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Iraqi Kurds still deadlocked over new government

Iraqi Kurdish political parties remain in a stalemate over the formation of a new regional government, six months after parliamentary elections were held in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iraq's Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani shows his ink-stained finger at a polling station in Arbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, about 350 km (217 miles) north of Baghdad, September 21, 2013. Iraqi Kurds went to the polls on Saturday to vote for a new parliament at a time when their oil-producing region is seeking greater autonomy from Baghdad, against a backdrop of violent instability in the rest of Iraq and the wider Middle East. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari  (IRAQ - Tags: ELECTIONS POLITICS) -

ERBIL, Iraq — The new government has still not been formed in Iraqi Kurdistan since the regional parliamentary elections were held Sept. 21, 2013. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani insisted April 2 that the new cabinet would be formed before the national elections scheduled for April 30, but the deadlock will likely continue beyond that point.

But Amanj Abdullah of the Kurdish opposition party Gorran, which surprised many by finishing second in the September elections, told Al-Monitor it is unlikely that a regional government will be formed before Iraq’s national elections. The frustration at the delayed process has been felt across the Iraqi Kurdish political spectrum.

“We are all disappointed that it has taken this long. But the fact that every political party wants to form the government makes the process more cumbersome and difficult to manage,” Qubad Talabani, KRG minister for coordination and follow-up, told Al-Monitor. Qubad Talabani is the son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who remains hospitalized in Germany.

The elections changed the political landscape as a result of the electoral defeat of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by President Talabani. The party finished third in the regional elections.

The Gorran Party, campaigning on promises to reform the two-party-dominated Kurdish system, won 24 seats, while the PUK won 18. Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which holds most key ministries — including oil, security and foreign affairs — won 38 seats.

Despite the electoral loss, the PUK still controls significant financial resources and security forces in the provinces of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah. Some also argue that Iran supports the PUK to maintain a position in the government, fearing the loss of influence in the KRG.

In the last elections, the ruling KDP and PUK ran on separate tickets for the first time. The PUK has been facing internal problems following Talabani's December 2012 stroke, and has been absent from the political scene since.

Now, all Kurdish parties want to form an inclusive government. This is a major difference from the 2009 elections, when Gorran chose to run in opposition and the PUK and KDP formed a government together. The PUK and KDP have traditionally dominated the government since the establishment of the KRG in 1992.

“It’s always going to be difficult when you have five different political parties with five different beliefs trying to form a government," said Qubad Talabani, who is also a PUK candidate for deputy prime minister. "In previous years, some parties chose to be in opposition. Others chose to form a government. This time, everybody wants to be in.”

Saadi Ahmad Pirra, a member of the PUK’s political bureau, told Al-Monitor in Erbil that the formation of a government is difficult. “Before, it was easier, because PUK and KDP were on one list. They had an absolute majority. They could form a government without asking other parties to participate. Now, no one has an absolute majority. To form a new government, they need partners,” he said.

Many have blamed Iranian and Turkish interference for the delay of the government's formation, but it seems the biggest problem is Gorran’s wish to control powerful ministries. The ruling parties are reluctant to hand over real power in the next administration.

Gorran is determined to hold the Interior Ministry, the Natural Resources Ministry or the National Security Council, which deals with intelligence and is currently led by Masrour Barzani, the son of President Barzani. Gorran says it wants to remove political party control over security and government institutions.

“We had a political platform during the elections: We are going to exercise power, and this is our platform for the upcoming cabinet. If we cannot materialize our objectives, we will not participate. Our main objective is strengthening citizenship,” Gorran member Amanj Abdullah told Al-Monitor.

Gorran leader Nawshirwan Mustafa, a former deputy of Jalal Talabani, told the Kurdish News Network that his party “wants to be part of the political decisions of the KRG, which is the reason Gorran insists on holding the positions. If Gorran does not hold a share of those ministerial posts, how can it be part of the political decisions?”

The new opposition party fears it could lose votes in the future if it becomes part of the government without making any significant changes.

Abdullah suspects that the government formation is being delayed until after the national elections because the KDP wants to see if the PUK manages to hold its former stronghold in the province of Sulaimaniyah, where the PUK lost many votes to Gorran in September.

According to Pirra, it’s not practical for Gorran to control the KRG’s security ministries, which Gorran wants to reform from party militias into national security institutions.

“Gorran complains that the peshmerga forces, security forces and police forces are members of political parties. If they are members of other parties, how you can appoint a minister of another party? Security is a very sensitive issue and doesn’t allow for any mistakes. And we also have a project to solve the problem of party security forces.”

The KDP is also showing reluctance to hand the security ministries over to Gorran. “This is something we should take seriously, because the security of Kurdistan is not something we can compromise on,” KDP spokesperson Jafaar Eminki told Al-Monitor.

“When we talk about the Ministry of Interior or peshmerga, it’s not about an internal issue. It’s about a regional issue,” he added.

As the political deadlock persists, Iraqi Kurdistan is operating without a proper government. But it's better to form the right government than one bogged down in political bickering, according to Eminki. He said, “It might take time, but I believe it’s better to take time than form a government that cannot carry out its work.”

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