Report by Aljazeera
Since last month, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets in the capital Baghdad and across southern towns and cities to protest against the government’s failure to deliver basic services and economic opportunities. In recent weeks, the demonstrators’ demands have broadened to include the resignation of the government and an overhaul of the political system introduced after the US-led invasion of 2003. More than 300 people have been killed since the uprising began. In the Kurdistan region, however, the streets have remained calm.
In recent years (2015-2017), the Kurdistan region has also witnessed mass protests against the regional government, demanding immediate action on corruption, better economic opportunities, better governance and basic services. In 2018, protests over the partial payment of wages erupted in Erbil and several other cities in the western part of the region. At that time, the KRG was struggling to pay public servants, after the central government in 2014 cut payments from the central budget to the region after a dispute over oil revenues and Erbil’s right to sell oil independently of the Iraqi state-owned energy company SOMO. In response, the regional government cut the salaries of state employees, who make up some 50 percent of the working population of the region.
In late 2018, however, a new Iraqi central government was formed under Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who showed a willingness to resolve the dispute with Erbil. In March, Baghdad finally sent part of the budget allocation for the Kurdish region and public servants were able to receive their salaries in full for the first time since 2014.
This was cause for cautious optimism that a deal on oil revenues could be reached between the central government and the KRG, which lessened tensions in the streets. Most of the people said that the situation in the Kurdistan region has improved over the past few months, pointing out that it is not as bad as the south, specifically in terms of security and basic infrastructure.
So far, the KRG has supported Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi and his reform plan, despite ongoing calls from protesters for his resignation. While the regional authorities have also acknowledged the demands of the protesters and said they are legitimate, proposals for changing the constitution made by some politicians in Baghdad have caused unease in Erbil.
Some people shared concerns that all the gains the KRG has made since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, including economic development and security – unmatched in the rest of the country – as well as cultural rights for the Kurdish population, could easily be lost. While people in Baghdad and elsewhere have much reason to protest, Kurds fear the demonstrations would not bring anything good to them as the local economy has already been affected, with the threat of instability causing people to spend less, real estate business has dropped down, and the sale of vehicles in the Kurdistan Region has reduced by 60 percent.
So, a question will be raised here; will Kurdistan economy be affected if Iraq government resigned?