Rival KDP and PUK flags blow in the wind during an election campaign. File photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – More than 100 days since the election, talks to form a new Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) don’t look like they’ll progress anytime soon as a rift between the two traditional ruling parties deepens.
A senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said on Wednesday that his party will not enter a new round of government-formation talks with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) until five of their members detained by the KDP are released.
The KDP and PUK were scheduled to hold a high-level meeting on Tuesday, but it was cancelled.
"The reason for the cancellation was due to the current complicated situation. In other words, the matter of the capture of the PUK members...” Qadir Aziz, member of the PUK politburo, told Rudaw.
“There are still some others numbering five held by the KDP, including Mr. Ghanim, head of the PUK Peshmerga soldiers in Makhmour," he explained.
Unless these party members are released, “the PUK will not hold such meetings,” he vowed.
Amid tensions between them, the KDP and PUK made several retaliatory arrests last week. The move reminded people of the civil war era in the 1990s when the Kurdistan Region was split between the warring KDP and PUK.
It took a call from Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, himself deputy president of the KDP, for both sides to release
their respective detainees. The PUK, however, says the KDP is still holding five of its members.
This new cold war between the PUK and KDP initially started with the election of the PUK’s Barham Salih as president of Iraq. The KDP tried to convince the PUK to drop their candidate and support the KDP’s man – Fuad Hussein, current finance minister – and enter the Iraqi parliament with a united front.
The PUK did not agree, arguing the position had historically been theirs while the KDP filled the role of president of the Kurdistan Region, as per a 2007 agreement between them on the distribution of posts in Baghdad and Erbil.
The KDP and PUK have each dug their heels in over three matters: the formation of the KRG, the situation in Kirkuk, and the way posts are distributed in Baghdad.
Their deadlock means that, 101 days after the KRG parliamentary elections, the government still has not been formed.
The PUK, who is believed to be expecting five ministerial posts in the new government, wants talks with the KDP to resolve all their issues. The KDP wants to separate them, arguing that Erbil, Kirkuk, and Baghdad are all different matters.
The KDP does not want a PUK nominee to become the new Kirkuk governor, instead saying they’d like to see an independent take the post.
The PUK points out that the KDP should have no say in Kirkuk after they boycotted the May 12 Iraqi parliament elections there. Kirkuk is a PUK stronghold. Half the province’s members of the Iraqi parliament are from that party.
"Nowadays, the KDP is inappropriately antagonizing the PUK in Kirkuk and Baghdad,” said Aziz. “Wherever the PUK is vying to receive any of its rights, the KDP is there standing against it."
"This is not a friendly stance," he said. It does not serve either side, but "leads us nowhere."
The PUK is asserting its presence in the disputed city. For the first time since Iraqi forces took over the province in October 2017, the PUK raised the Kurdistan flag over its offices – drawing condemnation from Baghdad and praise from Kurds.
PUK members in Kirkuk “had called them saying it was the right time for them to raise the flag as there is no unconstitutional issue with the matter,” explained Aziz.
"Raising the Kurdistan flag received a lot of welcome from inside and outside Kurdistan," he said.
Aziz added their leaders in Kirkuk told them the move was also to "test the new Iraqi government."
Earlier on Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi called on the PUK to lower the flag, saying it was “unconstitutional” to fly it outside the Kurdistan Region borders.
Aziz argued that if the PUK and KDP could be united in Kirkuk, they could accomplish a lot.
“But unfortunately we are not together."