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Arab Spring crackdown damages Kurdistan's image as regional model

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“What humiliated us was the killing of Kurdish citizens by the militia of Kurdish political parties,” says Nasik Kadir, a health ministry worker and political sociologist who vows to fight what she calls “abuse of power.”

“We have suffered for years corruption and lack of rule of law, but when it comes to the blood of our youth, it is unbearable,” says Ms. Kadir, who says she witnessed casualties firsthand in the hospital. “These authorities have lost legitimacy.... For many people [Kurdish leaders] have betrayed our national cause.”

The lions of Kurdish politics

Few here expect real reform from a feudal and tribal system that has enabled two parties, mired in corruption allegations, to dominate Iraqi Kurdish life for decades.

The Kurdish spring demonstrations, which only attracted 5,000 or 6,000 on the streets of Sulaymaniyah, were dismissed by some Kurdish leaders as the work of "saboteurs" and "anarchists" working for "outside interests."

The gap between the democratic rhetoric and the party-first reality has widened under the long-serving lions of Kurdish politics: the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), whose leader Massoud Barzani is president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG); and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), who leader Jalal Talabani is now president of Iraq.

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