The joint PUK-Gorran delegation meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi in Baghdad.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—A top member of the ruling Al-Daawa Party in Iraq told Rudaw on Sunday that a visiting Kurdish delegation in Baghdad had told him they had no plans to break away from the country and wanted new negotiations to start as soon as possible with Iraq’s central government.
“They told us they wanted to renegotiate with Baghdad and had new perspectives,” said Ali Hallaq, politburo member of the Daawa, referring to the joint delegation of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Change Movement (Gorran), who met with the Iraqi Premier Haidar Al-Abadi, also a senior Daawa leader, on Saturday.
“We don’t want to break away from Iraq since we are part of the united Iraq,” said Hallaq, quoting the Kurdish delegation.
The PUK and Gorran have been visiting other Iraqi and Kurdish parties over the past month following their controversial pact in May, which basically unified the two former nemeses around the same political agendas for both the Kurdistan Region and in their relations with Baghdad.
Gorran is originally a breakaway party from the PUK and was established in 2009 mainly as a reaction to the PUK’s strategic pact with another Kurdish faction, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), signed in 2006.
However, the KDP’s increasingly strained relations with the PUK and its recent public row with Gorran leader Nawshirwan Mustafa paved the way for the PUK and Gorran to form an alliance and decide to run on a joint ticket for the 2017 general elections in the Kurdistan Region.
With elections tentatively set for July next year, both Gorran and PUK are acutely aware of how the question of a referendum and independence could boost public support for the KDP, for which the drive towards independence has become a historical trademark.
In one scenario, it could mean that even if the PUK and Gorran came out with strong support for the referendum and independence, the KDP’s gains would simply outnumber theirs as voters turn to the ballot boxes in 12 months. That is especially the case in the so-called disputed areas such as Kirkuk, which are outside the Kurdistan Region’s administration but could have a defining say in the referendum, whether they want to integrate with the Kurdistan Region.
Seen in this way, regardless of what the PUK and Gorran do, the referendum, which will by all accounts favors a permanent breakaway from Iraq, could in the end strengthen the KDP’s camp and weaken theirs, particularly if the referendum vote is held before the general elections.
This simply means that the PUK and Gorran are trapped between ‘a rock and a hard place’ since their supporters also favor a breakaway from Iraq.
“We have conveyed to Baghdad [government] that we will block KDP’s autocratic tendency and will create a balance of power,” said Shwan Dawoodi, a PUK official who was also a member of the joint delegation visiting Baghdad. “We told them the KDP is no longer Number One,” Dawoodi said, referring to the Gorran-PUK alliance as the two groups now hold 42 seats in the Kurdish parliament compared to the KDP’s 38.
The alleged comments of the PUK-Gorran delegation have already provoked reactions from other officials who maintain Kurdish unity could be at risk if the factions fail to find common ground.
“Partisan interests and ties have already split the Kurdish unity in Baghdad,” says Ahmad Haji Rashid from the Kurdistan Islamic Society (KIS). “It will harm our common objectives if we enter talks with Baghdad as a divided faction,” he says.
In August 2014, only days after Kurdish president Massoud Barzani’s speech in the regional parliament where he officially called for a referendum on independence, the Islamic State unexpectedly attacked the Kurdish Yezidi town of Shingal and effectively postponed the much-anticipated public vote.
Two years later, as Shingal and virtually all Kurdish areas have been recaptured, it remains to be seen if there are other detours on the way towards complete self-rule.
The PUK and Gorran, however, will in the end likely endorse the referendum regardless of its impact on their and the KDP’s voters since self-determination and independence are also their historical slogans.