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Is this the end of the KDP-PUK deal?

By DAVID ROMANO 10/10/2018
Shortly before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) sensed the changes coming to Iraq and began moves to unify their administrations and pursue Kurdish goals collectively. 

This culminated in a deal wherein the KDP’s Masoud Barzani would gain the presidency of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the PUK’s Jalal Talabani would enjoy unified Kurdish support for the presidency of Iraq (this way neither leader would feel slighted). The KDP and PUK would also put forward united electoral lists in Iraqi national elections and even in Kurdistan’s elections at times.

The deal brought many gains for Kurdistan, including a strong negotiating team for drawing up the 2005 constitution that enshrined federalism and extensive decentralization for Iraq. For a long time, international envoys and politicians from Baghdad had one address to go to in Kurdistan – that of the KRG in Erbil, a government based on a power-sharing formula between the KDP and PUK. This was a laudable achievement for a nation intent on maximizing its self-determination and security.

The unification of two separate administrations in Kurdistan (the KDP’s KRG in Duhok and Erbil and the PUK’s KRG in Sulaimani) progressed a great deal during this time, but foundered on three ministries: finance, Peshmerga (defense), and the interior. Neither party seemed willing to surrender its power in terms of money, soldiers, and police to the institutions of a unified KRG, lest they lose control of such institutions to another party following new elections.

Things started to unravel further with the disintegration of the PUK. First a splinter party, the Change Movement (Gorran), broke away from the PUK in 2009. Gorran focused on attacking corruption within the KDP and PUK, which remains a laudable goal on its own, but seemed willing to burn down much of the KRG in the process. 

Gorran media and politicians hosted the Kurdistan Region’s most virulent critics, for whom no accusation against the establishment Kurdish parties seemed too strong or outlandish. WikiLeaks documents even showed Gorran leaders meeting with American diplomats in secret in 2010 and telling them they were for a strong central government in Iraq and against the incorporation of Kirkuk into Kurdistan. 

For a time, Gorran’s electoral performance went on to surpass the PUK’s. Needless to say, Gorran had little interest in working with the KDP on shared Kurdish interests in Baghdad or abroad, focusing instead on challenging the “establishment” in Kurdistan.

In late 2012, a stroke removed PUK leader Jalal Talabani from the Iraqi presidency and the country’s political scene. The PUK then suffered further splits and splinters, as various PUK politburo members unsuccessfully struggled to establish their leadership over the party. Although the PUK maintained an armed force comparable to that of the KDP, its political status fell far behind that of its historic rival. 

Actors from outside Kurdistan now had multiple addresses to visit when they wanted something from the Kurds. They might go to the KDP offices in Erbil, to Gorran in Sulaimani, or to any number of PUK factions in Sulaimani. Even the KDP turned out to be confused about who ran things in the PUK. Believing the PUK’s politburo member Kosrat Rasul Ali was in control of the PUK Peshmerga, the KDP was surprised to learn in October 2017 that other members of the Talabani family were negotiating independently with Baghdad and Tehran and ordering much of the PUK’s forces to retreat from Kirkuk.

It is in this context that the latest unseemly contest for the Iraqi presidency played out. The PUK convinced one of its former leaders, Barham Salih, to leave the splinter party he had only recently founded and become their nominee for Iraq’s presidency. The KDP rejected Salih and advanced one of its own candidates for the post, effectively ignoring the KDP-PUK entente of the last 13 years. 

When the Kurdish parties failed to put forward just one candidate for the post, the Iraqi parliament made the final selection for them – choosing Salih. The KDP in turn accused of the PUK of tricking them, saying PUK leaders had agreed to the KDP’s choice for the post until the very last moment before the vote (an accusation the PUK denied).

Still smarting from this loss, and what they view as a crass betrayal of October of 2017, the KDP seems very unlikely to offer the PUK anything close to half the posts in the next Kurdistani government. In the Kurdistan elections of September 30, 2018, the KDP garnered over 38 percent of the vote, while the PUK won close to 25 percent. Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, with some justification, will argue that the PUK should get a proportion of cabinet seats reflective of its electoral performance.

The deal between the KDP and PUK, in other words, seems to be finished. The prospects of even a modicum of Kurdish unity within Iraq thus remain poor.

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.


Gunda maye | 10/10/2018
The Wikileaks part was crazy who figured they groan would be involved as well but I guess when you want power and recognition you will do anything to over throw those in power! 🖕🏼puk and groan and all these stupid ass political parties! Glad KDP remains in power and glad to see the people of Kurdistan know who’s really fighting for there cause!
Pliny The Kurd | 10/10/2018
It happens,unfortunately,that rhetoric at some point can overcome and defeat any truth. Some malignant opportunists hide their personal ambitions behinde attractive rhetoric and convince some voters who overlook the hard evidence of betrayal and treason and appreciate more misleading slogans coming from the Talanies PUK and its bastard children of Gorran and the New Generation of Traitors.I watch Kurdistan's events from Europe for some 50 years and have no partisan links with any political parties, but I have utmost respect for Barrzani and his voters .I think it is very important that at this stage the Kurds must unite behinde one leader till the achievement of independence.Once the Kurdish state is established there can be different parties and leaders to compete for elections. The current situation of divisive parties is absolutely harmful and is to be condemned.
haluk | 10/10/2018
Turkey should let her Kurdish population secede and unite with Rojava, Bashur and why not Rojhalat... and then see how united and in harmony things are done.
Independence | 10/10/2018
Jalal Talabani seceded from the Kurdish liberation mouvement in the wake of the 1975 crisis.He did it out of personal ambition in a moment of need and distress for the Kurds. It was an act of treason. He was the first to divide Kurdistan .He did not believe in Kurdisstan and used to say it was "a dream" .He even said if Kurdistan were to become independent he would separate Soleimanie from Kurdistan and annex it to Iraq. His widow & children have sold out Kerkuk to the enemy in October 2017. Gorran and New Generation are his bastards, they are the bastards of treason .I am confident that the Kurdish nation will soon achieve its independence despite all the betrsyals and treasons. We have survived many wars with different enemies, we have survived the gas attacks of the British ,the Iranians invasion of Mahabad, the Napalm bombs of the Arabs ,the filony of the sinister Kissinger , gas attacks of Sadam, the Turkish wars of genocide, the invssion of the Isis ,the treason of the cinical Tillerson, the invasion of Kerkuk and Afrin. Kurdistan will become independent sooner than later .
Unite | 12/10/2018
KDP is much better off without PUK. They should announce a minority government and and unify the peshmarga forces under an Independent National Arm Forces. That way, no groups can strike a deal with the Kurdish enemy and selling the Kurdistan bit by bit. KDP should not let any ministries to be shared among other parties pulling the Kurdish government from all directions and then blame the KRG government. All the other parties should form an opposition in the parliament to make sure the nations demands are met as promised by the ruling party. But the KRG must make sure if the PUK ever have a seat in the parliament, no member of the Talabani family should have any seat or say in the Kurdish affair.

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