religious ministry in Iraqi Kurdistan, paid by the government. At Friday prayers, the preachers promote the government’s decisions and arguments. They tell people to wait and be patient, to end the boycotts and strikes, and work without pay. For that reason, people are turning against the preachers. These are the methods that the government is using to keep the people down.
There is a political crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan. The [ruling] KDP won’t work with the Change Party (Gorran, a split from the PUK and the official opposition), leading to deadlock in the parliament. The crisis came about after Barzani, having served his term, refused to step down. Parliament is not working, the ministers have gone home. The people and the representatives of the strikes and demonstrations have lost faith in the leaders of Change and other opposition parties, including Islamist parties. Teachers, doctors, electricity and water workers, are demanding their wages from the last six months and they are against the 25% minimum wage cut. They also want the money that has been stashed by KRG leaders in foreign banks to be returned to Kurdistan,; and for money that has been siphoned off by corrupt officials to be returned to the public coffers.
There is a lack of clarity about income from oil. The oil revenue is controlled by the Barzani and Talabani families. Nobody knows where the money goes, how they spend it, and so on. People are asking for clarity on this question. They know that if KDP and PUK are still in power, it is because they have militias and they are ruling on the basis of a militia system. It is clear that the oil is going cheap. Other companies in the region, like Gulf and General Energy, hold shares in the oil of Iraqi Kurdistan. They have a share in the administration of the oil, and they have power there. The cheap oil in Iraqi Kurdistan is going to international companies and to Turkey. And income is going straight to the KDP and the PUK.