Cable by Dazzlepod US Embassy Diplomatic Cables from WikiLeaks Released 251287 Cables (Sep 2, 2012)
SECRET (11322)
Reference ID 09BAGHDAD778 (original text)
SubjectRRT Erbil: Nawshirwan Mustafa on Free Press, Elections
OriginEmbassy Baghdad
ReleasedAug 30, 2011 01:44
CreatedMar 22, 2009 08:32
DE RUEHGB #0778/01 0810832
P 220832Z MAR 09
E.O. 12958: N/A 
SUBJECT: RRT Erbil: Nawshirwan Mustafa on Free Press, Elections 
(U) This is an Erbil Regional Reconstruction Team cable. 
(U) Sensitive but unclassified.  Not for Internet distribution. 
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 1. (SBU) During a March 17 visit to Sulaimaniyah, legendary 
Peshmerga commander and Talabani political rival Nawshirwan Mustafa 
gave RRT officers an impromptu tour of his Kurdistan News Network 
(KNN), the Region's first private TV station.  KNN is finishing its 
test broadcast phase and will soon go to 24-hour, seven-day-a-week 
programming; according to Nawshirwan, initial ratings have been 
"incredible," with KNN quickly becoming the Region's most-watched TV 
channel.  KDP and PUK officials, startled by KNN's popularity, have 
banned party members from appearing on the station, Nawshirwan 
claimed.  He blasted the decision of a court in Sulaimaniyah to fine 
the Region's flagship independent newspaper, Hawlati, 13 million 
dinars (approx $11,220) for having slandered Jalal Talabani. 
Nawshirwan said Talabani and his allies are using the 
party-controlled courts to financially strangle independent media. 
KNN has been warned by a senior KRG official to expect similar 
treatment, Nawshirwan said.  On politics, Nawshirwan confirmed he 
will field an independent list in the upcoming KNA elections, which 
he predicted would take place in July. 
He pledged that his list would function as a true opposition and 
would press the KRG to make its budget public.  Nawshirwan called 
for many independent observers to come to the Kurdistan Region to 
monitor the elections.  He asserted that Talabani was shocked by the 
provincial-elections drubbing that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and ISCI 
received in the south and, fearing a similar voter backlash, is 
"tempted" to rig the KNA elections in Sulaimaniyah.  End summary. 
        End summary. 
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Nawshirwan Mustafa Makes an Appearance... 
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 2. (U) During a March 17 trip to Sulaimaniyah, RRT PD officers 
visited the new studios of the Kurdistan Region's first private TV 
station, the Kurdistan News Network (KNN), and met with its 
director, former Radio Nawa Chief Kurda Hassan.  The PDOs were 
unexpectedly joined by  Nawshirwan Mustafa, the owner of Wisha Media 
Group (KNN's parent company).  Nawshirwan is a veteran PUK Peshmerga 
commander and former PUK Deputy Secretary General who is mounting a 
major challenge to Jalal Talabani's leadership of the party and the 
KDP/PUK virtual lock on politics in the Region.  Clad in his 
trademark traditional Kurdish clothing, the wiry 65-year-old 
Nawshirwan gave PDOs his unvarnished views on a range of issues. 
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...Says He's Proud of KNN's Independence... 
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 3. (U) As we toured KNN's state-of-the-art studios, newsroom and 
editing bays, Nawshirwan emphasized that the station is genuinely 
independent.  He underscored that he "doesn't care" about the 
political affiliation of the station's staff, which includes KDP, 
PUK, and KIU members as well as those with no political affiliation. 
 "What I care about is their professionalism," he said.  Nawshirwan 
added that KNN is "a serious news channel" that will not air 
"singing and dancing," a reference to lengthy traditional Kurdish 
music and dance programs that are staples of party-owned stations 
such as Kurdistan TV and KurdSat. 
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...Claims KNN is New Number One... 
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 4. (SBU) According to Director Kurda, KNN is finishing its test 
broadcast phase and is preparing to go 24/7.  The test phase has 
featured eight hours of programming, from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., 
available to the public on the easily accessible NileSat 1 and 
Qavailable to the public on the easily accessible NileSat 1 and 
Hotbird satellites.  In a move intended to make KNN a true 
Region-wide station, Kurda explained that viewers can change the KNN 
audio channel to Sorani (Erbil/Suly) or Kurmanji (Duhok) Kurdish 
dialects.  Since beginning its testing, Nawshirwan claimed, KNN has 
become the most-watched TV station in the Kurdistan Region, in 
addition to drawing significant viewership among the Kurdish 
Diaspora in Europe.  KNN's popularity, he added, has been noticed by 
the KDP and PUK, which he claimed had issued a joint internal 
instruction forbidding party officials from appearing on KNN. 
Offenders have been threatened with salary cuts, Nawshirwan added. 
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...and Blasts the Fine Levied Against Hawlati Newspaper 
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 5. (SBU) Regarding continued KRG pressure on the independent media, 
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Nawshirwan said he was "outraged" by the Sulaimaniyah Misdemeanor 
Court's recent decision to fine the Region's flagship independent 
newspaper, Hawlati, 13 million dinars for re-printing an article by 
an American think-tank writer who depicted Jalal Talabani as 
extremely corrupt.  Talabani and his allies are simply trying to use 
the party-controlled courts to "financially strangle" Hawlati, 
Nawshirwan said.  He added that a senior KRG official recently 
warned him that KNN would be pressured the same way.  According to 
Nawshirwan and Director Kurda, the official joked that "it will be 
free speech for you, and more money for us." 
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KNA Elections:  Independents' Day? 
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 6.  (SBU) Turning to politics, Nawshirwan asserted he would field an 
independent list in the upcoming KNA elections.  Repeating what he 
has said publicly, Nawshirwan stressed there would be no 
reconciliation with Talabani and the PUK Politburo.  Nawshirwan said 
he is vetting candidates for his list, many of whom are prominent 
engineers, doctors, lawyers and teachers.  All of his candidates, he 
added, will post their CVs on a web site so that "everybody knows" 
who they are and what they stand for.  Nawshirwan added that he is 
building a campaign network throughout the Region and preparing 
campaign posters.  Asked for his opinion of when the KNA elections 
would be held, Nawshirwan said President Barzani would likely 
postpone them for two months -- the legal limit.  Beyond that, 
Nawshirwan said, Barzani's legitimacy as a leader could be publicly 
questioned by Baghdad and Washington. 
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"We're Going to Win in Suly"... 
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 7. (SBU) Nawshirwan said that, according to his own polls, his list 
will score big in Sulaimaniyah, taking as many as 20 of the KNA's 
111 seats.  His candidates, he explained, will campaign hard on 
providing basic public services.  "Why is it," he asked 
rhetorically, that "18 years after the Kurdish Uprising, most people 
in Sulaimaniyah don't have access to clean drinking water, and have 
poor housing and poor healthcare?"  Noting that he had recently 
returned from visiting villages in the northern part of the 
province, Nawshirwan said some dilapidated schools had so many 
students that they were reduced to holding classes in rotating 
shifts.  "Tell me the PUK doesn't have the money to build every 
village in Sulaimaniyah a large new school," he scoffed.  Nawshirwan 
added that his bloc in the new KNA would function as a real 
opposition and would demand transparency in the KRG budget process. 
"If the KRG won't publicly release the budget, we'll sue it" in 
Iraqi Federal Court, he said. 
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...If the Elections Are Free and Fair 
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 8. (SBU) The key issue, Nawshirwan said, is whether the KNA 
elections will be as free and fair as the national provincial 
council elections in January.  The KDP and PUK, he claimed, were 
both stunned by the electoral drubbing that voters in the south gave 
to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and ISCI.  Fearing a similar voter backlash, 
Nawshirwan claimed that Jalal Talabani is "very tempted" to rig the 
KNA elections in Suly.  The antidote for that, he said, is to have 
many independent observers, including foreign diplomats, come to the 
Kurdistan Region for the elections.  In closing, Nawshirwan warned 
that the PUK and KDP would turn up the rhetorical heat in the coming 
weeks and would attempt to depict him and his list as "extremists." 
 "Don't believe a word of it," he said, stating that his list would 
work for a negotiated settlement of the disputed territories issue 
"instead of using threats of conflict, like Barzani."  With a smile, 
Q"instead of using threats of conflict, like Barzani."  With a smile, 
Nawshirwan added that "Talabani, Barham (Salih), and Kosrat (Rasoul) 
are panicking.  They know that if I win, they're going to lose their 
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 9. (SBU) We have no way of systematically assessing or verifying 
Nawshirwan's claims about KNN's high ratings during its test period. 
 Anecdotally, however, there is evidence to suggest that KNN is 
popular.  Local media and NGO contacts, as well as 
Sulaimaniyah-based RRT staff, tell us that KNN is now appearing at 
the top of satellite TV remote control drop-down menus in bars, 
shops and homes throughout the city.  We share Nawshirwan's concern 
about the huge fine levied against the Hawlati newspaper.  While no 
paragon of journalistic excellence and quite capable of printing 
outright falsehoods to pump up sales, Hawlati is nonetheless a 
serious independent paper that frequently reports accurately on 
sensitive subjects, including official corruption, which the KDP in 
particular would prefer to keep out of the spotlight. 
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