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KDP picks leadership for the next government

By DAVID ROMANO 6/12/2018
This past week the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) nominated Nechirvan Barzani for president of the Kurdistan Region and Masrour Barzani for prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Nechirvan served as prime minister of the KRG for around 10 years, while Masrour served as Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council for last several years.

For the KDP’s critics, these choices highlight the nepotistic, family-rule based style of the party. Masrour is the son of former KRG president and KDP leader Masoud Barzani, while Nechirvan is his nephew. Both cousins are grandsons of legendary KDP leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani. Many other key KDP leaders, such as Hoshyar Zebari (Masoud Barzani’s uncle) are likewise “in the family.”

The role of the Barzani family in the KDP is thus hardly unknown to the people of Kurdistan. When someone votes for the KDP today, they have a pretty good idea of whom they are voting for. This is precisely the point, of course. KDP supporters trust the Barzani family and like their middle of the road conservatism, as well as a secular nationalism that avoids anti-religious impulses. In contrast to the spectacle of infighting, party splinter groups and anarchy of political parties in neighboring Suleimani governorate, people know what they will get with the KDP. 

Although competition and rivalries may occur within the KDP (rumors of such between Nechirvan and Masrour abound, for instance), these are kept within dignified internal bounds and never turned into a public spectacle for outsiders to use against the party, the region or the Kurds in general.

KDP supporters likewise trust the Barzani family and others within the party to strive for the best interests of their region and people. While this seems absurd to KDP critics, the party’s stalwarts point to a long list of accomplishments on behalf of the region that the KDP can take much of the credit for, from Iraqi constitutional provisions guaranteeing Kurdistan’s autonomy to oil and gas projects and moves towards independence that the overwhelming majority of Kurds agree with. 

KDP supporters thus point to the experience of Nechirvan as a long-time, effective prime minister for the region, and the impressive record of Masrour in maintaining the internal security of the Kurdistan Region. Both leaders have extensive familiarity with the international milieu in which they must operate and know the diplomats and heads of state with interests in Iraq and Kurdistan. Most importantly, KDP leaders like Nechirvan and Masrour truly lead their party and its armed forces. 

On most days, the same can hardly be said of other key parties in the Kurdistan Region. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in particular suffered from splinters even before the death of its founder and leader Jalal Talabani (the Gorran movement split from the PUK in 2009, and the PUK itself is a splinter from the KDP that emerged in 1976). After the death of Mam Jalal, as he was affectionately known, the PUK descended into a sordid internal struggle for control of the party. 

Several factions within the Patriotic “Union” of Kurdistan acted against each other and even voted differently on key legislation in Baghdad, such as Iraq’s 2016 budget. In October 2017, one of the PUK leaders – Kosrat Rasul – was supposedly in command of the PUK Peshmerga manning the defenses around Kirkuk. A secret deal involving Bafel Talabani and Lahur Talabany (Mam Jalal’s son and nephew, reflecting the other principle family in Kurdistan besides the Barzanis) on one side and Baghdad and Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on the other demonstrated that this was not the case, however, precipitating a surprising Peshmerga retreat from the area -- upon the orders of Bafel and Lahur.

Yet another splinter party emerged from the PUK’s infighting (the Coalition for Democracy and Justice, founded and led by Barham Salih in 2017 until he rejoined the PUK in 2018 in return for its nomination of him for the presidency of Iraq). Sulaimani governorate also produced the New Generation Movement, which won a few seats in the 2018 election but is already suffering from splits and leadership clashes.

On an average day, it is difficult to see much ideological difference between the KDP, the PUK, Gorran, the CDJ or the New Generation Movement. They are all fine with capitalism, they all claim to want a strong autonomous Kurdistan and they all support Kurdish independence in principle (with part of the PUK, Gorran, CDJ and New Generation being closer to Baghdad and seeing independence as a much longer-term goal than what the KDP talks about). 

Average Kurds on the street in Kurdistan, when asked about ideological differences between the parties have difficulty pointing to any – focusing instead on leadership personalities, styles of the different parties, corruption issues, and so forth.

Under such circumstances, it seems easy to understand how the KDP won some 44% of the vote in Kurdistan’s last election and why the KDP chose known and staid Barzani family members for the next top leadership positions. Although most voters in Sulaimani would like anyone but the KDP and the Barzani family, voters in Erbil and especially Duhok like the party and leaders they know. And they wish to avoid, at all costs, the political shenanigans and anarchy of their kin in Sulaimani.

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.


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FAUthman | 6/12/2018
Great column, I totally agree!
Pliny the Kurd | 6/12/2018
Jalal Talabani has divided the Kurds just for his personal greed and promotion, he has betrayed Kurdistan and has infamously said that if the Kurdish region were to become independent he would separate Sulemani and annex it to Iraq. He also used to say that the idea of the Kurdish independence was only a dream. A dream that his widow and children have turned into a nightmare as they sold it to the Arabs. Talabani & Associate Traitors are there just to destroy Kurdistan from within.
Azad | 6/12/2018
Just hard facts. Selemani is chaos like going to a ZOO with the last guard (Mam Jalal) already gone. KDP and PUK used to fight each other but never by outright betraying kurds. These days Selemani based parties are fighting each other and especially KDP with no means off limit. The Kirkuk betrayal was a clear example. Factions in PUK wanted KDP to fail so bad they were willing to sacrifice Kirkuk even hoping shia millitias would go all the way to Erbil. And it wasn't just PUK but much of Gorran, New Generation were all very quiet when hundreds of thousands of kurds from Kirkuk were in danger and still are. Whenever they said anything they would repeat the enemy's words and blame KDP and the referendum, like as if Baghdad would've left Kirkuk alone if there had been none (ignoring fact Baghdad was gathering millitias in Kirkuk since 2014). KDP are by no means perfect and they have surrounding mostly money and position issues. But this classical corruption that all kurds know is dwarfed by the modern corruption of PUK, Gorran, New Generation. Although they too are extremely corrupt when it comes to money and power, they have gone way beyond this and lost all morals. Selemani opposition and factions of PUK would sacrifice their own children for the head of a Barzani, yet alone Kirkuk or any/all of KRG. These are dangerous people. As a non-partisan it's obvious that only KDP can be trusted to lead Kurdistan at this point.
Unite | 7/12/2018
As the native Sulaymani and Baban root, I can say that Jalal Talabani is not from Sulaymani. He became known to the people of Sulaymani when he was a commander of a group of fighters under the leadership of general M. Barzani. Jalal Talabani betrayed the Kurdish leadership in 1966 when he went in alliance with Baghdad regime and gained their famous title "jashi 66", means the mercenaries of 66. They open a whole sale business and a prison in Bekrajo at the outskirt of Sulaymani for racketeering, robery and false imprisonment of innocent people and to be released on ransoms. As far as the Iraqi regime was concerened, Talabni was nothing but a bad apple. The regime could not trust them either and a part from a small sum of money to keep them alive, the didn't trust them with guns and vehichles. So, Talabani used to take vehicles from the public by force to use them in fighting against the Kurdish forces. Right up to 1975, all the people in Sulaymani region were behind the KDP. After the betrayal of the Kurds by the CIA (a lesson the Kurds still have not learn from, I haste to say), Talabani began to spread power over Sulaymani with the help of the Iraqi regime by false propaganda and making up stories against the KDP and the Barzani family. As the old generation were suffering from the shock of 1975 events and the new generations grew up with nothing to hear apart from Talabani false stories. If you ask any one from Suaymani why do thay hate KDP and Barzani family, they cannot give you a sensible answer apart from telling you the Talabani stories as answers. Now more and more people realize that, despite all the faults, KDP and Barzani family are the most trusted people when come to the future of Kurds and Kurdistan.
Message to UNITE @ | 7/12/2018
A message to UNITE @ : Thank you Sir for the valuable information you provide us readers in your comment. I ignored the information you provide us now about Talabani's criminal behavior in the 1960 s. I have once met him in Europe and after some exchange I have reached to the conclusion that he was not a trustful person. His children are the very incarnation of treason and betrayal that goes beyond imagination. The tragic events of October 2017 bear testimony to the perverse and abject nature of such individuals. May they pay for their crimes. May God save Kurdistan.

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