Post Talabani

Kamal Chomani

By Kamal Chomani:

President Jalal Talabani’s uncertain health is suggestive of some crucial changes ahead in the political landscape of both Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. ‘Post Talabani’ is a very sensitive issue within the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). It affects the PUK’s policies and its relations towards other Kurdish political forces – in particular, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Like it or not, as Kurds always say, ‘Death is the bigger brother’. So, too, for President Talabani. In Iraq, there’s no justice in anything; but in death, there is! Not to mention that the only thing that doesn’t lie is death.

Talabani’s health is not good and so we should face this reality and prepare ourselves for Post Talabani.

Post Talabani is important because Talabani has held two key positions in Iraq and Kurdistan. For the last two decades, he has been the most influential politician in the political arena of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. It is important because – InShaAllah his age will be as long as he wants – following his death, Kurds will need to fill these two positions with the most appropriate politicians and the PUK will be in a serious internal conflict over this.

In contemporary Iraq, the Republic Presidency is officially reserved for a Kurd and so a Kurd must follow him.

Who replaces Talabani? is the question we must face and have an answer to. It is not necessary to mention that, if we are not well prepared and united in the current Baghdad-Hawler conflicts, it will not be so surprising if Maliki convinces a Sunni politician to replace Talabani, at the expense of the Kurds. In political games, especially in Iraq, nothing is strange.

We may have some good politicians to replace Talabani although, to be realistic, because of the KDP-PUK ‘Strategic Agreement’, the presidential position is meant to be filled by a PUK leader. Within the PUK, there are three main players who are indirectly in conflict with each other: Kosrat Rasul and Barham Salih – Talabani’s two vice general secretaries – and Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, Talabani’s wife.

Dr Barham Salih – who was in the US for some years as the PUK’s representative and has been Iraq’s vice premier and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) premier – is the most appropriate candidate to replace Talabani. But the path for him is not paved.

Dr Barham Salih’s main rival is Talabani’s wife, Mrs Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, but he has the support of Kosrat Rasul. This an internal obstacle which will be quite difficult to pass unless he accepts some of Mrs Ibrahim Ahmed’s wishes.

The person who replaces Talabani needs, in a way, to support both Iran and the US. I think the US will have no problem with (and may even be happy with) Barham Salih. But Iran is not so happy, because of his good relations with the US. However, Salih’s recent visit to Iran may have convinced them of his desire for better relations.

Replacing Talabani in the PUK is less of a big deal because they can leave it until the next PUK congress. However, this will still be a very difficult task because the PUK is not as centralised as the KDP and it has not been completely dominated by Talabani’s family.

Talabani’s PUK successor is important because he or she will shape the PUK and its policies with the other Kurdish political parties, in particular the KDP.

Hero Ibrahim Ahmed may accept Barham Salih as Iraq’s next President so as to have no rival to her becoming the PUK General Secretary. Kosrat Rasul Ali’s health poses an obstacle for him and, additionally, at the last PUK congress Hero Ibrahim Ahmed won the biggest number of votes. Ultimately, she may become the General Secretary, but this will be problematic because the PUK has been arguing for many years that it is different from the KDP, which is a kind of family party. Will the PUK mimic the KDP? And will PUK members accept this?

The PUK should be smart enough to talk about these two sensitive issues.

If Barham Salih replaces Talabani in Baghdad, and Mrs Hero does so in Slemani, the KDP may not have serious problems. However, if they choose Kosrat Rasul as General Secretary, this will be a serious problem for the KDP. Kosrat Rasul, the current deputy to president Barzani, has been the most radical rival to Barzani for ages. It will not be a strange gesture if the PUK elects Kosrat Rasul because he is the most powerful politician within the party. At the same time, PUK members want someone who can stand up to Barzani, and whose history and background in the Kurdish freedom struggle is richer than Barzani’s. That person is Kosrat Rasul.

Apart from this, Kosrat Rasul is from Hawler. Hawleri PUK people want someone from Hawler to replace Talabani because they think they were marginalized in the previous congress; therefore, this will be a chance for the PUK to compensate Hawleris.

At any rate, if Kosrat Rasul does become the General Secretary, his gestures will be in favor of all, unlike Hero Ibrahim who may do things that some politburo members won’t like.

All in all, Post Talabani is important for all Kurds because we need someone better than Talabani in Baghdad. And, in Hawler, someone who can change the policies of the KRG. Can the PUK pass the Post Talabani test successfully? It is a question that’s hard to answer, unless we experience it.

Copyright © 2012

One Response to Post Talabani
  1. Butan Amedi
    December 23, 2012 | 03:49

    PUK may consider a SecGen Committee, with the SecGen position held by rotating leaders. The term should be, say two months, for the first year, then to 3 months in the following year, and so on. This will prevent PUK from transforming to a family organization, and will be marked as the second powerful Kurdish party, after PDKI, which as not inherited power within family.
    It ain’t easy though…

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