PUK & THE MULLAHS / MESOP COLUMN : The PUK’s Glass Slipper: Who Will it Fit?


Barham Salih’s frank criticism of his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s policies and performance in the Kurdistan Region’s parliamentary elections last month caused an outcry within the PUK and went against the majority of the party leadership.

Salih’s comments appear to have equally agitated Iran, which has strong ties with the PUK and would like to a have a say in who runs the Kurdish party.So it seems that Salih’s good intentions may create yet more trouble for the PUK and show further cracks within its ranks. Since PUK leader Jalal Talabani’s hospitalization last year, Iran has been watching the PUK closely. It has warned everyone not to gamble on the PUK’s fall, because the party has thus far served an internal and regional strategic role for Tehran. Iran’s last recommendation to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), an ally of the PUK, was to let members of Talabani’s family replace him in the leadership, and that their importance should not be ignored.

However, the failure of Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, Talabani’s wife, in managing PUK’s main bureau in Sulaimani proved that she cannot be in such a position. For this, she resigned and withdrew to the PUK’s political bureau to retain control of the party’s nerve center.

Currently, deputy chief Kosrat Rasul Ali has been appointed as the guardian of the PUK until the next party convention. But he is well aware of his weak influence over most of the PUK’s leadership.  First, neither Ali nor Salih would be able to lead the PUK alone. Both leaders know that Iran does not trust them. That is because one of them is quite close to the KDP and the other one could even join KDP if no option is left to him. 

Secondly, both share a deep interest in moving closer to Turkey, a vision that Iran has unsuccessfully tried to sway. Alongside the other voices which believe that the PUK should be run collectively, there is a strong voice suggesting that Qubad Talabani should replace his father as PUK leader. Most voices within the PUK leadership have concluded that the current leadership has lost the trust of most PUK supporters and therefore serious change is needed. The solution is to offer something new. As a young leader and someone whose background is not tarnished by the PUK’s complex political history, Qubad can be defined as the fresh blood needed to enter the list of potential leaders.  Even though he has lived many years in the United States, Iran would still prefer Qubad as the rightful heir to Talabani and can be counted on to rally behind him.

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