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Mass brawl breaks out at Iraqi Kurdistan parliament session

Iraqi Kurdistan parliament adjourned as mass brawl breaks out
4 min read
23 May, 2023
A mass brawl broke out at the Iraqi Kurdistan Region's parliamentary session between MPs from the PUK and KDP parties amid an ongoing dispute over the holding of elections
The session at the parliament building in Erbil was suspended on Monday [Getty]

A parliament session in the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region was abandoned on Monday as lawmakers from the two main ruling parties exchanged blows over potential electoral reforms.

MPs from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) clashed in the hall over the reactivation of the Kurdistan Regional Government's electoral commission after the session had been closed at the Erbil legislature. 

Kurdish authorities are under pressure from local citizens and the international community to ensure that parliamentary elections take place on 18 November.

However, legal issues and disagreements among the main political parties remain a major stumbling block to the elections taking place on time.

This includes disputes over electoral constituency boundaries, renewing the mandate of the region's election commission, amending a decades-old election law, and quotas for minority groups. 

Renewing the mandate of the region's electoral commission initially was on the agenda for Monday's session following a request by the KDP bloc in parliament, despite PUK objections that the move was "illegal".

"The speaker of the Kurdistan parliament, Rewaz Fayaq, has postponed today's session for the sake of preserving national harmony in Kurdistan," Karwan Gaznaye, a lawmaker from the PUK told The New Arab in an interview over phone.  

"The parliament’s speaker adjourned the session according to the third paragraph of Article (18) of the Kurdistan parliament’s bylaw that has granted exclusive powers to her to start and end the sessions."

The dispute erupted when deputy speaker Hemin Hawrami from the KDP, and the secretary of the parliament, Muna Kahveci, opposed Fayaq's postponement of the session and called for a vote on its continuation.

Then, angry lawmakers from the PUK approached the podium and threw bottles at the rival KDP MPs.

After the speaker postponed the session, Hawarmi put the renewal of the region’s electoral commission to a vote and announced it had passed with 58 votes. 

The KDP then told the electoral commission to prepare for elections in November.

Fayaq's media office in a statement said that any decisions made inside the legislature after its postponement have no legal or procedural value.

Gaznay also saidthat "no one has the power to vote on the reactivation of the electoral commission" when a session is closed. 

Bahman Abdulla, a KDP MP, claimed the parliamentary speaker aimed at "illegally" impeding the reactivation of the electoral commission by ending the session.

"The PUK MPs attacked the presidency of the parliament in order to not let them continue with the session," Abdulla said. "The parliament eventually entrusted the region's electoral commission."

One MP was slightly wounded in the melee, he said. The autonomous northern region of Iraq last held general elections on 30 September 2018.  

A fresh vote was scheduled for 1 October 2022 but the regional parliament voted to extend its term for one more year amid disagreements between KDP and the PUK.

The KDP has a majority with 45 seats in the current assembly and has also guaranteed the vote of 11 MPs from the minorities.

Barbara Leaf, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, earlier this month paid a visit to Iraq, including the northern Kurdish region.

She urged senior officials from both Kurdish parties to solve political disputes the dialogue, sources close to the Kurdish ruling elites told TNA early this month.

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The UN Special Representative for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert on Thursday told the Security Council that disagreements between the two ruling parties was driving the region "close to the brink".

"Time is of the essence," she said, stressing that an agreement on outstanding electoral issues must be urgently reache.

"Another postponement would be detrimental to public trust."

"Today's chaos in the parliament was because of the political disagreements between the KDP and the PUK over how the electoral commission should be activated," Balen Ismael, an MP from the Change Movement bloc told TNA.

"The parliament needs to form a joint legal committee to settle the dispute over the postponement and the continuation of the session and any decisions made within it."

The KDP, led by the Barzani family dominate the Kurdish region's Erbil and Duhok provinces, while the PUK, led by the Talabani family, rules Sulaimaniyah and Halabja provinces.

Both parties have their separate Peshmerga forces, security and intelligence agencies. They fought an internal conflict from 1994 until 1998, in which thousands of fighters and civilians were killed, wounded and displaced.