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a question of loyalty
if kurdish mps back new iraqi government, it may tear kurdistan apart

Hiwa Barznjy
Once again, Iraq’s Kurdish politicians may hold the balance of power when it comes to forming the next Iraqi government. And so far, they have taken a unified position. But there’s a problem: While some…
29.05.2014  |  Erbil
Can Iraqi Kurdish MPs stay loyal when faced with the temptations of power?
Can Iraqi Kurdish MPs stay loyal when faced with the temptations of power?

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According to preliminary results of Iraq’s general elections, the country’s Kurdish political parties combined now have 62 seats in Iraq’s 328 seat Parliament. That is five more seats than they got in the last elections – therefore a cause for celebration. It also means that, once again, they may have the power to make or break negotiations around the formation of the next Iraqi government.

As Iraqi analyst Reidar Visser has already argued: “Maliki and the Kurds are now so close to securing the absolute majority needed to seat a new government (165 seats) that it would be very easy for them to secure a few extra MPs without having to involve any other big bloc. Also, by virtue of their relatively disciplined parliamentary contingent,” Visser continues, “the Kurds are probably in a better position to deliver actual votes to Maliki in parliament than any combination of smaller Arab-dominated parties would be able to.”

However there’s a problem. And that is the Iraqi Kurdish block’s fear of division within its own ranks. The two most popular political parties originating in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan are the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP. The KDP appears to have 25 seats in Baghdad while the PUK has 21 – the next largest Iraqi Kurdish party, the Change movement, has nine seats.

And the PUK and KDP feel differently about working with al-Maliki for another term. The KDP are presently totally committed to getting rid of him while the PUK isn’t quite as sure about that. The PUK’s ailing leader, Jalal Talabani, who has been in hospital in Germany for over a year, is actually the President of Iraq and it is well known that the PUK has a better relationship with al-Maliki than the KDP. The question of whether the PUK would cut a separate deal with al-Maliki to become part of his coalition government has already been mooted.

The other question is whether the KDP would drop out of the united Kurdish group to support Ammar al-Hakim, who they are allegedly closer to. Al-Hakim is the leader of one of the other major Shiite Muslim parties in Baghdad, the Ahrar bloc, which represents the interests of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq in politics.

And it appears that this question of loyalty was part of what was behind a meeting held May 17 – at that meeting, the President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, met with representatives of all the other Iraqi Kurdish political parties. And at that meeting, it was decided that the best thing for the Kurds to do would be to form a committee that would then be responsible for negotiating with other Iraqi parties, that wanted to form an alliance. This would mean that no separate Iraqi Kurdish component – say, the PUK, for example – could do a separate deal.

One of the PUK”s senior members, Faryad Rwandzi, told NIQASH that his party wasn’t planning on doing anything like that and that they would stick with whatever decision was made by the united Iraqi Kurdish parties. However he also said that the PUK didn’t have any “red lines” when it came to al-Maliki.

“We had some problems with al-Maliki before but now we don’t really have any problems,” Rwandzi said. “The person who takes this position is going to be whoever is nominated by the Shiite bloc anyway – not by any other party.”

Meanwhile the KDP reiterated that they were against nominating al-Maliki for another term in the Prime Minister’s chair. “We don’t have any problems with the personality of al-Maliki,” Ahmed Kani, a senior member of the KDP, told NIQASH. “Our problem is with the way the state of Iraq is going to be run.”

“Most of Iraq’s political parties feel the same – the Sadrist movement, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and all the Sunni and Iraqi Kurdish parties are opposed to the re-nomination of al-Maliki,” Kani argued. “So if Iraq is to become a harmonious place where there is reconciliation and stability then surely it would be better to nominate someone else from a bloc other than [al-Maliki’s] State of Law for the job of Prime Minister.”

Kani then repeated the same threat that the KDP’s leader, Barzani, has also used. If al-Maliki gets in again, “the Kurds will have to resort to a referendum to consider seceding from Iraq,” he said.

Among other smaller political parties represented on the Iraqi Kurdish council to negotiate on the new government’s formation are the Iraqi Kurdish Islamic parties.

The Iraqi Kurdish group will work for the benefit of the Iraqi Kurdish people, says Abdul-Sattar Majid, a senior member of the Kurdistan Islamic Union. And the Iraqi Kurdish parties will only participate in the next government if their demands are met.

Additionally Majid felt that there was no point in the Iraqi Kurdish trying to make any decisions about who would be the next Prime Minister of Iraq. “That will be up to Shiite Muslim forces, they will decide who their candidate is,” he said. But there will be no division in the Kurdish group, he insisted. “Such a thing will never happen,” Majid noted, “because we have decided to unite and go to Baghdad to negotiate together.”

Not everyone is as sure of this as Majid is though. The Iraqi Kurdish have gone to Baghdad united before and come back with varying promises, not many of which were kept.

“Right now the Iraqi Kurdish parties don’t need to be discussing who is going to be Iraq’s next Prime Minister,” says independent Iraqi Kurdish MP and former head of the Iraqi Kurdish socialist party, Mahmoud Othman. “They should be stressing the rights of the Kurdish people regarding Article 140 of the Constitution [which details how to deal with Iraq’s disputed territories], the salaries of Iraqi Kurdish military, oil and gas laws, the region’s budget and how they will actually participate in any new government.”

Othman doesn’t think that external powers – particularly Iran – will endanger the relationship it has with other Shiite Muslim parties or with the Iraqi Kurdish parties it is close to, just to save al-Maliki. However, he also thinks it’s going to be very hard to find a suitable replacement for al-Maliki.

“It’s already clear that all those parties opposing al-Maliki haven’t been capable of holding one single meeting together to agree on how to work together in unity, or to come up with the name of a potential alternative candidate,” Othman argues. “The only thing that’s clear right now is that all this works in al-Maliki’s favour.”