I originally wrote this for KurdBuzz
Erbil - Last week, some teachers in Sulaimani, Kurdistan’s second largest city went on strike in protest against KRG’s failure to keep its promises to deliver salaries.The teachers have not received three months’ salaries, December 2014, January and February 2015, due to ongoing disputes between Baghdad and Erbil over Kurdish oil exports. Last week the Kurdistan regional Government PM Nechirvan Barzani and a KRG delegation accompanying him visited Baghdad to talk with Iraqi PM Hayder al-Abbadi over the issues. They returned empty handed.
It is still not clear who’s to blame for the issues as both KRG and Baghdad accuse each other of not sticking to agreed protocol earlier this year. According to the agreement, Erbil is supposed to export 550,000 barrels of oil per day in return for a 17% share of the Iraqi budget. Baghdad said Erbil exported only around 300,000 bpd. Kurds said Baghdad wanted to create problems and that they did not send money because Iraq had gone bankrupt.
However, many of the teachers on strike complained that it was not only because there was no money that they were on strike, but also because they were tired with KRG promises that were never kept. Some were also very angry because the KRG Prime Minister had said teachers (who form the largest bloc of government employees in Kurdistan) needed to be more patient and understand the situation when there’s no transparency about the agreements between Baghdad and Erbil and many other things in this region. People never have a good understanding of what is going on, is the KRG doing the right thing so they put their weight behind it, or is it playing some sort of game at the expense of its people?
Some of the mixed reactions I heard from the teachers on local channels were as follows:
· “It is not about money… they never keep their promises, they play with our feelings”
· “How can I wait when the landlord does not wait on me for the rentals”
· And another said that she could not wait because her children needed food and other stuff
What followed was very disturbing to me. I wanted to see KRG officials on TV apologizing for the inconvenience caused, and to try to explain why the teachers needed to wait a little longer: I wanted to see what was their plan to solve the issue as soon as possible. Yet, there was a barrage of reports and shows on media outlets loyal to the KRG Prime Minister and his political party, about how inconvenient, unpatriotic, and betraying it was on the part of the teacher s to go on strike while Kurdistan is facing the threat of a “terrorist state”, namely the Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS and ISIL)
Headlines of a string of reports on such TVs were like this:
- Kurdistan "intellectuals" protest against the teachers on strike (And there are some people described as writers, authors, poets, and all that!).
- Only part of the schools in Sulaimani teachers on strike.
- Many schools in Sulaimani still running normally. And of course most cunning of all was the following·
- Peshmarga protest against the strike in schools.
Of course they interviewed “Peshmarga” fighters who appeared in different parts of Kurdistan who railed against the strike as something treacherous. One of them complained that they too had not received salaries for two months and yet still continued fighting on the frontline against ISIS. Another said he was fighting to protect Kurdistan and its people including the teachers and yet the teachers failed to take care of his children and deprived them of education.
There’s no doubt that these are very valid whether as statements, or complaints from the Peshmarga who deserve everything good. It is not that which bothers me, and probably the majority of the teachers who went on strike; it is the fact that KRG and its loyal media treated the strikes and protests as merely very selfish and form materialistic vs patriotic and all that kind of perspective. They did not want to acknowledge that it is the KRG not trying to listen to and understand people’s concerns, in addition to the false promises, which angers people. What is more, such a response from the government and its loyal media only shows that the KRG really has no idea if this situation is ever going to be solved. Literally. They have no alternative plans.
My wife is a teacher, although she has not gone on strike. I am a university instructor, which is government employee, too. I am not on strike, and I don’t plan to, not because I buy the KRG excuses, but partially because I am also working outside the public sector circle to provide for my family, so I can wait. And more importantly because I believe if teachers go on strike, if the education sector is paralyzed, it is only the poor, the less well-off who will be affected, not the rich, and definitely not the families and children of the officials and “intellectuals” who accuse the teachers of betraying Kurdistan. Because their children are not attending public schools, they are attending the private schools that will never go on strike as they get huge amounts of money from the families of the wealthy students and never have to look at the government for sustainability.
I know that the KRG is working hard on several different levels of challenges: solving the issues with Baghdad, working for Kurdish independence, and fighting and defeating ISIS. But maybe it is time for the KRG to make some compromises ONLY FOR NOW until the fight against ISIS is over because it is not only the people who need their salaries so badly, but also the KRG which is at war, and we all know that war is incredibly costly. Not just because it is costly, but also because we desperately need weapons and military supplies – which we don’t have now – to better equip our brave Peshmarga fighters so fewer lives are lost in the war. So many Peshmarga fighters die sometimes because they do not have military equipment as simple as helmets. They do not have night visions. Therefore, I believe it is time to make some compromises. Resolving the issue of oil exports with Baghdad can wait for some time longer. Winning the war and protecting Kurdistan and its people is a priority.