Ex-Kurdish leader takes on old allies in
By Twana Osman and Roman Zagros in Sulaimaniyah, Iraqi
No. 275, 7-Nov-12)
Former PUK leader steps up media criticism of Iraqi
Kurdistan’s political elite.
November 13, 2008
A prominent Kurdish political figure who co-founded
the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, is using his
influential media company to challenge the party and
the Kurdish political establishment.
But it’s unclear for now whether Nawshirwan
Mustafa’s is seeking to establish a rival party or
push for greater reform within the PUK, one of the
two principal parties in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Mustafa, who set up the PUK with incumbent Iraqi
president Jalal Talabani in 1975, stepped down from
his post as deputy secretary-general in December
2006 following a power struggle within the party.
While he remains a PUK member,www.ekurd.net
Mustafa has become
increasingly outspoken in recent years against the
Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG, and his own
party, which he criticised for adopting a “one-man
Immediately following his resignation, Mustafa
established Wusha, which has grown to become one of
Iraqi Kurdistan’s most powerful media companies. It
publishes one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s leading
newspapers, a widely-read news website and is also
developing a satellite television channel.
Mustafa, whose faction in the PUK was dubbed the
“reform wing”, said he stepped down from his
senior-level post after losing hope that substantial
democratic change would occur from within the party
and the Kurdish political system.
He repeatedly expressed concern over the
independence of the KRG judiciary and criticised the
lack of political willingness for reform.
“I left because I lost hope in bringing about change
within the party with the conventional tools
available within political parties,” said Mustafa.
Mustafa’s populist reform message has resonated with
Kurds in the northeastern province of Sulaimaniyah,
which has been under PUK control since the Kurdish
region split from the rest of Iraq in early
Mustafa has echoed the complaints of Kurds in the
region who say that corruption, poor services and
the party’s domination over business and government
are hindering economic and civic development as well
as quality of life for residents.
In a series of articles recently published in
Wusha’s daily newspaper, Rozhnama, Mustafa slammed
the Kurdish leadership for mismanagement, laxity and
acting in self-interest. While he has criticised the
parties before, this latest fusillade sounded like a
rallying cry, referring to adherents of reform as
“us” and supporters of the status quo as “them”.
“We want to keep political parties’ interference out
of the daily affairs of government institutions,www.ekurd.net
houses and civil society organisations,” he wrote.
“They want to extend their [influence]..into every
aspect of people’s life”.
Although he gave up his leadership post, Mustafa is
still seen by many as the PUK’s second-in-command
after Talabani and enjoys wide popular support in
Sulaimaniyah. Some have speculated that 64-year-old
Mustafa could one day succeed Talabani, who is 75.
The question remains as to whether Mustafa, who has
been a critical voice in the PUK for decades, is
creating an independent opposition movement or is
simply establishing himself as a critic who has
largely – but not entirely – stepped out of the
Mustafa’s recent criticisms have not sat well with
PUK spokesman Mala Bakhtiyar, a fierce Talabani
loyalist. Bakhtiyar asserted in a statement last
month that Mustafa and his sympathisers were
“creating public propaganda with their eye on
antagonising the PUK”.
Along with the PUK, the Kurdistan Democratic Party,
which controls the western half of Iraqi Kurdistan,
dominates political power in northern Iraq, an
oil-rich region that has largely escaped the
violence that has plagued the rest of the country.
Mustafa told IWPR that he is not currently forming
an opposition, insisting that one of his goals is to
publish articles “to give rise to a fruitful and
In his recent articles, Mustafa has portrayed
himself as a populist leader with an array of
reformist ideas. For the moment, however, he seems
intent on promoting them through the media rather
than the political arena.
“Perhaps I do not have the ability to lead [an
opposition],” he said. “But we have a media
establishment through which we can shape public
which in turn can become
a pressure group and a force for change.”
Renowned Kurdish writer and critic Rabin Hardi
believes Mustafa could lead a substantial
alternative political movement because he has
already proven himself as a leader in the PUK and
continues to enjoy strong support. He also noted
that Mustafa’s reputation has not been stained by
allegations of corruption.
Still, Hardi said it is unlikely that Mustafa will
break entirely from the party, noting that Mustafa’s
personal relations with Talabani continue to
influence him. “Being one of the founders of the
party is a great obligation that he wants to
honour,” said Hardi. “So he wants to stay put within
Twana Osman is an editor and writer in
Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan region. . Roman Zagros is an
IWPR Iraq editor.
Copyright, respective author or news agency,
iwpr net , Institute for War and Peace Reporting
does not take credit for and is not responsible for the content of news
information on this page