On March 17, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan met to decide on its new leadership, something that had been put off for five months. Rather than resolve the deep internal divisions within the party it chose to maintain the status quo.
The PUK has been suffering a crisis since its founder President Jalal Talabani passed away in October 2017. After that Kosrat Rasul was appointed the acting head of the party. In March 2018, the party voted to make Rasul the permanent chief. That will not help the Patriotic Union through its current crisis. First, Rasul and former PUK member Barham Salah were at the forefront of demanding that younger members such as themselves should have a greater role versus the old guard like Talabani’s wife Hero Ibrahim. That dispute started two years ago, and was never solved. Then when the September referendum came up, the PUK was again best by differences. Rasul was among those that supported the vote and joined a committee with the KDP to help plan the election. He was opposed by other members such as Lahur, Pavel and Qubad Talabani as well as Hero Ibrahim. After the vote, and Baghdad imposed sanctions Rasul continued to be an advocate. He wrote an opinion piece for CNN for instance, in which he compared Prime Minister Haidar Abadi to Saddam and the government take over of Kirkuk as being like the Anfal campaign, which destroyed the PUK and KDP in Kurdistan and killed and imprisoned tens of thousands of their followers. He would go onto attack his opponents within the party, which he accused of collaborating with the central government and handing over Kirkuk. It was readily apparent that the referendum had been a huge blunder, but Rasul was unwilling to back down, and helped create a whole new division within his party.
Iraq’s post-Saddam political parties are largely personality base. The PUK once stood for socialism and urban intellectuals as opposed to the more rural and tribal KDP. That’s hardly mentioned anymore as the organization became the vehicle for President Talbani’s personal aspirations. After his passing, it broke up into various factions as there was no heir apparent, and no ideology to sustain it. That’s led to all of these internal disputes and splits. By picking Kosrat Rasul to be the permanent head, it decided it would be easier to not deal with those issues.
Ali, Kosrat Rasul, “The Kurdish people have won the moral argument – the world should embrace our independence,” CNN, 10/18/17
Bas News, “Kurdistan’s Parliament to Be Reconvened within Two Weeks,” 7/30/17
eKurd, “Hero bloc says no changes to PUK party while Jalal Talabani lives,” 9/2/16
Hawramy, Fazel, “Kirkuk teetering on the brink of war,” Al Monitor, 9/24/17
Malazada, Ibrahim, “Political accusations fly in Iraq’s Kurdistan region,” Al Monitor, 9/14/16
NRT, “PUK Dismisses Three Senior Members,” 3/17/18
Rudaw, “Former KRG PM Barham Salih registers own political entity to run in elections,” 9/16/17
- “Kurdish VP accuses certain PUK leaders of fall of Kirkuk, calls them ‘apostates,’” 10/18/17
- “PUK leadership fails to elect ‘interim leadership,’ 1/26/18
- “PUK selects new politburo,” 3/17/18
- “PUK to keep grip on security forces even if defeated in elections, official,” 1/8/18
Van den Toorn, Christine McCaffray, “Internal Divides Behind the Kurdistan Referendum,” Sada, 10/11/17