Part of Prime Minister Haidar Abadi’s election campaign is hinged upon being a nationalist leader who represents all of Iraq. As part of that stance his Nasr list has opened offices in Kurdistan and plans on running candidates there.
On April 14, 2018, Nasr announced the start of operations in Sulaymaniya city. A spokesman said that the list planned on opening offices in all 18 provinces in Iraq. Shortly afterward an additional office began working in Dohuk. Nasr has 6 candidates running in that province, 9 in Irbil, and 10 in Sulaymaniya.
PM Abadi has two strategies within Kurdistan. First, he hopes to take advantage of the widespread disillusionment with the major parties the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. They led the region towards a disastrous independence referendum in October 2017 despite various warnings not to, and then had nothing to counter Abadi moving federal forces into the disputed areas including Kirkuk as punishment for their actions. That in turn deprived Kurdistan of roughly 50% of its revenue sources when it lost control of oil fields in Kirkuk. The KDP and PUK are also highly unpopular due to the austerity measures they imposed in 2014 when oil prices dropped and Baghdad cut off budget payments to the region over its independent energy policy. That has led to yearly protests. That ties into Abadi’s second policy. He is attempting to reintegrate the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) back into the federal system. That was the reason why he sent money to pay for part of the salaries of KRG public workers in March. That didn’t go as planned as Kurdistan didn’t provide its share, but given the region’s mismanagement and financial crisis it has no other choice but to accept Baghdad’s funds and the strings attached. That includes joint control over its airports, border crossings, etc.
It’s unlikely that Abadi’s tactics will lead to a serious dent in the Kurdish parties’ electoral victory in the KRG come May, but his list will undoubtedly pick up some votes. That could open the door to political change in the future. For one, the prime minister can claim his Nasr is a truly nationalist list, as he is also running candidates in Sunni areas as well such as Anbar. Instead of just being from the Shiite religious party Dawa, the premier can say that he is the leader of a diverse ethnosectarian party that received support from all parts of Iraq. This is a growing trend in the country as some parties are attempting to move away from identity politics to more nationalist ones as that sentiment has grown with the victory against the Islamic State.
Qader, Histyar, “An Unusual Idea: Iraqi PM To Campaign In Kurdistan Too, But His First Move Falls Flat,” Niqash, 3/29/18
Rudaw, “Abadi’s party opens office in Sulaimani ahead of elections,” 4/14/18
Yoshioka, Akiko, “Candidate lists published by IHEC,” Twitter