This week Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leaders announced
a new power-sharing deal between the two parties. Replacing the arrangement arrived at between them in 2005, the details of the 18-point agreement have yet to be publicized.
Speaking to Rudaw TV, PUK politburo member Saadi Pira said that the terms of the deal “…start out with the unity of the Kurdistan Region’s territory, preserving it and defending it from any threat.”
Rudaw adds that according to Pira, “They will ‘try’ to reform the Peshmerga, police forces, and Asayesh to turn them into a ‘national force’ to better protect the Kurdistan Region. Other terms include ‘improving’ the KRG’s Department of Foreign Relations ‘in terms of diplomacy and relations’ and to create a ‘Regional Minister for Relations Affairs and Humanitarian Affairs.’
The parties aspire to greater transparency in the Region’s revenues and expenditure. The agreement also stipulates ‘partnership’ in the affairs of oil and energy, to see revenues ‘equally’ distributed among the provinces. ‘Consensus’ over the movement of Peshmerga forces during times of peace and war, constitutional reform, and amendments to election laws also feature in the deal.”
Gorran, which also signed an agreement with the KDP earlier, welcomed the deal between the KDP and PUK.
On the one hand, such an arrangement comes as very welcome news for everyone in the Kurdistan Region. The Region achieved the most for itself and its people when the major Kurdish parties formed a similar agreement in 2005. Negotiating with Baghdad and competing in elections as a united party list, officials from Kurdistan secured a favourable constitution, many important posts in the Iraqi federal government, a healthy share of the national budget and a good measure of respect.
All these gains started to fall away after the splintering of the PUK into different factions and the illness and death of PUK founder Jalal Talabani. With the PUK imploding, the 2005 agreement between the parties likewise foundered and the Kurds found themselves incapable of presenting a united front in Baghdad and elsewhere. These divisions culminated in the disastrous events following the September 2017 referendum on independence.
Such power-sharing deals come with frustrating drawbacks for many in the region, however. Both the KDP and PUK have been running Iraqi Kurdistan since 1992. Even after the PUK became the region’s third political party following the elections of September 2013 (when Gorran overtook it in Sulaimani province), the 2005 KDP-PUK deal and the PUK’s control of almost half the region’s Peshmerga forces meant that real control of Sulaimani and Halabja always remained in its hands.
Now that the PUK performed better than Gorran in last year’s election, its grip on these areas is back and firmer than ever.
In Erbil and especially Duhok, meanwhile, no political party can challenge the KDP. With resources of the Kurdistan Regional Government and municipal governments at its disposal (similar to the situation in PUK-dominated areas), the KDP enjoys unmatched patronage networks to reward its supporters in its parts of Kurdistan.
Although the patronage networks and corruption in Kurdistan are probably nowhere near as bad as in the rest of Iraq, governments in Baghdad do change on occasion following elections. For frustrated segments of Kurdistan’s population, this does not seem possible. And while the KDP and PUK appear a good deal more liberal and tolerant of dissent than almost any other government in the entire region save Tunisia and Israel, they have been in power almost thirty years now.
The reaction in Kurdistan to the power-sharing agreement therefore seems predictably mixed. People valuing stability and security appear happy to hear such news, hoping the Region’s leaders can replicated the gains they made for their people from 2005 to 2014. If the ministries of Peshmerga, interior and finance can really be unified this time and the Peshmerga forces put under government rather than party control, the agreement will have made incalculable gains.
Others who care more about deepening democracy, on the other hand, see little to cheer about when the two long-dominant parties in the region agree to keep dividing power between them. They do not expect the KDP and PUK to relinquish party control of their armed forces and they do not believe either the KDP or PUK will allow other parties to fairly compete with them.
Especially the New Generation Movement, a party formed to contest the 2018 elections, will not get much of a chance from KDP and PUK leaders in this new deal – most of whom believe New Generation serves as a proxy for Baghdad and Tehran and received financial support from them.
Besides the stability-minded supporters of the deal and the democracy-focused critics, however, one might also consider a third kind of reaction the news of a renewed KDP-PUK pact: that of the cynics. The cynics do not believe the deal will make it to the end of the week before collapsing.
David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He holds the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and is the author of numerous publications on the Kurds and the Middle East.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.