Editor’s note: This post is by Maria Fantappie, an analyst with the Carnegie Middle East Center. Neither the Los Angeles Times nor Babylon & Beyond endorses the positions of Carnegie's analysts, nor does Carnegie endorse the positions of The Times or its blog.
Whereas in the rest of Iraq demonstrators called for a variety of demands, in Kurdistan most of protesters were young and voiced their discontent against Kurdistan's traditional leadership. The future of these leaders now depends on their ability to regain legitimacy with these youth.
The protests served as a wake-up call for the region's two-party leadership: the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, led by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, led by Jalal Talabani. Both parties have ruled Kurdistan since the establishment of a regional government in 1992.
The KDP and the PUK built their legitimacy on the struggle against Saddam Hussein's regime and the creation of the Kurdistan region. But Kurdistanis between the ages of 15 and 30 -- approximately 40% of the population -- grew up in an already semi-autonomous Kurdistan. Most of them only heard about the struggle against the former regime from their parents and grandparents.
They did, however, witness the armed struggle for power between the KDP and the PUK from 1994 to 1997, and have lived under two-party rule that dominates political representation, resource management and access to employment. They have little or no contact with the rest of Iraq, attend Kurdish universities, speak Kurdish better than Arabic -- and hold Irbil politically accountable before Baghdad.
In the eyes of this youth, the KDP and PUK have spent the past 20 years prioritizing parochial interests over the national good.