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2021, the Repression Year for the Iraqi Kurdistan Journalists

 Masrour Barzani, the Nightmare of Journalists

 By Diary Marif, New Age Islam

4 February 2022

 Main Points

·         Masrour Barzani’s brutality and hearthstone against his critics, remind people of the miserable days of Saddam Hussein’s era.

·         Both KDP and PUK used many strategies to silence the journalists, authors and protestors who raised voices against corruption and injustice.

·         This article discusses only Masrour Barzani’s power to silence journalists.

·         Masrour Barzani promised to build a strong Kurdistan, carry out reform, and bring all parties to work together but he did the opposite on the ground.

·         They have to change their brutal strategies otherwise they will have the same fate as Saddam Hussein.  


Since he was sworn as prime minister, the rate of crime and violation against journalists and activists has increased significantly, such as threatening, harassment, arbitrary detaining, torturing, and sentencing behind the bar. His brutality and hearthstone against his critics, remind people of the miserable days of Saddam Hussein’s era.

It's been more than 30 years since Iraqi Kurdistan has been run by the two major parties: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Masoud Barzani (1946-?) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani (1933-2017). Both parties used many strategies to silence the journalists, authors, and protesters who raised voices against corruption and injustice. The leaders of the parties are brutal and harsh with journalists and activists. They arrested, tortured, and even killed journalists.

Among both the KDP and PUK, the Talabanis and Barzanis have more power than other leaders and control their parties by using security forces to protect their families interests, especially the eldest sons of Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani, Bavel Talabani and Masrour Barzani.

In this piece, I will discuss only Masrour Barzani’s power to silence journalists because he has held the highest KRG position, his party has more power than other Kurdistan parties, and he has a bad reputation for terrorizing Journalists.

Masrour Barzani became the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in July 2019. He promised to build a strong Kurdistan, carry out reform, and bring all parties and all people to work together. Words are cheaper than actions, given that he did the opposite on the ground. He neither did reform nor brought all people together; instead, he put the KRG on the cliff and faced several dire crises in all aspects. He used repression tools and spread fear against his critics, especially towards journalists, activists, and those who raised voices against corruption and inequality.

I should mention that the prime minister is not responsible for all crises in Iraqi Kurdistan and did not crackdown on freedom of speech alone as I mentioned above. It has been for more than 30 years, the Kurdish authorities have been involved in corruption, brutalities, and nepotism. However, during Mr. Barzani's power, everything is worse than before because he does not listen to anyone, sees himself above the laws, and doesn't know how to negotiate with his opposite direction. As a result of his authoritarian action, he became a Journalist nightmare and people were disappointed by any change.  

He has a black chapter of hurting and punishing journalists severely which started many years ago, but one of the most brutal cases he is accused of was the assassination of the young journalist Sardasht Othman who was kidnapped in the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of Erbil and killed in the vicinity of the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2010. Osman was a young journalist who criticized corruption, family rule and nepotism, in several pieces, specifically criticizing the Barzanis. In one of his articles, “I am in Love with Barzani’s Daughter” Osman sarcastically wished to be the son-in-Law of Masrour Barzani, in order to be rich, protected, and have a better lifestyle. The Barzanis thought Osman broke their taboo. Many believe that the current prime minister observed and ordered the process of murdering Osman.

Up to now, Mr. Barzani ordered his men to threaten, arrest, and torture journalists and his family’s critics. During his current tenure as prime minister, His Parastine (KDP intelligence agencies) team arrested journalists for writing a comment on social media. They discarded officers who did not vote for their party during the last Iraqi elections. They cracked down the protests. Many journalists and writers fled from Kurdistan to Europe or North America.

Another reason he is a journalist’s nightmare is that he was raised in a conservative tribe’s family who cannot accept criticism like his father, Masoud Barzani, who never accepted criticism when he was the president (2005-2017).

Masrour Barzani came to power through a robust intelligence background. He was head of KDP intelligence services and before he became PM, he was head of the intelligence of KRG. During exactly 20 years, people nicknamed him after the atrocity son of dictators and authoritarians like Uday Saddam Hussien, Sief-al Islam Gaddafi- son of former Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi and so on. Therefore people did not expect him too much. When he became PM, he allocated most of his cabinet ministers and senior officers who have intelligence backgrounds. Thus, his government does not like journalists and freedom of speech. He ordered all arresting critics, torturing and killing anyone who was against his party and family. 

Although many people hoped for Mr. Barzani’s reform, he arrested and put around 80 journalists and activists behind the bars in Dohuk province when they demonstrated to stop corruption and demand better public services in 2020. Despite there was a wide range of serious concern and condemnation at national and international levels constantly and demanded to release the victims without any condition, he neglected his all and ordered the Erbil Criminal Court to sentence three journalists: Sherwan Sherwani, Ayaz Karim, and Kohdar Zebari and two activists Mulla Shivan Saeed, and Hariwan Issa for six years in February 2021.

All observers throughout the World were shocked by the savage prime minister's decision. He accused the journalists and activists of spying on KRG seniors putting their life at risk, gathering information and passing it to foreign countries such as the USA and Germany. After his repression attitude towards journalists led the foreign observers who had called Iraqi Kurdistan, the beacon of democracy in the Middle East, to rethink and change their minds about it.

Besides the shameful actions of Mr. Barzani against the jailed journalists and activists, according to the Metro Center for Jousnalists’s Rights and Advocacy, 353 violations were committed against 250 journalists and media outlets under Mr. Barzani’s regime in 2021.


By and large, day by day, the gap between the ordinary people and the prime minister increased obviously. He doesn't try to change the lives of people for the better and does not allow people to talk freely and express their sorrow. He also uses several horrific strategies to silence his critics: social issues. I think he needs to learn the lesson that the most brutal world leaders and presidents could not stop demonstrations, freedom of speech, and journalism, in contrast, they paid the price. I also cannot do it. I'm sure, the Iraqi Kurdish people, especially journalists, will not give up on Masrour Barzani and his father’s evil desires but they have to change their brutal strategies otherwise they will have the same fate as Saddam Hussein.  


 Diary Marif is a Kurdish political and non-fiction writer. Marif has an MA in History from Pune University, India. His writing has appeared in the Awene weekly, Lvin, KNN TV, and other media outlets.



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