ORSAM New Topic in Iraq: Disputes on the Presidency and its Impact on Politics

November 5, 2013 at 11:04 am | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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ORSAM New Topic in Iraq: Disputes on the Presidency and its Impact on Politics
New Topic in Iraq: Disputes on the Presidency and its Impact on Politics
Bilgay Duman, ORSAM Middle East Specialist

Speaker of Iraq’s Council of Representatives Usama al-Nujayfi has stated that the vacant seat of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who has been away from his post due to serious health problems, cannot remain unfilled.

Following his statement, a new topic of debate arose in Iraq, which is heading towards the electoral process and where disputes on electoral law still prevail. Al-Nujayfi asserted that a new president must be elected if Talabani cannot continue in the position.

Disputes on the presidency: In Iraq, political positions are assigned according to ethnicity and sect or religion, as they are in Lebanon. The post-2003 Iraqi president was Kurdish, the prime minister was Shiite and the speaker of the parliament was Sunni, both in the administrations formed by the US and in the elected government. As a matter of fact, the balance between these authorities has been maintained, and two deputy positions have also been assigned for each authority. Thus, while one of the deputies of the Kurdish president was Shiite, the other was Sunni; one of the deputies of the Shiite prime minister was Sunni, and the other was Kurdish; similarly, while one of the deputies of the Sunni speaker of parliament was Kurdish, the other was Shiite.

However, demands and suggestions not to give the presidential post to a Kurd were raised due to the possibility that Talabani might not maintain his position as president after suffering a stroke in December 2012 and the problematic relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Iraq’s central government. It appears that both Shiite and Sunni Arabs in Iraq took a stand that the new president should be of Arab origin. What is really at issue is not only an Arab taking the presidential post, but that Sunni Arabs desire the position because Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi is abroad due to the murder accusations against him. On the other hand, Shiite Arabs, the majority of the country’s population, seek to take the presidential post as well. However, it might be asserted that certain nationalist Shiite Arabs lean towards the idea of a Sunni Arab president in the absence of a Shiite Arab president since Iraq is a country with a majority Arab population.

Disputes on leadership in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK): If Talabani leaves his post as president, the existing leadership disputes within the PUK, of which Talabani is leader, will worsen. PUK is currently split within itself. The distance and competition within the PUK between Kosrat Rasul Ali, Hero Talabani, Barham Salih and Molla Bahtiyar have become especially clear. It is expected that PUK will hold a congress to elect a new leader in the near future.

Disputes on candidacy in Kurdish internal politics: If Talabani does leave his presidential position, a dispute on the choice of a presidential candidate will probably add to disputes in Kurdish politics over whether a Kurdish candidate will hold the presidential post. Talabani was elected president in accordance with the agreement between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, and PUK.

The competition within PUK which might occur in the post-Talabani period may damage the presidential alliance between the KDP and PUK. On the other hand, the Islamist parties and especially the Goran Movement, which are against the KDP-PUK coalition in the KRG, would also like to have a voice in the selection of a presidential candidate. In that case, several presidential candidates could appear among the Kurds, and there might be disagreement on the subject.

Impacts on Kurdish internal politics: The uncertainty which will arise in a post-Talabani PUK would have a negative impact also on the internal politics of the KRG. This situation might be a setback for the formation of a government after the elections which will be held in the KRG on Sept. 21, 2013. According to a strategic agreement signed between the KDP and PUK in 2004, both parties will alternately head the KRG government for two years. During the post-2013 political process in the KRG, PUK was in power for only two years, while the KDP was in power for eight years. However, after the elections of 2013, PUK’s ranking as the third party after Goran, as well as the competition within PUK, may have damaged the KDP-PUK coalition. Even though KDP officials state that the coalition with PUK will continue, considering the number of deputies in the Goran Movement and Islamist parties, it appears that the new government will have a structure different from that of the KDP-PUK coalition. In that case, a broad-based government including all political parties will probably be formed as in the central government of Iraq.

Impacts on local politics: Developments taking place in a post-Talabani PUK would have significant effects on the areas under PUK control. More clearly, there might be some changes in local politics in Kirkuk, where PUK has a much bigger influence than the KDP and in Sulaymaniyah, which is controlled by PUK. As a result of the split within PUK, different areas of control might appear under PUK leaders in Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk. Furthermore, PUK’s loss of integrated power after a split within the party might lead to the expansion of other parties’ areas. The Goran Movement’s power and area of influence especially might increase in Sulaymaniyah and more importantly, PUK’s loss of power would be an advantage for the KDP, which seeks to increase its dominance in Kirkuk. In that case, the KDP could possibly move against PUK.

In conclusion, if it is understood that Talabani can no longer hold the presidential post, it is possible that this situation will lead to some major changes in the internal politics of Iraq, the KRG and PUK. These changes could create new dynamics, and these dynamics could create new conflicts and crisis points. It might be expected that these crises and conflicting interests will even have an impact on foreign politics.

4 November 2013

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