MESOP COMMENTARY Barzani is desperate to keep control of the PUK

By Mufid Abdulla: – Kurdistan Tribune 12.1.2013 – Talabani and Barzani – but now the strategic agreement is being questioned by PUK members.

It wasn’t surprising when Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leaders Masud Barzani and Nechirvan Brazani – the president and premier of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – recently made a number of trips to Suli to meet with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) politburo and Hero Ahmed, wife of the gravely ill PUK leader, and Iraq president, Jalal Talabani.

However, someone like Masud Barzani doesn’t come down from his hill in Sari Rash unless it is for an urgent and vital reason.

Everyone thinks the PUK is on the brink of a post-Talabani era. Masud Barzani and the KDP are fearful of the consequences. The KDP has never been a democratic party in the south of Kurdistan. In fact, it is the most politically brutal party in the region, always doing whatever it takes to preserve its domination and meet its leader’s aspirations. Perhaps the most shocking example of this was its cooperation with Saddam Hussein in 1996 when, rather than concede defeat to the PUK, the KDP helped Iraqi troops to capture Erbil. Ever since Nawshirwan Mustafa resigned from the PUK, that organisation has looked weak and fragile. To compensate for this, Talabani strengthened the ‘strategic relationship’ with the KDP, but at a cost of concessions and sometimes humiliation for the PUK’s members and followers. Masud Barzani now needs to keep the PUK in the marriage of convenience so that the KDP can continue reaping most of the benefits. He cannot hide the real reason for his visits to Suli. It was very unusual for him to come twice within a few weeks. This was all about wooing the PUK politburo and trying to preserve the strategic partnership.

Alarm bells are ringing for President Barzani. Several PUK MPs have backed an opposition proposal for constitutional change in the south of Kurdistan, giving more power to parliament at the expense of the presidency. In all, a substantial 53 out of 110 MPs have backed these proposals. Yesterday’s summit of opposition party leaders underlined their frustration at the KRG’s slow pace of change. Even basic changes promised to promote a civil society have not been made. It is obvious that there is no hope of reform by a government of the KDP and PUK.

But the KDP is desperate to keep the PUK inside the strategic relationship. The PUK grassroots are uncertain of their prospects in a post-Talabani era and Barzani hopes to exploit this lack of confidence.  The PUK lacks good leadership at a critical time. Many people were taken aback by Barham Salih’s recent article, published on his website: Instead of a statement, from the PUK’s deputy leader, providing strategy and vision this was more like a child crying at his father’s absence. No one with the requisite vision and goals has stepped forward to take the fragmented organisation forward. However, there are indications that a majority of the membership wants to break with the KDP. This has complicated the situation for Barzani. If the PUK decided to rapidly develop its own organisation and no longer bow to the strategic relationship, that would be the end of the KDP’s domination and their despotic power in the south of Kurdistan would start to crumble.

The PUK must prepare for a new era – with strong and consistent leadership and with real convictions as well as nous.