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Op-Ed: Is Iran funding a media mogul to oppose Kurdistan’s independence?

Esther Shirazi explains how the Islamic Republic of Iran via Iraqi Vice President Nouri Maliki is funding a media mogul who is working as a proxy in order to oppose Kurdistan’s Independence Referendum.
Iraqi Vice President Nouri Al Maliki and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani Photo Credit: EPA

According to recent reports, Iran has agents operating in Iraq in order to oppose Kurdistan’s independence referendum. An Iranian source stressed that Iran is funding Iraqi Vice President Nouri Al Maliki: “There is not always concrete evidence of financial support but if you look at the structure between the Iranian regime and the leadership in Iraq, you will get a clear picture. The relationship between the Iraqi clerics and the Iranian regime dates from after the revolution. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, those who have been trained and toiled and made ready for holding offices had a proper program. The Iranian regime has many agents holding high offices in the Iraqi political establishment. Mr. Maliki is one of those.”

According to various reports, Maliki is using this money in order to pay media outlets and journalists in order to oppose Kurdistan’s independence referendum. These reports claim that one of the people whom Maliki is funding is Shaswar Abdulwahid Qadir, who runs NRT TV and Nalia Media Corporation, which indirectly via PAM has hired Mercury to lobby the US government to oppose Kurdistan’s independence. 

An anonymous source related, “His brother is the main business partner of Maliki in Baghdad and his sister is a female MP in the Change Movement bloc in the Iraqi Parliament.” The Change Movement is opposed to Barzani and Kurdistan’s independence referendum. Furthermore, a staff person who works for Maliki related that he reported to Maliki directly and following that, he came out against Kurdistan’s Referendum. Former Kurdish MP in Baghdad Sirwan Ahmed has previously charged that Maliki was financing the Nadia Media Corporation and using certain Kurdish media outlets to oppose Kurdistan’s referendum. The Kurdish media published an official document from Maliki’s office confirming that Maliki had given the US $87 million to Chavi Land, one of the projects owned by Qadir.

While in the US, Qadir gave an interview to the Washington Post, where he proclaimed that the referendum “is an excuse by Kurdish leaders to remain in power. The younger generation does not know anything about their fight in the mountains against Saddam Hussein. So the old leaders need another excuse to run the country for another 26 years.” At the same time, Qadir has announced himself as a candidate for the presidency of the Kurdistan Region for the upcoming elections in November. He has argued that the Kurds should not seek independence until the US, Turkey, Iran and the central government in Iraq supports it for otherwise, Turkey could shut down Kurdistan’s pipeline. Furthermore, he claimed that the Turks and Iranians can start backing opposing Peshmerga factions, which could ignite a civil war. Qadir claimed there are many who want to say no to a referendum but when he invited people to come out to Sulimani, most of the chairs were empty and some of the people who came went in order to celebrate the opening of the Sulimani Stadium rather than to hear him.

Recently, the Turkish Foreign Minister said that they will not take actions to blockade an independent Kurdistan provided it is not a hostile entity. The US, UK and Germany have also been helping the Ministry of Peshmerga to be one united Kurdish army as envisioned under the reform program of Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Nichervan Barzani. Therefore, one must ponder whether a civil war in Kurdistan is now possible since the Peshmerga forces have united and Turkey won’t be blockading an independent Kurdistan. Nonetheless, in light of these recent developments, Qadir has not changed his position. To the contrary, he fired several journalists from his media outlet due to their support for an independent Kurdistan. Also, some journalists have left his news outlets because they wanted to openly support an independent Kurdistan and he would not let them. While Qadir speaks out about democracy and freedom, in one of his panels, he kicked people out for criticizing him and for supporting Kurdistan’s referendum.

Iraqi Vice President Nouri Al Maliki and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani Photo Credit: EPA

Paul Davis, a retired US intelligence officer, stressed: “According to some reports, the current movement is a response to the end of the ISIS threat and the need for a corrupt government to once again bring on a crisis that will rally the people to the Kurdish cause. This argument ignores the history of the Kurdish independence movement. Looking back on history, the Kurds have asked for and been promised independence since the end of the First World War. Kurdish children today are more familiar with President Wilson’s 14 points than most Americans. This is particularly true of the call for all people to have the right to self-determination. In the intervening years, regional and world powers have always had a reason to say it is not the right time! Wait! For most Kurds, the wait is over and they will vote for independence.”

Given this, in my opinion, it appears evident that the funding Iran sends to Qadir via Maliki is the source of his opposition to the Kurdish independence. Before Maliki came to power, Qadir was merely a small businessman. As a child, he worked in his father’s kebab store and while he was a student, he owned a small shop where people could play games. In 2005, when he graduated from university, he worked for a private construction company for one year. After that, he worked as a construction contractor.

However, one year after Maliki rose to power, he founded the Nalia Company for Real Estate and Construction. In a documentary on his life published by NRT TV titled “My Story,” Qadir’s associates spoke about how he aimed for highly ambitious and expensive projects that even more experienced businessmen would not dare to do. Qadir has never spoken about his sources for funding and emphasizes that he got everything he had via hard work but sources inside Iraq claim that the money he received from Maliki is what enabled him to be successful in such difficult projects. Several years afterward, in 2011, he launched NRT TV, which he is using to oppose Kurdish independence.

JOL Blogger | Esther Shirazi

Esther Shirazi is a Jewish Iranian dissident who advocates for minority rights and human rights across the Middle East. She is an outspoken opponent of the Iranian regime.

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