ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Former KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih was elected head of the newly-founded Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ) at the party’s first congress in Sulaimani on Wednesday where he pledged to fight corruption.
“The severe crisis that our nation is going through is the result of work planned by some self-serving bodies who – despite their huge failures, unfitness for governance, lacking people’s confidence – still keep imposing [their] political power,” Salih said in his first address as head of the new party.
Mistaken policies, misreading local and foreign realities, failure to care for the public interest, and holding hands “with the enemies of the nation,” brought Kurdistan to “an unwanted condition,” he explained, introducing his party as a new political, democratic organization.
“Hawpaimani [CDJ] is the form of a new and different endeavor to bring real change and reform,” he pledged.
Outlining his vision for the party, he stressed that it is a coalition and not a traditional political party, “because we believe the task at this difficult stage and the solution of this difficult burden cannot be done by a single individual, party, or area.”
It “requires a democratic, just body.”
Women and youth will be a focus of his party, he said, noting that young people in Kurdistan face unemployment and hopelessness and promised to improve the situation for them.
CDJ will also protect women’s rights and promote women’s involvement in politics, but he rejected the idea of setting a quota for women in positions within the party.
Referring to the Kurdistan independence referendum and the resulting fallout with Baghdad, Salih said independence is a natural right, but it cannot be gained in Tehran, Ankara, or Washington – only in Baghdad. To achieve this, the Kurdistan Region must have good relation with Iraqi parties, not problems, he said.
He noted that no one can end Kurdish rights militarily.
Salih won the position at the party’s first congress on Wednesday, beating out ten other candidates.
The party is expected to vote for its general council and executive council within the next few days.
Five hundred party members from across the Kurdistan Region attended the founding congress of the party that was established to shed the politics of “corruption and monopoly” and inject new life into Kurdistan’s political sphere.
A “good percentage of women and youth” were at the congress, according to party spokesperson Rebwar Karim told Rudaw.
CDJ, which includes former members of the main Kurdish parties, has entered a de facto alliance with opposition parties Gorran (Change Movement) and the Islamic Group (Komal).
Together they visited Baghdad last week and met with various Iraqi officials including Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Vice President Nouri al-Maliki. It was the first political delegation to visit Baghdad since the referendum.
The three parties unsuccessfully campaigned for the establishment of an interim government and dissolving the current one dominated by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
Another new party, the New Generation List, is also positioning itself in opposition to the traditional ruling establishment as the Region heads towards elections expected to take place before May.
CDJ has registered with Iraq’s and the Kurdistan Region’s elections bodies.
Long political career
Born in Sulaimani in 1960, Salih has had a long career in Kurdish and Iraqi politics.
“After he joined the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 1976, his political activism led the Baathist regime to arrest him twice in 1979 on charges of involvement in the Kurdish national movement,” according his official website.
He was detained for 43 days by Iraq’s Special Investigation Commission in 1979, where he said he was tortured. Despite this, he graduated from high school at the top of his class, continues the website.
Salih “earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and construction at the University of Cardiff, and a doctoral degree in statistics and computer applications in engineering from the University of Liverpool in 1987,” according to a short biography of him on the website of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), which Salih founded.
He rose within the PUK’s ranks and was second deputy head when he presented his resignation letter late last year.
Salih’s departure from the PUK followed at least a year of public disagreement. In 2016, he and first deputy Kosrat Rasul denounced a leadership group within the party for unethical conduct and announced the establishment of a decision-making body, in a bid to assume control of the PUK.
The PUK, racked by internal issues, will hold its own party congress within the next couple of months.
Salih served as deputy prime minister of Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and 2006 to 2009. He was prime minister of the Kurdistan Region from 2009 to 2012.
Writing in an opinion piece last week, he said that both the Kurdistan Region and Iraq have to turn their strained relations into an opportunity to build a working relationship based on economic development that could help to reunite the country.
Referring to recent anti-government demonstrations in the Kurdistan Region, Salih said that the Iraqi authorities should take note of the fact that the Kurds, perhaps for the first time in their history, are prioritizing economic demands before their nationalist demands — such as a call for an independent state.