A prominent leader from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, revealed that the party planned to maintain its strategic alliance with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) during the parliamentary elections scheduled for Sept. 21 in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, despite the fact that the two parties will participate via electoral lists that are independent from one another.
Widespread participation and fierce competition are expected, yet reliable sources confirmed to Al-Monitor that Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani is working toward a comfortable majority in the new parliament to allow him to form a government without the PUK, thus pushing Talabani, who is still recuperating from a stroke suffered in late 2012, from the Kurdish political scene.
The PUK's political and popular weight is concentrated in the city of Sulaimaniyah, while the cities of Erbil and Dahuk, along with some areas in the Ninevah plain, are strongholds of the Barzani-led KDP.
Saadi Pire, a prominent Kurdish politician and member of the PUK's political bureau, told Al-Monitor, "The political leadership of President Talabani's party wants to form a new Kurdish government that is characterized by broad representation." He stressed, "Given the delicate situation in the areas surrounding the [Kurdistan] Region [of Iraq], as well as the major political challenges faced by Kurds in the region, the Kurdish political forces must ensure that the two major Kurdish parties continue to implement the joint management agreement."
The understanding between the two Kurdish parties for sharing power dates to an agreement signed in 2005. Under this terms of their arrangement, the parties united the Kurdish region's two governments into a single entity, which has been headed by the KDP's number two leader, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, since 2005. Meanwhile, the presidency of the parliament was given to Adnan al-Mufti, a member of the PUK's political bureau.
The KDP, a tribal secular party dominated by the Barzani family, is one of the main Kurdish parties in Iraq. The party was founded by its late leader Mustafa Barzani, whose family name derives from the Barzan region, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Following his death in 1979, Barzani was succeeded as the party's head by his son, Massoud, who currently leads both the party and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
The PUK was founded in June 1975 under the banner of self-determination, democracy and human rights for the Kurdish people in Iraq. It emerged in response to the collapse of the Kurdish movement led by Mustafa Barzani following the signing of the Algiers Agreement between Iraq and Iran. Tehran had been a supporter of the armed Kurdish movement, but the agreement put an end to that and led to the breakdown of the movement. Barzani ended up in the United States, where he died in Washington in 1979.
Pire clarified, "[Barzani's] party will not be able to form a government alone, even if it wins 90 seats in parliament." According to him, "No Kurdish political team can monopolize the government, bypassing the partnership between political forces in the region."
Pire added, "The PUK is still likely to win a good number of seats in the new parliament," which consists of 111 seats, 11 of which are reserved for representatives of non-Kurdish religious minorities.
"PUK supporters have a unique political nature, which allows the party to hold on to great opportunities in the new parliament," claimed Pire. On the other hand, a campaign leader for Barzani's party reaffirmed to Al-Monitor, "The KDP intends to win a majority of seats in the new parliament to form a majority government and exclude Talabani's party." He added, "The KDP wants to win a minimum of 40 seats."
Speculation has heightened about a collapse of the agreement between the two parties, especially after the disputes that erupted between them in the Ninevah Provincial Council during which Talabani's party accused its Kurdish partner of seizing all the positions reserved for the Kurds.
Observers interested in Kurdish affairs contend that the PUK has become weak and confused since Talabani was transferred to Berlin in December to receive medical treatment. His state of health remains unclear, as the details are being kept confidential. Meanwhile, many suspect that President Barzani is trying to exploit the PUK's weakness to shift the balance of Kurdish forces in his party's favor.
Ali Abel Sadah is a Baghdad-based writer for both Iraqi and Arab media. He has been a managing editor for local newspapers as well as a political and cultural reporter for more than 10 years.