Race to the Finish

Evin Cheikosman

By Evin Cheikosman:

Iraqi Kurdish politics have pretty much taken over Kurdish political news these past few weeks. Given so, it is critical to actually understand and be familiar with the goals of Iraqi Kurdish political parties and why there exists the friction between them. I mean, is it not a given that Kurds have the same vision for an independent Kurdish country? Is it not their goal to gain more rights and recognition as one of the largest ‘minority’ in the Middle East? Well, these statements are all true, however, one party claims the other is wrapped in old ways, while the others complain of corruption, and all believe that they are the most viable bloc to meet the needs of Kurds and their dreams of an independent Kurdistan.

I am talking about the four main political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan which are: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Islamic Union of Kurdistan, and Gorran-Movement for Change. Inter party rivalry, various stratagems, and power battles have taken over the headlines and, with yesterday’s Iraqi Parliamentary elections, the tension and pursuit for victory has defined relations.

However, instead of lecturing on the background and politics of each party, I will focus solely on the PUK and Gorran because they have been butting heads ever since Gorran was created and since then the balance of power and popularity between the two has shifted as a result.

Quick Facts on the PUK:

Leader? Jalal Talabani; President of Iraq

Date of Creation? 1975 by Talabani and Nusherwan Mustafa

No. of Seats in National Parliament? 53/275 as part of Democratic Partriotic Alliance of Kurdistan with the KDP

No. of Seats in Kurdistan Parliament? About 59/111 as part of Kurdistan Alliance

Quick Facts on Gorran:

Leader? Nusherwan Mustafa

Date of Creation? Febuary 2009 in order to compete in the August 2009 elections for the Kurdish Regional Parliament.

No. of Seats in National Parliament? None

No. of Seats in Kurdistan Parliament? About 25/111

Briefly: PUK vs, Gorran

Gorran was formed as an off-branch of the PUK in 2006, but it was made official in 2009 with the start of Kurdish Regional Parliamentary elections. Why did it break from the PUK? Well primarily because it wants to be viewed as an independent force, opposed to the corruption and tribal stranglehold they claim parties like the PUK and KDP have on Kurdish politics.

According to statistics provided by various sources I’ve discovered that in 1992, the PUK won about 49 % of Iraqi Kurd’s votes and it was anticipated that they would remain neck-to-neck with the KDP from which it had branched off from in 1975.

However, last September’s regional parliamentary elections proved that popularity for the PUK has waned. It won only 1/6th of the votes; this essentially means that it is regarded as a third party whose participation is technically not needed to form a cabinet. The KDP, as a result has emerged as the absolute strongest force taking control over the regions massive oil wealth.

Why did the PUK’s popularity decrease so much? Well the founder, Jalal Talabani, was the picture boy of the party and now that he has been in a German hospital after having a stroke more than a year ago. Iraqi Kurdish supporters today no longer feel connected as closely to the party than they did when Talabani was present. These realities explain the migration of supporters away from PUK and towards Gorran.

With the slowly debilitating state of the PUK, Gorran leader Mustafa – among various other reasons – chose to branch off. The Gorran Movement for Change proved its worth by coming in second in the latest elections. Mustafa has made it clear from the start that Gorran does not want to be regarded as a defiant opposition party like it has been since its founding. Rather he wants to become part of the KRG and get in on the wealth accumulated by the oil rich region.

Proof of his efforts can be seen by the agreement signed a few weeks ago between the KDP and Gorran on forming a new government, granting Gorran the ministries of Peshmarga and finance, and the position of parliament speaker. This has intensified conflict between the PUK and Gorran; reason being that the PUK perceived this “treaty” as a plot to eliminate it. Of course this hurts the PUK given the fact that, until the parliamentary polls last September for the Kurdish parliament, the PUK was Iraqi Kurdistan’s second-largest party, and the KDP’s ally in the KRG; now it feels replaced, threatened, challenged…deceived.

The challenge then and today especially is how to form a cabinet that pleases the PUK, KDP, and Gorran. Each party has to be included in the process because each one has the support and is so relevant to Kurdish political culture. To exclude Gorran or the PUK would put the stability of the region in an awful place. Why? Well because to exclude means to encourage conflict; and given the fact that the PUK has a strong, large, and extremely loyal armed militia wing, and Gorran has the foundations to easily mobilize tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians instead. Gorran has the support, more so than the PUK does and, if all were to resort to battle, all Kurds would get involved- not a pretty picture.

The rivalry between the two parties is very much alive and everyone is waiting, on pins and needles, to find out the results of yesterday’s elections. According to sources, the KDP is popular in the Kurdish capital of Erbil and Duhok, Gorran has supporters across Iraqi Kurdistan, the PUK is popular in Sulaimani province and the Garmiyan region, The Islamic Union’s and Islamic League’s support chain is mainly in Sulaimani, Duhok, and a bit in Erbil.

Overall, many doubts, anticipations, and questions remain in the air. Who will the next representatives in parliament be? What will the decisions made mean for Iraqi Kurdistan? If PM Maliki gets another shot at the premiership will an independent Kurdistan be an inevitable result of such? So many questions, which will all be answered soon enough.

Evin Cheikosman is a Kurd living in Los Angeles, CA, A recent graduate in International Politics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, she has studied abroad in Berlin, Germany and will soon be traveling to Zhuhai, China on a teaching assignment. Thereafter she will be pursuing a masters degree in foreign affairs. During her free time, Evin posts facts and opinions concerning Kurdish politics on her blog: Minority Politico

One Response to Race to the Finish
  1. Makwan
    May 1, 2014 | 07:06

    Mrs.Cheikosman this and the previous article are great pieces. its great to see more independent journalism.

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