Over the past few months, the political parties in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan with an Islamist basis have been coming closer together. In April 2017 the three Islamic parties in Iraqi Kurdistan met in the city of Sulaymaniyah and agreed upon a road map for better relations between them. The meeting paves the way for a united Islamic front in Iraqi Kurdistan. This is the first time the three parties - the Kurdistan Islamic Union, the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan and the Islamic Group of Kurdistan – have worked together this way.
Currently they have around one quarter of the seats in the Iraqi Kurdish parliament and the next elections will determine how much power they have as a united bloc.
The various left wing parties have managed to work together in the past, mostly to organize protest actions.
Their new unity has those on the other side of the political divide worried. Iraqi Kurdistan’s left wing, secular parties do not believe in religion in politics and they want to support a more secular rule in the region, which has its own borders and military and acts a little like a state within a state, in Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan’s left wing parties have a history of coming together but at the moment it would be tricky for them to get together in the same way that the region’s Islamists have.
“As left wing parties we have a lot of differences,” says Mohsen Kareem, a member of the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK. “And that cannot be hidden even by the creation of a united front.”
During the last Kurdish elections, three parties formed the so-called Freedom list and they still only managed to get one seat out of 111.
Left wing parties should have been able to deal more responsibly with the situation but they have not managed to, said Hiwa Saeed Salim, a member of another left-wing group, the Kurdistan Toilers' Party. “The left wing needs to rethink their position because if an Islamic front is created it will be at their expense.”
“After the elections were over, none of the left wing parties were able to work together and we were divided by conflicts,” Salim explains.
Othman Zindani, a senior member of the Kurdistan Communist Party, says that left-wingers should try and unite for other reasons than simply to create an opposition to the Islamist union.
The various left wing parties have managed to work together in the past, mostly to organize protest actions. They were behind the committee that organized anti-corruption demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah and they also gathered more than 100,000 signatures on a petition that demanded the region’s draft Constitution not be informed by religion.
The coordinator of the Kurdistan Secular Centre, which was established to ensure that the Iraqi Kurdish Constitution be based on secular values rather than religious, agrees that the formation of a united Islamic front poses a threat to his organisation’s objectives.
“No party wants the secular system to collapse but the selfish behaviour of all political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan has also impacted on the region’s left wing parties,” says Bakhtiar Mustafa, a coordinator at the Secular Centre. “That is preventing them from coming together when really all of the parties that believe in a secular future should gather together.”
The two major parties in Iraqi Kurdistan – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party – present themselves as secular but in reality, they are working to gain the support of the Islamic parties, Mustafa argues.
When the draft Constitution was discussed in the Iraqi Parliament, the two major parties said they were secular. “But then they made compromises to please the Islamic parties,” Mustafa noted.