When Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan who is being blamed for the fallout from an ill-fated referendum on Kurdish independence, announced he would be stepping down Nov. 1, few believed it would bring a lasting solution to the crisis that has engulfed the beleaguered enclave. But many thought the move would assuage its critical neighbor and until recently top ally, Turkey.
Barzani’s refusal to heed Ankara’s warnings to shelve the referendum or at least exclude the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, claimed at once by Kurds, Arabs and Turkey’s ethnic kin the Turkmens, provoked fury in Ankara, prompting overt calls for the veteran Kurdish leader to step down. Turkey is thought to have been maneuvering behind the scenes to get Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister and the elder Barzani’s nephew, to take charge of Iraqi Kurdistan in a plan said to be backed by Washington. In a statement that openly signalled its support for Nechirvan, the State Department said the United States "commends the decison of [Masoud] Barzani not to seek an additional term as president" and that it "now looks forward to engaging actively with the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Nechirvan Barzani, and the Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani." Nechirvan, who helped mastermind a mega energy deal inked with Turkey in 2013, has long enjoyed close personal ties with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As things currently stand, Nechirvan is widely expected to steer the enclave to parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for June 2018.