SOUTH KURDISTAN (IRAQ) – Talabani’s Return Expected to Tilt Political Balance

11/09/2012 RUDAW By HEVIDAR AHMED – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region— Senior officials from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) say that Jalal Talabani, the secretary general of the party, has protested a plan by Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki to create a new army command in Kirkuk and Diyala provinces.

Azad Jundiyani, the spokesperson for the PUK’s political bureau, told Rudaw, “Talabani sent a special envoy to meet with Maliki to express his opposition to the plan.” Last month, Maliki ordered the merging of forces from the interior and defense ministries in Kirkuk and Diyala under the Dijla Operations Command. The decision was strongly opposed by Kurdistan Region authorities. Kurdish President Massoud Barzani held a meeting with the region’s political factions in Erbil to express opposition to Maliki’s plan. According to Jundiyani, Maliki agreed not to implement the plan until Talabani returned and discussed it with him.

An official from the PUK, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Talabani exchanged letters with Maliki through Nizar Muhammad, his chief of staff.

“Maliki responded to Talabani’s letter through Muhammad who is now in Germany and handed Maliki’s letter to Talabani,” the source said. According to that official, Talabani planned to visit the U.S. before returning to Iraq to give a speech at the United Nations, but the PUK’s political bureau asked him to return to Kurdistan immediately. The PUK official added, “Several days ago, Ali Sistani, the Shia spiritual leader, sent a delegation to Germany to ask Talabani to return to Iraq.”

Junidiyani dismissed the claim that the PUK political bureau had asked Talabani to return to Kurdistan, but confirmed that Sistani had done so. At the end of June, Talabani went to Germany for knee surgery. He was supposed to return a few weeks ago. Talabani is now expected to return in the coming days after being away for two months.

Regarding Talabani’s long stay in Germany, a Kurdish MP in Iraqi Parliament told Rudaw, “Talabani knows that Iraq currently has many issues. He wants to give the political factions time to think and come up with solutions.”

Jundiyani also said that Talabani is expected to return to Kurdistan next week, adding that he has stayed away longer than expected due to his medical treatment. He believes that Talabani’s return will have an effect on the political factions, and that unity in the Kurdish voice will be necessary. “I am sure Talabani will coordinate with Barzani as well as other political parties in Kurdistan and Iraq,” Jundiyani said. The anonymous PUK official told Rudaw, “Upon Talabani’s return to Kurdistan, Maliki will come to Sulaimani.”

“Maliki told Talabani’s special envoy he might even meet Massoud Barzani in Sulaimani,” the source added. Saad Matlabi, a member of the State of Law Coalition led by Maliki, dismissed the idea that a visit from the Iraqi prime minister was being planned. However, he said, “When Talabani returns, Maliki may visit him to hand him the National Coalition’s reform plan.”

Matlabi believes that a meeting between Barzani and Maliki will not automatically resolve the issues. Jundiyani maintained that the issues between Barzani and Maliki are not personal, but that there are fundamental disagreements between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central government and one meeting between the two leaders will not solve the issues. When asked whether the meeting might be held, Jundiyani said, “Politically, it is possible.”