The Question of Kurdistan
Delwer Omar Abu Bakr is the KDP-appointed mayor of Degala, a town up the road from Kawkas's tent. Mayor Delwer, as he is known, is simultaneously suave and defensive; he has the intensity and dark good looks of a movie star and occasionally speaks of himself in the third person. But he won't say much. I appeal to his vanity, telling him he looks younger than 36 and asking him about himself. He smiles and soon, in a cryptic, typically Iraqi fashion, starts to confess.
"In my heart I hate the agas. They fought us," says the mayor, who was a peshmerga before studying law. "But they are more intelligent than simple people. They are patient and respectful. Simple people come in dirty and get angry. So the agas are more effective."
The mayor explains that despite formal land reform, some agas still control public pastures as private property and, in contravention of the law, still collect rents on these properties.
On a hill outside Erbil sits a big yellow house with tinted windows, armed security and a commanding view extending over miles of steep barren ridges. Inside lives Aga Adal Abu Shwara ("Adal with big mustache"), and indeed he has a preposterously large handlebar mustache. Under Saddam, Adal headed a Jash unit called the Special Emergency Squad. Everyone seems to know who he is, and they all say the same thing: He was one of Saddam's Kurdish thugs. Now Adal heads a United Nations security detail.
In his plush white-carpeted living room, surrounded by gold-colored drapes, ornate wood-framed couches and a huge plasma TV playing a Kurdish musical gala, Adal Abu Shwara sips Pepsi and explains the traditions of the aga.
"To be an aga is a job. We serve the people. We give people land, we find them jobs. All our cars have chains to help pull people out of ditches after accidents. That is why we built this house close to the road."
Critics charge that the parties use agas to mobilize votes. "Yes, we get the people to vote, but it would be rude for someone in Talabani's area to make his people vote for Barzani or the other way around. So there are limits."