Senior KDP Official: Strategic Agreement with PUK Stands Firm, But Needs Modern Reassessment

23/09/2012 RUDAW By HEVIDAR AHMED – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—In this interview with Rudaw, Mahmoud Muhammad, member of the political bureau of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) speaks about current talks between his party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Muhammad also sheds light on the challenges of keeping KDP’s strategic agreement with the PUK and the future of relations between both ruling parties.

Rudaw: On the anniversary of the September revolution, the KDP proved its popularity in Sulaimani through the masses of people who celebrated the occasion. When the February 17th protests targeted your office last year it was said that it stemmed from a fear of a KDP revival in that city. Are you concerned about similar hostile acts again?

Mahmoud Muhammad: What KDP did in Sulaimani was not intended as a show of strength. It was a tribute to the memory of those who sacrificed for and started the revolution. What we did in Sulaimani was not to provoke some people or to be misinterpreted by anyone. And people should take our occasion just as we intended it and no try to find a different dimension for it.

Rudaw: Was KDP’s popularity in Sulaimani bigger than what you expected?

“What KDP did in Sulaimani was not intended as a show of strength.”

Mahmoud Muhammad: KDP has always been popular across Kurdistan. But its people are a calm people. By nature, KDP grows with calm and stability. Our popular base had not decreased for us to show that we have regained them. We have said that if our supporters in Sulaimani are not treated the way they are now, they will certainly come out in bigger numbers.

Rudaw: KDP is criticized for seeing itself as the sole owner of that September revolution while it is a national revolution and no one party should claim ownership of it.

Mahmoud Muhammad: I want to discuss the truth of this matter as it is. From the beginning of that revolution, KDP has been in Kurdistan as a Kurdish party and led the revolution. It is true that Mustafa Barzani’s leadership of the revolution is a great honor for the KDP, but it is the revolution of all of Kurdistan.

In 1963, a part of the communists took up arms and joined the revolution. So did a number of independent people. We could say it was the revolution of all Kurdistan because Turkmen, Christians and some Arab officers took part in it, too. But now as we speak of the September revolution, it is obvious that the KDP led it. Just as the collapse of 1975 is attributed to the KDP, reigniting the revolution should also be counted as KDP’s.

Rudaw: At this time, what differences does the KDP see between the PUK and the Change Movement (Gorran), particularly since the two groups have shown the same mindset, especially in the case of PM Nuri Maliki’s stay in power?

Mahmoud Muhammad: We cannot say they have the same position. Regarding Maliki’s case, KDP and PUK stance were in the end the same. Gorran’s stance was something else. The PUK is our ally and from the signing of our strategic agreement in July 2007, we have agreed on a number of points. So whenever an issue comes up, it is discussed and finalized in the high level meetings of the KDP and PUK.

We have a joint committee at the political bureau level to debate issues whether related to Baghdad or domestically. Therefore there is a difference between PUK and Gorran’s policies.

Rudaw: Fazil Mirani, the head of KDP’s political bureau says that it would be better for the KDP if Gorran and PUK unified because in that case KDP would know how to deal with them. Do you have any doubts about Gorran’s separation from the PUK?

“There is a difference between PUK and Gorran’s policies.”

Mahmoud Muhammad: Mr. Mirani has said that from the viewpoint that the more splits and political roles there are in Kurdistan, the more difficult it would be to deal with the issues. The Issues that existed between the PUK and Gorran, exposed Kurdistan to a real threat long after they split. That made us wish they had not split. Also President Barzani intervened directly during the crisis and asked Nawshirwan Mustafa to try and find a solution. He even expressed willingness to go to Sulaimani and discuss everything there. But Mustafa said that it was too late already and the final decision had been made. From the very beginning we didn’t like that split to take place because we knew its outcome.

Rudaw: Do you think the PUK and Gorran will in end reunite?

Mahmoud Muhammad: I don’t see anything improbable in politics. It is clear what the split was about. If the reasons for the split are solved, they will come closer to each other in order to reunite. I also see it possible that the gap between them may widen even further and their past common ground may fade forever. For now, both possibilities are going hand in hand.

Rudaw: Muhammad Tofiq Rahim, one of Gorran’s major leaders says that in Kurdistan KDP is the main actor and PUK doesn’t enjoy that much power. Is this true?

Mahmoud Muhammad: We have an agreement with the PUK and we act and make plans based on that agreement. Mr. Rahim’s words are aimed at inciting PUK members against the KDP. By those words he means to say two things. First, he wants to say to the PUK and its members that they have lost a lot. Second, he wants to justify all the criticism and attacks launched against the KDP. Unfortunately, some senior PUK officials have also started to ride on the waves created by Gorran. They say that the PUK is the losing side of the strategic agreement with KDP.

Rudaw: Gorran says that all fateful decisions about Kurdistan are in the hands of the KDP and as an ally, the PUK is unaware of most of the details. Do you think Gorran is another side of the PUK for defending it in that manner?

Mahmoud Muhammad: Perhaps that kind of sympathy dates back to their days together. But the main reason is that they want to turn the PUK against KDP and say that the agreement is detrimental for the PUK. But in the process of making decisions PUK and KDP are together. Sometimes the KDP is the main character and sometimes it is the PUK. So I think what Gorran says is just a media issue in the lead up to elections.

“We have an agreement with the PUK and we act and make plans based on that agreement.”

Rudaw: We hear some PUK and KDP leaders talking about reassessing the strategic agreement. How do you the future of that agreement?

Mahmoud Muhammad: That strategic agreement is like a victim that is attacked unjustifiably. Some people want the PUK and KDP to be distanced from each other and thus not get the majority of votes in the elections. They believe that in unity, PUK and KDP will continue to rule and therefore they want to deprive them of that possibility by attacking the agreement between them.

The agreement was signed in 2007 and a number of great events have taken place in Iraq and the region since then. Maybe it is a good idea to give a modern assessment to the agreement in a way that would suit today’s Kurdistan and the world. But the principle of that agreement still stands firm between the PUK and KDP. As KDP, we are for revising that agreement and we might have even devised the mechanism for the revision.

Rudaw: What items of the agreement do you think should be amended?

Mahmoud Muhammad: The entire agreement is only 4 to 5 pages. The items that have been implemented so far are not necessary to stay in the agreement. Also parts that cannot be implemented can be removed. For example, merging the ministries has taken place and the clause should be omitted. If something needed a law to be passed can be removed if the law has been passed already. Forming the government by one party every two years is not in the agreement because it was agreed upon in 2005, before the strategic agreement was signed.

Rudaw: Kosrat Rasul, deputy head of the PUK says that Kurdistan Security Council was created in a hurry. What do you think of that comment?

Mahmoud Muhammad: The council was in the making for a long time. There was a joint committee from PUK and KDP to find ways for its creation. Later, it was referred to PUK and KDP representatives in parliament for debate and it was in the end through their votes it was approved. So I don’t think we made haste and in fact we might have even been a bit late.

Rudaw: Was the establishment of that council on KDP’s request or did the KDP pressure the PUK to work on establishing it?

Mahmoud Muhammad: Between two allied parties when there are different views, they have to be discussed. On some issues the KDP may let go of its views, so does the PUK, only in order to come closer to an agreement. So the KDP did not put any pressure on anyone for the formation of that council.

“The principle of that agreement still stands firm between the PUK and KDP.”

Rudaw: Did the KDP stand by the PUK during the general elections of 2009 to prevent it from collapse, especially as Gorran had just split from it?

Mahmoud Muhammad: Back then we still had our agreement with the PUK. But we believed that some votes might go from PUK to Gorran. However, PUK leaders didn’t expect Gorran to win 25 seats. Some Gorran leaders had not split from PUK yet. We said there was a clear fraction within PUK, which might take away another chunk of the PUK with itself. But PUK leaders said it was going to be only a small group. But despite all that, we stood by the PUK and honored our agreement.

Rudaw: PUK says that it has handed over to the KDP a 12-point memorandum some of which is about the strategic agreement. What are those points about?

Mahmoud Muhammad: Those points were not for us. They were something to be discussed internally within the PUK political bureau. In our high level meetings with the PUK, we asked them if they had anything specific to discuss and they said no.

I can say that the 12 points were a summary of all the previous meetings between us and the PUK about our relations, the relations between KDP and Gorran, KDP and the Islamic groups, KDP and Iraq and PUK and Iraq. The PUK had summarized those points in order to discuss it among themselves.

Rudaw: PUK spokesperson says the KDP has also felt the burden of that agreement. What does that mean?

Mahmoud Muhammad: Both sides have felt brunt of that agreement. That burden is at the expense of our stature and it was only for the sake of our country. Perhaps it is very clear where the votes came from in the 2009 elections and how much they reflected our supporters. But we still preferred not to talk about it. If some PUK leaders had not brought up this subject, we would have never talked about it in the media. We have an agreement and when there is an agreement we need to stand by each other.

Rudaw: Are you concerned about the way PUK speaks of the agreement?

Mahmoud Muhammad: We believe things that don’t have to be discussed in the media, shouldn’t be discussed. Or before they are raised in the media, they should be raised in our meetings. If we couldn’t reach a conclusion, then they can go ahead and say it in the media. If you express your views on the agreement through the media, it wouldn’t be fair. In our meetings with the PUK, we told them that we don’t want anything to be hidden from the meeting then raised in the media later on. For instance, the PUK has never told us during our meetings that they feel betrayed in the agreement, yet they have talked about it in the media.

Rudaw: Which side insists more on the continuation of that agreement?

“In Kurdistan, other than the PUK and KDP, there are other loyal and patriotic people. They should be able to take part in the political process of this country.”

Mahmoud Muhammad: Both sides insist on the importance of that agreement until a new phase emerges in Kurdistan where that agreement is no longer needed.

Rudaw: The PUK complains about the distribution of government posts and says that the KDP has taken the bigger share. Mala Bakhtyar says there isn’t a balance in the presidential posts and the government. Some others say the KDP has monopolized some posts and doesn’t apply a 50/50 method, as PUK wants.

Mahmoud Muhammad: In the agreement we have talked about balance, but we have also said that not everything can be done in a 50/50 style. The agreement explicitly says, “This agreement will prevent a 50/50 principle and it will not narrow the space for democracy and freedom.” We should also remember that in Kurdistan, other than PUK and KDP, there are other loyal and patriotic people. They should be able to take part in the political process of this country. All the posts cannot be divided between KDP and PUK.

Regarding KDP monopolizing the posts, in a meeting Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told his deputy, Imad Ahmed who is a PUK leader to raise the issue whenever the PUK feels an imbalance in the posts. That was said to him in the presence of the political bureaus of both parties and it still stands. Maybe in some institutions KDP has more posts and in some others PUK. But that does not mean monopoly.

Rudaw: PUK leaders themselves confess to bipartisanship within the PUK itself. Does that not make the KDP treat PUK decisions with caution?

Mahmoud Muhammad: We normally meet and talk with power centers in the PUK. We never meet with individuals within the PUK. Their concern might be the same old one that led to the separation of Gorran, which took away a part of the PUK. We’ve said to the PUK that if they have some issues, they should discuss it within the party and address each other face to face than through the media.

Rudaw: The PUK official in Duhok says that if they do not get a fair share of posts, his party will become the opposition in Badinan. Does that mean the KDP will also consider becoming the opposition in Garmiyan and Sulaimani?

Mahmoud Muhammad: No, we will not become the opposition. We are in the government and run this country. We consider this government our government. That PUK official should also remember that some aspects of the civil war are still visible and not solved. He should try instead to solve the aftereffects of the civil war. It would be much better that way than becoming the opposition and joining those who don’t want his party to be in the government.

“Iran didn’t want a change in the Iraqi government. Iran thought such a move would upset the Shia house in Iraq.”

Rudaw: Does the KDP feel the same inequality in Sulaimani and Garmiyan region?

Mahmoud Muhammad: It is natural. From the headmaster of a school to all other government managers, none of them is from the KDP. But we still have not raised that issue so immensely. We know where the cause of that issue lies and we want to solve it. We tried for two years to reshuffle the posts of mayors and district officials, but it did not happen.

Rudaw: What do you think of the idea of PUK and KDP becoming one party?

Mahmoud Muhammad: In fact, that suggestion was presented by Roj Nuri Shaways in the 1990s. He said the best way to solve the issues was for the PUK and KDP to become one party. Perhaps whoever thinks the same thing now, is from the viewpoint of solving the current issues in Kurdistan.

Rudaw: Do you still maintain relations with Gorran after the war of words that the group waged against the KDP in the media recently?

Mahmoud Muhammad: Whatever relation there was, it is still there. But the KDP will not remain silent in the face of what Gorran does in the media. The KDP will not initiate such moves, but it will not remain silent either. Our relations with them were not systematic. It was in the form of some visits here and there and that was it.

Rudaw: Relations between the KDP and Iran have been cold in the past several months. Does that have to do with the efforts to unseat Maliki?

Mahmoud Muhammad: That certainly has to do with it. Perhaps Iran didn’t want a change in the Iraqi government. Iran thought such a move would upset the Shia house in Iraq. But we believed that a change would be something normal. We are not the first country in the world to change a prime minister before the end of his term. We believed there were problems and they had to be solved by making changes in the post of prime minister. We believe the State of Law coalition has given a different impression of the KDP to Iran.