Tensions ease for Iraqi Kurds following visit by US assistant secretary of state

Tensions ease for Iraqi Kurds following visit by US assistant secretary of state
Following pressures from a visiting senior US delegation to the Iraqi Kurdistan region, both the main ruling parties have eased nearly six months of political and security tensions.
5 min read
09 May, 2023
Masrour Barzani (R) the prime minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) shakes hands with Deputy PM Qubad Talabani during a swearing-in ceremony, in Erbil, the capital city of the region on 10 July 2019. [Getty]

After being pressured by a senior visiting delegation from the US secretary of state, the two main ruling parties in the Iraqi Kurdistan region took initial steps to defuse tensions and pave the way for general elections by October.

Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, early this month paid a visit to Iraq, including the northern Kurdish region. She urged senior officials from the two main ruling parties in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)- the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)- to deal with their political disputes via dialogue, sources close to the Kurdish ruling elites told The New Arab on condition of unanimity.

The KDP, led by the Barzani family dominate Erbil and Duhok provinces, while the PUK, led by the Talabani family, rules Sulaimaniyah and Halabja provinces. Both parties are at odds over how the region's oil revenues are distributed, as well as over electoral constituency boundaries in amending the region's election law. 

Masrour Barzani and his deputy Qubad Talabani met on Monday, amid an ongoing boycott by Talabani to attend the meetings of the KRG Council of Ministers.

Qubad Talabani, the KRG deputy prime minister and four other ministers from the party have boycotted the cabinet’s regular meetings in Erbil since October 2022. The boycott - which nearly crippled made the KRG and the Kurdistan parliament - was in protest of the KDP accusing PUK of being behind the killing of a senior counter-terrorism officer in Erbil on 7 October 2022. 

The tensions between the two parties have also jeopardised delaying the region's parliamentary elections scheduled for November 18.  

Tensions between the two rival parties were exacerbated early last month when Mazloum Abdi, a Kurdish commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) survived a Turkish drone attack in the vicinity of Sulaymaniyah International Airport. Both parties accused each other of providing information to Turkey to target Abdi. 

"In a positive atmosphere, the two sides discussed the financial and administerial difficulties facing the Kurdistan Regional Government, and both agreed on the significance of dialogue to resolve the issues with the help of all ministerial factions within the cabinet," reads a statement by the KRG issued after the meeting.

"In the meeting, they also discussed the latest developments in Kurdistan and the region, emphasising the importance of unity to protect the constitutional rights of the people of Kurdistan," the statement added. 

The Kurdish sources have stressed that PUK ministers will return to the KRG meetings in Erbil this week, and Talabani is expected to participate in future meetings.

Two Iraqi sources also told TNA, on the condition of anonmity, that Iraqi PM Mohamed Shiae al-Sudani also delivered messages from the Iran-backed Coordination Framework to PM Barzani that he should settle differences within his cabinet if he wants the Iraqi parliament to pass the Kurdish share for this year's federal budget, estimated to be more than 12 per cent.

The message from the Coordination Framework (CF)came after the PUK, threatened to withdraw from the Running the State Coalition - which backed Sudani for the premiership and includes the CF, the Sunnis and the two ruling Kurdish parties.

Barzani, in a tweet, wrote that he was pleased to host his deputy for lunch.

"In the spirit of constructive and open dialogue, we discussed issues in the government and agreed on ways to move forward," Barzani said.

Talabani described his lunch meeting with the KRG Talabani as "pleasant and productive".

"Together, we are united in the belief that we can overcome our challenges, work towards better serving our citizens, and remain strong in the face of the many threats facing the Kurdistan Region," wrote Talabani.

Leaf applauded the meeting as a "great move" as she retweeted Talabani,  and urged both Kurdish officials for further dialogue.

Kurdish sources also said that both parties have agreed to activate the parliament and amend the region's election law, however, the quota seats of the minorities are yet to be settled. 

Live Story

Hawkar Abdullah Rasoul, known as Hawkar Jaff, a former colonel in the ranks of PUK's Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG), was killed in the capital city of Erbil on 7 October after a sticky bomb attached to his vehicle detonated. 

Jaff was supervising the CTG operations in Nineveh and was fired in the summer of 2021 due to an internal issue between cousins Bafel Talabani and Lahur Talabani - then co-leaders of PUK, as Jaff was a close ally to Lahur.

Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC), a body controlled by the KDP, on 12 October aired alleged confessions of six suspects in the killing. The KRSC claimed that the "terrorist explosion" was "conducted by a team of CTG-Sulaymaniyah.

Accordingly, an Erbil court has issued arrest warrants against senior PUK officials.

Bafl Talabani, PUK's president, during an interview with Rudaw Kurdish satellite channel aired in November, said that as a consequence of the killing, arrest warrants have been issued by an Erbil court against himself and his brother, Qubad Talabani,

The CTG and the PUK denied any involvement in Jaff's killing.

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 innocent civilians from both sides were killed, wounded and displaced.