IRAQ: Man on the hilltop

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With yellowed fingers, the aging Kurdish warrior lights another cigarette and speaks his mind.

For decades Nawshirwan Mustafa fought for Kurdish autonomy against the tyranny of Baghdad. The steely-eyed intellectual turned guerrilla commander helped secretly organize the 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein that challenged Baghdad’s rule in the north and led to the establishment of the Kurdish autonomous region.

Now at 63 he’s embarked on a new crusade: against his fellow Kurdish warriors, whom he accuses of corruption and complacency.

‘There is no separation of the political parties from the government,’ he says. ‘There’s no transparency. There’s cronyism and nepotism in the appointment of high officials.’


He’s resigned from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two main Kurdish political parties of which he once served as a leader, and launched a new newspaper, Rojnameh, targetting his former brethren.

‘Other newspapers in Kurdistan belong to the political parties,’ he says. ‘This is an independent newspaper.’

Journalists enjoy more press freedoms in Iraqi Kurdistan than other parts of the Middle East. But problems persist. After a two-week fact-finding mission, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists concluded that ‘while the margin to criticize is relatively wide in the independent press, journalists have expressed concern about a rising number of physical attacks on the press, the arbitrary detentions of reporters by security forces, and the use of the courts to harass journalists,’ according to a press release.

Mustafa is too popular among the Kurds to be silenced easily. But he now lives almost under house arrest, behind gates atop a huge hill in Sulaymaniya, the second largest Kurdish city, physically cut off from the rest of Kurdistan, as he publishes his paper.

‘I was one of them,’ he says of the Kurdish bigwigs, who now spend their days assembling lucrative oil deals and putting up lavish real estate developments. ‘I tried to change it from the inside. That didn’t work. Now I’m trying from the outside.’

Borzou Daragahi in Sulaymaniya, Iraq