Security forces in Kurdistan are reportedly obstructing attempts by activists, angered by poor services and official corruption, to pressure the authorities to dissolve parliament and hold early elections.
The Hatakay Movement says it hopes to gather a one million-signature petition urging the Kurdish leadership to bring forward the next parliamentary poll, which is scheduled for late 2009.
However, security forces have apparently attempted to prevent the collection of signatures in some areas, including Chamchamal, which lies 100 kilometres south of Sulaimaniyah, and Duhok in the north of Iraq.
In Chamchamal, police are said to have taken the coordinators of the petition to security headquarters in the town, confiscated their literature and told them they couldn’t collect signatures until they obtained permission from officials.
"This is a dangerous position that the [ruling] parties are taking towards democracy. The ruling parties are afraid of people's rage and demonstrations,” said one member of the movement, who refused to give his name because of security concerns.
Hatakay means “until when” - a reference to the population’s dwindling patience over poor services and escalating corruption in the region. It was formed in May 2007 by a group of university professors and human rights and civil society activists.
Protests against the Kurdish government’s inability to provide basic utilities - such as electricity and water - for Iraqi Kurdistan’s four million population have been increasingly common in the last few years. Just last week, more than 100 students from the University of Sulaimaniyah poured onto a street near their dormitory calling on the authorities to provide them electricity.
The newest of several groups that have demanded reform and accountability from the authorities, Hatakay is administered by representatives of more than 20 civil society organisations. It accuses parliament of not taking the government to task over its failure to adequate services.
“Democracy is retreating, corruption is on the rise, and services are declining [in Kurdistan],” said Yousif Mohammad, a professor of political science at the University of Sulaimaniyah and a Hatakay Movement coordinator.
Mohammad said the group aims to advocate for reform in the region and seek to develop civil society, rather than try to recruit members or form a political opposition.
“These are some issues that need serious solutions and that is the reason why we formed this group,” he said.
The group argues that it’s well within its rights to gather signatures, as the organisations being petitioning have permission to work in the region.
The security forces, however, disagree. “[People] cannot do whatever they want,” said Ahmad Nadir, head of the Assaish, or security forces, in Chamchamal, told IWPR. “They don’t have a permit to collect signatures. We have told them to bring [one] from the governor of Sulaimaniyah and we will then let them work.”
Although there is no law in the region that requires parliament to dissolve if the group collects their goal of a million signatures, Hatakay hopes the campaign will exert pressure on Kurdish leaders and force them to respond to public demands.
According to the constitution, parliament can be dissolved either by the president of the region if parliament fails three times to approve a cabinet, or if two-thirds of parliament votes for its dissolution.
But some politicians argue that now is a difficult time to hold an election, citing tension between the Kurdish leadership and the central government in Baghdad over the future status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, as well as recent conflict between Turkish troops and the Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK, in northern Iraq.
“The situation in the region makes it impossible to dissolve parliament,” said Kareem Bahree, a Kurdistan Democratic Party MP.
Rebeen Rasul, head of the American Society of Kurds in Sulaimaniyah, a US-based Kurdish group that seeks to strengthen civil society in the region, accused parliament of being too soft on the government.
“Corrupt officials are looting the country’s wealth, but parliament has not investigated any of them,” said Rasul.
But Rasul believes early elections are unlikely,
“The parliament will not be dissolved even if the movement collects three million signatures. The Kurdish leadership has never listened to its people, so why would it listen to the Hatakay movement?”
Nonetheless, Adnan Qurbani, 32, one of the movement’s volunteers in Kalar, 150 km south-east of Sulaimaniyah, said that even if they fail to bring about a new election, their action will still send a strong message to the authorities.
“[The movement] wants to eradicate corruption and demand better services for the people,” he said. “[We] can create pressure.”
Wrya Hama-Tahir is an IWPR correspondent in Sulaimaniyah. This article originally appeared in 'Iraqi Crisis Report', produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, www.iwpr.net.