A seminar by Mr. Ahmed Zawiti on the reality of Kurdish media and political interactions in the Kurdistan region of Iraq

Excerpts from the Seminar

  • The era of the Kurdish media in Iraq before the 1991 uprising can be divided into two categories. The first is the mountain media, represented by the broadcasts of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. The Kurdish section of Baghdad Radio represented the second category of media. This section was of great importance, especially regarding topics related to art and culture.
  • In the aftermath of the 1991 uprising, a kind of “media revolution, both quantitative and qualitative,” took place. This stage can be divided into two periods. The “stage of parties owning their own media platforms,” which existed from 1991 to 2001, was of partisan nature. However, public saturation was reached in 1999. This was followed by the second period, called the “civil media or non-partisan media.”
  • The speaker stressed the “failure” of social media to overcome what he described as populism, which is embodied in intensive coverage of individual cases.
  • Media in the KRI was limited to the Kurdish language. It was unable to address the masses of other nationalities and countries and focused on the Kurdish situation only, which generated a lack of communication with the Arab, Turkish and international audiences.
  • The KRI has not yet reached the stage of media glut, which has lasted for nearly 30 years, and the media discourse is not renewed and does not offer anything new other than repetitions.
  • Backed by pressure from the United States and the United Nations, the elections in this stage were fairer than the previous ones, which witnessed significant fraud.
  • The Federal Court has played an accelerated role, especially in the recent period, by making decisions quickly in the case of Mr. Hoshyar Zebari and the KRI oil, all in favor of the Coordination Framework against Muqtada al-Sadr’s party and against the Kurdistan Democratic Party in particular.
  • The Kurds of Syria are more concerned with the problems of the KRI than its people, and we try to prove that we have more knowledge of your reality than you do.

I do not think there is ever a reservation from Iran and Turkey to establish channels in their languages in the KRI, yet there are no attempts in this regard.

Introducing the Speaker

      We realize when watching the work of Mr. Ahmed Zawiti that he speaks from the pain and reality he experienced, especially when it comes to the Anfal and its pain. At “Raman Center,” we had the opportunity to host him during his visit to Istanbul. We wished to benefit from his rich media experience and hear about the reality of the Kurdish media and current political topics, such as the Federal Court’s decision on the sale of oil.

Mr. Ahmed Zawiti, who is soon to complete his 20th year with Al-Jazeera Network, started with his thanks to Raman Center for giving him this opportunity to briefly elaborate on his media experience, adding briefly about his experience in local media in the KRI between the years 1994 and 2003.

Kurdish Media

      Mr. Zawiti explained the experience of Kurdish media in Iraq by dividing it into two eras. The first is the era before the 1991 uprising, which contained two media types.

The first was called the Mountain Media, which was represented by two partisan broadcasts of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), broadcasting news of the fronts and the Kurdish reality in the KRI.

The Kurdish section of Baghdad Radio represented the second type. It was an essential section, especially broadcasting on topics related to art and culture. It also broadcasted revolutionary songs, whereby “every song was a revolution in itself, so imagine that Tahsin Taha would sing those songs, while in Baghdad, no one sang against Saddam Hussein during the eight years of the Iran-Iraq war. So he was the only one who was able to do so, and all his songs were meaningful and direct. And he sometimes used metaphoric language to deliver some messages, such as the song “Min Tu Navey” (I Don’t want you). Like other artists, such as Şivan Perwer in Europe, he could sing whatever he wanted, but this example is different. Taha improved the singing of these songs inside Baghdad while he was among the Baathists. And this in itself is a valuable effort and a great revolution. And each of the artists of Radio Baghdad was an important symbol, especially between 1970 and 1980.”

Zawiti discussed the post-1991 uprising, describing what happened as “more like a media revolution. But it was a revolution in terms of quantity, not quality.”

He divided this era into two periods. In the first stage, “Each party or organization owned a radio, publications, televisions and magazines. This type of media lasted from 1991 to 2001. It was a media of partisan nature, and we noticed that the public was saturated with it in 1999. On the other side, those responsible for this media sensed this situation and tried to change the nature and form of their media.”

He pointed out that this paved the way for the emergence of a “new media” in 1999, i.e., the second period, which he called civil media or non-partisan media: “In fact, it was not independent and neutral due to the media platforms being established by parties, which officially did not follow them, but were of deeply rooted partisanship. This type of media maintained itself for a while until news media began to appear, like the channel “NRT” and later the channel “Rudaw” and Kurdistan 24. I call it Al-Ahbari because it sought to appear like a news channel, such as Al-Jazeera and others, but this matter remained limited to its appearance without effect on the content.

A General Assessment of the Partisan Kurdish Media in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Zawiti went on to analyze the Kurdish media through the eyes of an expert and critic, expressing that they seem to have evolved in format with the availability of additional modern tools and the entry into the age of satellite television.

Kurdish parties have a range of partisan channels or are funded by the main parties in the KRI, for example, the KDP media, which holds the Kurdistan, Zagros, and other local channels. According to the speaker, however, they are not noticeable to the masses, as these are more attracted towards other channels, such as “Rudaw and Kurdistan 24”, which have a better follow-up to events and the ability to reach a wider audience, even though the same parties fund them.

Also, developments in the image, the method of presentation and other visual aspects generally remained restricted due to editorial policies, which made them similar to their Arab counterparts in terms of form. Still, in terms of messages, they do the exact opposite while getting stuck in the locality and suggesting inaccurate or inflated perceptions of reality.

“These channels had a fault represented by the issue of managing the news article and its content, as the format appeared similar to media channels such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, but in terms of the conveyed message, they contradicted totally. The reason becomes clear in the comparison to a channel like Al-Jazeera, which does not address the internal problems of the state that established it while at the same time covering and transmitting every problem from across the world and avoiding every matter concerning internal issues to strengthen the cohesion of the people. But in the case of the KRI, the focus is completely on internal problems, such that it creates the perception within the people as if all the world’s problems, like ruin, theft, betrayal, and even traffic accidents, only exist in the KRI. It is portrayed as if these exist only among us. All of this affects the public perception. So, this type of media, instead of imitating advanced experiences, did the opposite, which caused the citizens of the KRI to lose their confidence and faith in the experience of the KRI, and turned it into a dark experience in their view. And this type of media has existed since 2010 and is maintained until now.”

The subsequent phase after 2010 was characterized by the transition to a new type of media, the post-news media stage, represented by the media of “social networking sites.” And here, as is the case with most societies worldwide, the masses intensively turned towards social media platforms, which contain traditional channels, and others that also convey part of the picture with a broader perspective through social networking sites.

Zawiti emphasized the “failure” of social media sites to overcome what he described as populism, which is embodied, according to him, by covering individual cases intensively, such as what happened in a criminal case in which a child was raped and killed. This criminal case was covered for more than ten days, with multiple visits to the crime scene and repeated narrations of the exact details, “which greatly affects society,” as well as the case of a person called “Hakim Gorran” a lawyer who tried to form a public opinion on topics that affect society as a whole. Like his struggle to achieve consensus between the main parties in the KRI, threatening to commit suicide unless this is achieved. The media was busy showing the positive side of his attempt, and their approach to the whole issue was to ask him questions about whether he would commit suicide if the Kurdish parties did not converge! This resulted in more frustration, division and despair, whereby the same happens in cases of suicide or family problems, and “this exaggerated coverage makes society very stressed.”

Zawiti recalled that the KRI is like a geographic transition strip between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria and that if the map is looked at, it is geographically complex, narrow and small. This strip has been suffering from wars for 100 years. And to keep this geographically and politically complex spot in a state of stability during all these conflicts in neighboring countries is an outstanding achievement, which confronts the media with its duty to ask, “Has the Kurdish media been able to communicate this reality in this way to the masses?”

“The conflict around the whole region is intensifying. So, where is the Kurdish media covering these crises outside the Kurdish reality?”

Contrary to what is hoped, it is as if this media, unknowingly, has assigned itself the task of forming a collective image in the mentality of Kurdish society, mired in melancholy and darkness, while conveying messages that suggest or form negative convictions. The speaker pointed out that the excessive focus on the internal problems of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq “sends a negative message to the Kurdish public. This is reflected in the formation of the citizen’s mental image and pushes people to believe that the most corrupt experience is the experience of the KRI, that the biggest thieves are their politicians, and that the most betrayed people are the Kurds, and so on. This is what the Kurdish media discourse constitutes in the subconscious of the masses.”

Therefore, he added, stressing that the media “is more aware of this situation and that it looks at countries outside the KRI and their losses and problems, and conveys these to the Kurdish public.”

The speaker elaborated further on his statements by addressing on how to deal with the issue of migration and those stranded at the borders of the European Union and how to follow up on the relevant statistics. He raised the questions overlooked by the Kurdish media: “Is the KRI situation worse than the Iraq situation? Why are 70% of those fleeing to the borders of Belarus and Poland from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, while even the percentage of Syrians among them is lower? Does this mean Syria’s situation is better than the KRI’s?

From the above, Zawiti concludes that “the media discourse has made the reality of the KRI so dark that it has eliminated the sense of belonging among people. Someone may flee the war, this is normal, but those I remember fleeing the KRI are not in the same situation like the people of “Northern Syria or Sinjar (Shingal)”. Like in the case of the gold trader among the immigrants in Belarus, who appeared on a foreign channel.”

Additional Problems of the Kurdish Media

and Suggested Solutions

Zawiti listed many additional problems of the Kurdish media and suggested the following solutions:

  • Being limited to the Kurdish language only, and its inability to address audiences from other nationalities and countries, as well as the sole focus on the Kurdish situation, has generated a lack of communication with Arab, Turkish and international audiences.

It is necessary to overcome this state of monolingualism in the media and to expand the discourse “by working to establish channels in other languages in the Kurdish media. And this is a crucial point, which requires adopting standards that take this media to the level of international channels. Otherwise, Arab, Turkish, and Persian audiences will not follow them.”

  • There are about 8,000 journalists in the KRI Syndicate, in addition to journalists outside the Syndicate, which requires improving the access of Kurdish journalists to leading and influential international channels to develop themselves in these channels.

Other suggestions also emerged in the context of the development of media, including:

  • Work in accordance with professional journalistic responsibility, the balance between professionalism and social responsibility, public security, and the issue of respecting legal frames.
  • We do not mean that the task of media is to build societal peace in a country. Still, the mission and responsibility of media are to maintain security and peace in that society through professionalism.
  • Effective planning and overcoming situations we experienced when fighting ISIS, such as going to Peshmerga sites and live broadcasts on the place.

Political Situation in Iraq

The problem of forming the Iraqi government after the elections is one of the recurring problems in the Iraqi scene. “I often wrote: We succeed in holding elections but fail to apply their results on the ground. Elections are formalities in which people vote, participate and release the results, but then we stop when it comes to the implementation. I do not think that elections will be able to find a solution to the problem of Iraq. In my opinion, the situation in Iraq has reached an advanced stage of chaos, where there is no real benefit from elections. We have no hope left in the elections. And the proof is that 70% of Iraqis did not go to the polls. This is a vast social discontent with the political process. And this bloc will always be tense and looking for a change.

Under pressure from the USA and the United Nations, the elections in this period were characterized by more fairness than the previous ones, which witnessed significant fraud. Yet they were unable to stabilize the political process, which is now in the most challenging stage of the political process in Iraq after 2003. Because if the Sadrist movement builds the government, the Coordination Framework will come to obstruct the matter. And if the Coordination Framework builds the government, the Sadrist movement will come to obstruct it. And within this reality, Iran will have the first role in controlling.

Additionally, the role of the USA, especially in light of America’s attempt to form a regional axis across Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Turkey to change the political reality inside Iraq, will be an attempt to counter the influence of the Iranian axis. And this issue will be vitally linked to the future nuclear negotiations between Washington and Tehran. And I think that if they reach a specific agreement, America will impose some conditions on Iran so as not to interfere in Iraq or to reduce its intervention.

The fact is that the Federal Court played an increasing role, especially during the recent period, by making swift decisions in the case of Mr. Hoshyar Zebari and the KRI oil, all in favor of the Coordination Framework and against Muqtada al-Sadr’s party and the Kurdistan Democratic Party in particular. And we do not exclude that the Federal Court will issue other decisions on future candidates. In my opinion, the presidency of the republic is not important enough for the advancement of the Kurds to escalate the level of tension and generate a conflict between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. And, remarkably, both Mr. Hoshyar Zebari and Barham Salih held propaganda speeches and statements showcasing the willingness to give up Kurdish demands just in order to obtain the votes of Sunni and Shiite Arabs. For example, in the face of the current reality, Barham Salih’s statement on amending the constitution of 2005 will be fundamentally harmful to the KRI.

The KRI can escape this situation – the pressures of Baghdad and the actions of the Federal Court – through regional and international actors, especially Washington’s and Turkey’s support. Masoud Barzani might decide to freeze the political process in Baghdad and retreat, allowing Baghdad to do what it wants, thus driving the current situation into a conflict. However, if left on its own, the most important question will be: How will they manage to stand against Baghdad? This is an important issue, especially since the Kurds are not united.

Interventions of the Participants

Researchers and media professionals need to focus on the following problems:

  • Within media: Except for the content, the issue of imitating visual identity colors should be resolved.
  • The need to address sensitive topics, such as criminal offenses and similar, in a professional manner and away from societal irritation.
  • The importance of addressing neighboring communities in their languages, conveying the reality and Kurdish issues to them, and conveying an image about the Kurds, which is not only related to weapons and battles but deals with their culture, language and art.
  • There exist positive developments in media and on an institutional level in the region towards advancing media and political processes while generally seeking to enhance the Kurdish discourse among developed countries.
  • Iraqi institutions are being abused to demolish key Kurdish figures, such as Mr. Hoshyar Zebari’s case.
  • The Federal Court prefers not to have any parties in Erbil, Dohuk or any other KRI region.
  • The issue of Barham Salih is not only the result of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s persistence. Moreover, it results from the persistence of the Coalition and the USA because Washington and the Coalition believe that as long as Barham Salih remains in the presidency, the entire Iraqi arena will remain open to Iran. And due to this aspect, the KDP may make some tactical mistakes.
  • If almost 100 Kurdish deputies in the Iraqi parliament cannot convey their message to the people, if they cannot form alliances, and cannot ensure success factors, then this is all due to our political activities and internal Kurdish conflicts.
  • The Syrian Kurds are more interested in the problems of the KRI than the people of the region, almost knowing the situation better. As is known, a part of the Kurds is in favor of the PKK, a large part of them are in favor of the KDP, and a smaller part of the Kurds are in favor of the PUK and other parties. When the Syrian revolution started, the positive slogans about the Syrian people’s unity and freedom were an excellent opportunity for the Kurds to reach out to the people and carry their message to the world. The Kurds in Syria did not fail. However, the external actors have become the cause of their failure by infiltrating their policies into the Syrian Kurdish reality.
  • How Syrian Kurds approach the Kurdish issue: The reality is that the level of enthusiasm among the Kurds of Syria differs from that among the Kurds of the KRI. Yet they fail to benefit from this reality as required. In fact, it is being exploited for internal Kurdish conflicts. For instance, the Kurds in the KRI are fed up and bored with the conflicts between KDP and PUK. Therefore, the question about the motives for the division of the Syrian Kurds between KDP, PUK and PKK remains constant. And it is a problematic question, why did it come to this point? It’s okay to consider Kurdish figures a national symbol, but we should still be convinced of their political program. We experienced this first hand while making the documentary “The Mountain State” that 60 to 70 percent of the fighters were from amongst the Kurds of Syria. You find them everywhere, but what good did this bring to their situation? Or the example of the KDP: the party, in its struggle and programs, benefited greatly from the Kurdish people in Syria. But what did the Kurds of Syria get in return?

For example, I wrote about Mr. Hoshyar Zebari’s team and criticized him, and the topic was about his team and not his personality. As a reaction, one of the Syrian Kurds wrote a comment praising Hoshyar Zebari as a great politician. Of course, I am not talking about Hoshyar Zebari. I am talking about his team, who communicates false information and conveys a wrong image regarding his leadership and victory to the KRI public; even regarding the court trial, his team made the mistake of spreading the information that the court’s decision will be in Mr. Hoshyar’s favor, which then did not happen and they ended up frustrated.

Questions to the Speaker

  • Do Turkey, Iran and Syria, for example, have reservations about establishing media outlets in the languages of these countries within the Kurdistan Region of Iraq?


I do not think there is ever a reservation from Iran and Turkey to establish channels in their languages in the KRI. Yet, there are no attempts in this regard. There is no Kurdish initiative to have a solid Kurdish media outlet to address the Arab, Turkish or Persian audience, and this is a critical need for the KRI, as our issue is mainly related to these peoples.

  • Even though Rudaw TV is not a very high-level media, yet its success and resonance among the people is high. What do you think are the reasons for this? Is it because of the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish or something else?


Compared to other Kurdish media channels, Rudaw is very superior. It has more significant potential than all Kurdish channels regarding financial and human potential. Yet Rudaw cannot create a new media discourse and free itself from traditional methods. And because of my close connection to Rudaw, I know they seek to reach the masses by creating exciting media.

  • After 2004 and 2005, there was an agreement that the presidency in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq would be in the hands of the PUK, and the regional government will remain in the hands of the KDP. What is your opinion about the reason for the termination of this agreement? The KDP now wants to obtain both the Iraqi Presidency and the Presidency of the KRI. What are the reasons for this?


The KDP was very keen on Jalal Talabani’s presence in Baghdad. Talabani’s presence was in fact, important, and he was successful as the head of state. But after his death, this importance gradually diminished. For example, Barham Salih was not at the same level, yet the KDP did not prevent his presidency, as it hoped, at least to be consulted. And here lies the problem. When the PUK dictated the presidency of Barham Salih, whether they agreed or not, KDP suggested appointing another candidate by consultation who would not be against KDP. Four seats belong to the Kurdistan Islamic Union and other figures, and each of them refused their support “for both, whether it is a candidate of KDP or the PUK, because they were nominated without our knowledge and consultation on the matter.”

I wonder why KDP rejected Barham Salih outright. However, there is a problem between both parties, thus making things more complicated than straightforward. This is a hard partisan struggle. However, thinking that there is an agreement that the head of state is from the PUK and the regional government is in the hands of KDP will not work out because the KDP holds twice as many seats as the PUK in the parliament. The KDP had no problem in leaving the presidency to them. Well, this is something between them.

  • ·   You put forward a political reality in Iraq, as if “Baghdad is weak, this leads to the KRI being strong, and if Baghdad is strong, this will lead to the weakness of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Why can’t both of them be strong?


Because both sides do not trust each other, trust is non-existent. Both sides deal with bad intentions with each other. Therefore, the regional government believes, for example, that if the Government of Iraq is strengthened, it will destroy the KRI. Until now, Baghdad is not content with and has no trust in the experience of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Therefore, if Baghdad is strong enough, it will hit the region.

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