Hunger, deprivation deepen as factions bicker over control
INTERNAL bickering among Kurdish rebel groups and a three-month economic blockade by Baghdad have reduced Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to near chaos.
Bands of armed Kurds, many of them outside the control of the main guerrilla groups, carry out extrajudicial executions, smuggle relief supplies and heavy equipment to Iran, and engage in violent crime.
"Many activities are committed in the name of the Kurdistan Front," says Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, speaking of the umbrella organization that acts as a de facto government. "Some local commanders have misused their power. There have been problems with corruption, especially at the local level. We all realize that we must clean up our ranks."
Many Kurds, suffering from severe food and fuel shortages, have turned on their leadership, angered by its constant infighting and often blatant corruption.
"Nobody has the ability to provide a better way of life," says Fouad Baban, who heads the Sulaymaniyah general hospital. "The Kurdistan Front is not laying down any rules."
The 4 million Kurds in northern Iraq live under the protection of a security zone set up by the Western allies above the 36th parallel and in some Kurdish-held areas below the zone. The zone was created last April to convince about 1.5 million Kurdish refugees who had fled to Iran and Turkey that it was safe to return.
But since the withdrawal of Iraqi troops, the Kurds have been unable to establish any central authority. The eight guerrilla groups that comprise the Kurdistan Front are paralyzed by internal disputes and stymied by large-scale corruption by many local Kurdish leaders.
Generators, bulldozers, and even water pumps are smuggled across the border to Iran for sale.
"I have tried to block these routes to Iran," says Mr. Barzani, who heads the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of two main rebel groups. "But every time I block one road, another one opens up."
The 350,000 civil servants and pensioners in the north have not received salary checks for three months, food stocks are dwindling, and prices on the black market are pushing items beyond the reach of most households.
Throngs of retirees pushed their way to the counters of the Al-Rasheed Bank, one of the few banks in the north that remains open. They come for small stipends handed out through the bank by the Kurdistan Front.