Saturday, March 21, 2009

What makes Iraq go 'round . . .

. . . is patronage, and influence (in Arabic, wasta). I don't know the corresponding word in Kurdish, but in today's WaPo Sudarsan Raghavan has a nice piece on how entrepreneurs in Iraqi Kurdistan can't expect to do business with the regional government there unless they can link themselves to the political powers/parties that be, and the families that control them: the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), which has been the province of the powerful Barzani family, and/or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the organ controlled by the other kingpin family of Kurdistan, the Talabani family (a member of whom is, of course, the current president of Iraq).

The Kurdistan Regional Government (which these two parties/families control) receives 17 percent of Iraq's annual budget (calculated to be about $6 billion for 2009) - and according to a source Raghavan quotes, from that each of these parties receives about $35 million a month. The Baghdad government has little idea of how that money is being spent. This completely goes against the grain of central-government dictates, but these kinds of relationships have long been part of doing business in Iraq (and, for that matter, elsewhere in the Arab world). The Kurds seem intent on more or less going their own way, even if they remain at least officially part of a "nation" called Iraq, but these practices are also well entrenched at the local and regional levels throughout the predominantly Arab part of Iraq, and those who are involved and have been profiting from it are going to be loathe to relinquish their prerogatives to a central bureaucracy operating out of the capital. Prime Minister al-Maliki seems intent on fashioning a strong central government, but he will have his hands full in dealing with this.

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