The PUK-Gorran rivalry led to intense election campaigns in Sulaimani, Kurdistan’s second city. Photo: Rudaw
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – During its tenure, the incoming Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is expected to finalize the unification of the autonomous enclave’s own divided Peshmarga forces, according to a senior official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which maintains its own army.
Hakim Qadir Hamajan also said his party was ready to drop its objection to the rival Change Movement’s (Gorran’s) Haval Abubakir as a candidate for governor of Sulaimani.
The PUK and the larger Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has each maintained its own Peshmarga forces. For years, previous cabinets have tried to make headway in unifying the separate forces of the interior and Peshmarga ministries, controlled respectively by the KDP and PUK.
In the incoming cabinet, which has yet to be announced, Gorran is in charge of the Peshmarga ministry. The new Peshmarga minister will be from Gorran, whose leaders have promised neutrality in running the force and pledging to nationalize it.
“The intention to unify (the Peshmarga) exists among the political parties, particularly the KDP and the PUK,” Hamajan claimed. “Therefore, it is expected that the (incoming) Eighth Cabinet will bring about a breakthrough in this regard, because people are waiting to see that happen.”
In elections for the Kurdish parliament last September, the PUK lost its place to Gorran, winning only 18 seats in the region’s 111-seat parliament. However, in last month’s provincial polls it made a comeback, which according to Hamajan was due to the party’s reassessment of its policies and “learning from the past.”
He said the PUK was ready to work with Gorran over the local administration in Sulaimani, Kurdistan’s second-largest city and the political battleground of the two parties.
“The PUK policy after election is to work together with other parties in every aspect,” Hamajan said. “In my opinion, cooperation and coordination with other parties, particularly Gorran is very necessary in Sulaimani.”
The rivalry between the PUK and Gorran in Sulaimani led to intense election campaigns, with fears that mutual accusations of vote-rigging could lead to violence. Since breaking away in 2009, Gorran has been a serious rival to the PUK in winning popularity and votes.
In last month’s Iraq-wide parliamentary elections, the PUK won 21 seats to Gorran’s nine. But Gorran won Sulaimani province by just one seat, 12-11.
Following the latest polls, Gorran upped its criticism of the PUK, attributing its success to involvement by neighboring Iran, which wields immense power, not only in Kurdistan but across Iraq.
Hamajan rejected those claims as baseless.
“These statements are excuses and are not even worth a discussion, because the reality is that the PUK succeeded in increasing its number of votes all over the Kurdistan Region, including the disputed territories,” he noted.
Hamajan argued that his party had done well in areas such as Kirkuk, Diyala, Duhok and Erbil.
Regarding Gorran’s candidate for governor of Sulaimani, whom the PUK had accused of close ties with the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein in the late 1980s, Hamajan said: “I cannot use a veto against someone in the absence of legal evidence. The case of Abubakir should not become a problem that would damage people.”
Meanwhile, Hamajan said that his party is working in earnest to conclude talks with the KDP and other parties about participation in the new Kurdish cabinet, which has yet to be announced, eight months after elections.
Much of the delay has been blamed on the PUK, which has been reeling under a leadership crisis and poll losses.