The New Iraq, Same as the Old Iraq?

This weekend, I received a slew of emails from Iraqi Kurdistan from a variety of Kurdish journalists and civil society leaders with regard to Kurdish leader Masud Barzani’s war on the free press and political opposition.

  • The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has tried — but so far failed — to prevent the foreign travel of senior members of the opposition newspaper Rozhnama, whom they are suing for $1 billion for criticizing KDP corruption.

  • After Lvin published an interview with a Kurdish student at Harvard University who said that Masud Barzani’s father had betrayed the president of Mahabad Republic, a short-lived secessionist Kurdish state in 1946, a KDP newspaper published a warning that unless Lvin repented, the lives of its editor and staff would be in danger.

  • At Friday prayers, KDP-appointed mullahs whipped up a frenzy, suggesting that Lvin and its staff were anti-Muslim.  Some of the mullahs urged the crowds to attack journalists who do not accept the KDP.

The repression in Iraqi Kurdistan is speeding up as the U.S. withdrawal accelerates. Masud Barzani no longer has to pretend to be a democrat. He is reverting to the model he knows best, that of Baathism, only substituting Kurdish nationalism for Arab nationalism. His palaces are no different than Saddam’s palaces. His portraits in every school room are no different than Saddam’s. His sons’ behavior is no different than that of Saddam’s sons. And his disdain for the press and human rights are no different than Saddam’s.

The silence of those who preached about the importance of democratization and reform or, even worse, the willingness of some to cast aside their professed values for a chance at the Kurdish oil lottery, has only bred cynicism.  And, as the U.S. withdraws, it would be a tragedy if what was once the hope for a new Iraq became little different than what it was supposed to replace.

Michael Rubin — Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East ...