KDP Deputy President Nechirvan Barzani speaks in a joint press conference with Mala Bakhtiyar, a senior PUK leader, in Sulaimani on January 7. Photo: Rudaw TV
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region — Top leaders from the KDP visited PUK headquarters on Sunday, where they agreed the Kurdistan Region is in a "new phase" and "unity" has to be the priority of both parties amid economic crises and upcoming Iraqi elections.
Following a meeting, KDP Deputy Head Nechirvan Barzani and Mala Bakhtiyar, a senior PUK leader, each spoke with the media in Sulaimani.
"The meeting was very important given the current phase in Kurdistan and the negotiations in which we hope start with Baghdad. We exchanged views. And we reached an agreement to continue such meetings in the future," said Barzani.
Barzani, who is also KRG prime minister, called on Kurdish parties to participate in Iraqi elections as a united coalition.
"Both sides agreed that what could lead us to success is that we, as all the Kurdistani parties, be united including all the other components and together pass the current hard phase engulfing the Kurdistan Region," he added.
Iraq has parliamentary and provincial elections scheduled for May 12. Official high-level talks between the federal and regional governments have not taken place following tensions created by Baghdad taking control of most of the disputed or Kurdistani areas like Kirkuk claimed by both capitals.
Both leaders stated that they were not aware of a visit by a delegation of Kurdish opposition parties to Baghdad earlier this week where they met with Iraqi officials including PM Haider al-Abadi.
"We were not aware of the visit to Baghdad," said Barzani. "We thought it would be better if all the other parties had gone with them to Baghdad, even if it was [not meant to be on a government level] … in order to defend the Kurdistan Region with one voice.
"It would be much, much better than three parties going to Baghdad alone," he said.
Barzani reiterated KRG's willingness to enter into talks with Baghdad within the framework of the Iraqi constitution to solve outstanding issues.
The Change Movement (Gorran), the Islamic Group (Komal), and the Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ) of the former KRG PM Barham Salih, defended their visit to Baghdad with Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi independent of the KRG, citing a lack of PUK and KDP interest to form an interim government.
"Our government has obtained its legitimacy from the parliament and the vote of the people," said Barzani while standing next to Bakhtiyar.
The PUK and KDP have a combined 56 of 111 seats in the Kurdish parliament following the 2013 elections.
PM Barzani, however, welcomed any "positives" that may come out as the result of the opposition delegation that visited Baghdad including with regards to their budgetary disputes.
Barzani described PUK-KDP relations as “historical” and “important” and that it “has to be deepened and sustained.” The late PUK founder Jalal Talabani, like many other of his followers, were originally KDP members and instrumental in creating the foundation for the modern Kurdistan Region. The two parties share alliance pact since 2007, called the Strategic Agreement. It paved the way for a power-sharing system between the two parties ever since.
The only condition which "makes us succeed at this period of time is unity," urged Barzani about the bond between the PUK and KDP, as well as other Kurdish parties.
Bakhtiyar, from the PUK, described the recent time as a “new phase” and urged the resolution of the economic crisis to be the priority of both parties.
"We opened a new door in order for talks to continue so as to know where we head and reach and how we could altogether resolve the economic crisis," he said.
Bakhtiyar said the three opposition parties to visit Baghdad "did not discuss the details of their visit with any party yet."
"[N]egotiations must be only through the KRG," he said. "American, British, the EU, and the UN have emphasized that the KRG carries the responsibility of the negotiation within a united Iraq per the constitution"
Echoing Barzani's stance, Bakhtiyar said, the KDP-PUK strategic agreement “fulfilled its historical duties” and no conspiracies could stand against it.
While no formal agreement was announced between the ruling KDP and PUK, Bakhtiyar revealed both are currently pondering “new relations."
Barzani answered a question about Iran claiming that Erbil somehow had interfered in Iranian affairs by colluding with the US Central Intelligence Agency to incite anti-government and regime protests in Iran which began on December 28.
The Kurdish premier emphasized the importance of the stability of Iran for the Kurdistan Region, denying Iranian claims.
“It is more like a comedy than reality, even the way it was said. We, in the Kurdistan Region, do not have a hand in these problems with Iran. Iran is an important neighbor," he said.
Also on Sunday, Kurdish parties, less the KDP, met to discuss forming a joint list of the Kurdish parties to run for the parliament and provincial elections in Kirkuk. Bakhtiyar said that party officials from the PUK and KDP in Kirkuk have been asked to reach an agreement in this regards within the next few days.
Updated at 5:45 p.m.