Shafaq News/ Differences are nothing but new between the leading parties in the Kurdistan Region. Prima facie, the current controversy over the presidency of the republic is only a shred from the long history of the intra-Kurdish political exchange inside and outside the Kurdistan Region. However, what might seem to be a rather normal manifestation of political plurality and democratic dynamism, is actually a litmus test for the viability of the power-sharing allotment between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (K.D.P.) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (P.U.K.).
Such concerns resonate throughout the decision-making corridors, both inside Kurdistan and behind the closed doors of the political chambers in Baghdad. In fact, the controversy demonstrates itself clearly in public recrimination parties on classic media and social media platforms.
Many observers believe that meetings the consecutive Kurdish delegations held in Baghdad amid this profound internal dispute did nothing but significantly undermine the Kurds bid to join the "kingmakers" club in the ongoing political game in Iraq at a moment the entire power relations amalgam is being reshaped.
After the dust of the electoral battle settled, the K.D.P., via a delegation headed by Hoshyar Zebari himself, approached the Kurdish "partners" in an attempt to converge the views inside the Kurdish community and boost the Kurds representation in Baghdad; The expanded arena in which electoral politics are unwinding, unsettled scores between the Kurdish parties heightened internal divisions while reinforcing the need for "a unified Kurdish voice". However, the P.U.K. had a different, opposite as dubbed by some observers, approach.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan stirred the row after it single-handedly opted to name a candidate for the presidency ignoring its partners and the facts spawned by the election that saw the K.D.P. increasing its tally of seats to 31 from 25 in 2018, and the P.U.K. stuck at its 2018 tally of 17 in spite of its alliance with the Gorran movement.
In normal circumstances, the K.D.P. shall have a decisive role in what is expected to be a consensus process. However, according to observers, it was taken aback by the maneuver of the P.U.K., which dashed the K.D.P. "goodwill" and promptly declared Barham Salih as the sole candidate.
Iraq's parliament has set February 7 as the date to elect the president of the republic amid unprecedented fierce competition between the two major Kurdish parties.
In 2018, the K.D.P. announced its explicit desire to back Fuad Hussein for the presidency and objected to the nomination by the P.U.K. of the current president, Salih, on the grounds that the decline in the influence of the P.U.K. and the shrinking number of its seats in the Iraqi parliament should be reflected in the distribution of positions in the federal government.
The same scenario is unfolding today. The K.D.P. is nominating former Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari for the presidency, while the P.U.K. is reiterating its support for Salih.
Since 2003, the post has been informally reserved for a candidate of the P.U.K. Jalal Talabani, Fuad Masoum, and then Barham Salih, all of whom are P.U.K. figures, had taken office successively. However, this is not legally or constitutionally entitled to them. With the political balance leaning toward the Kurdistan Democratic Party -not only in terms of its share of parliamentary seats, but also by its active involvement in shaping the new political scene in Baghdad- the K.D.P. believes it is only appropriate to consider materializing these changes to adjustments into the power-sharing formula.
Is 2018 like 2022?
In 2018, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani expressed his desire for the presidential candidate to be from the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and expressed his opposition to the candidate of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, after the rule of the National Union, as well as its parliamentary seats, began to decline, which required that the unwritten understanding be amended, thereby modifying the Kurdish quotas and how they are distributed in the federal authority.
Back then, the Kurdish leader said that the way the president was elected contradicts the customs followed in the previous terms. "A Kurdish candidate should have been chosen from the largest bloc. Otherwise, the Kurdish blocs should resolve the matter."
In this sense, the K.D.P.'s nomination of Hoshyar Zebari is understandable and reasonable.
For his part, Zebari himself treats the proposed post, not as a Kurdish trophy, but as he said two weeks ago in a Facebook post, "This sovereign site is very important to Iraq and needs Kurdish consensus first and foremost."
The K.D.P. seems more confident that its candidate Zebari will emerge as the winner of the vote in the Iraqi parliament, backed by the understandings that the party coined with powerful Iraqi forces, particularly the Sadrist Movement and Sunni forces. In fact, many observers tend to believe that Zebari will secure about 200 votes, similar to the votes obtained by parliament speaker Mohammad al-Halboosi.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party is betting not only on the political guarantees it has received from those parliamentary forces, but also on Zebari's experience and career to take office with full confidence.
Why Hoshyar Zebari?
Observers agree that Zebari has a long political experience, and is agreed upon by various political parties in Iraq, and even abroad, after playing prominent roles in presenting the new Iraq after the fall of the regime in 2003. He also opened up to the Arab, regional, and international community, gradually restoring Iraq's role and positive image.
Zebari served as foreign minister in the government appointed by the Governing Council of Iraq and retained his portfolio in the interim Iraqi government and then the transitional Iraqi government, until he took over the foreign ministry in 2006 and then in the Iraqi government in 2010.
He played a magnificent role in writing off many of Iraq's debts accumulated under the former regime. In February 2008, he signed an agreement in Moscow with Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin to write off 93% of Iraq's 12.9 billion dollars in debt.
In September 2010, at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo within the framework of the Arab League, Zebari called for the debts resulting from the policies of the former regime to be dropped, calling on the Arab community to help Iraq recover its role and position, saying, "Iraq renews its call and appeals to its brothers to provide assistance to get out of the provisions of Chapter VII of the U.N. charter."
A few weeks ago, Iraq ended all its debts to Kuwait as part of compensation imposed by the U.N. on Baghdad due to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, which amounted to more than 52 billion dollars.
In December 2017, Zebari's efforts over many years culminated in the U.N. Security Council's announcement of the country's exit from Article VII of the UN Charter, after Iraq and the United Nations implemented Chapter VII measures under resolutions 1958 (2010) and Resolution 2335 (2016), which, according to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, paved the way for Iraq to regain its international status.
That was not just a small detail in Iraq's course. Some steps contributed to restoring the country's gradual recovery despite all the calamities and pains of the past decades.
It is also an achievement that must be recorded in the march of Zebari, who mastered the arts of diplomatic work and formulated personal and professional relations with his regional and international counterparts, which contributed to dismantling the doors to Iraqi politics, and Baghdad's active role.
Despite its importance, the "testimony" of former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who was also Egyptian foreign minister for many years, was not surprising when he said a few days ago that Hoshyar Zebari is an active figure who interacted wisely with the file of Iraq and its Arab surroundings: "Hoshyar Zebari is an active Iraqi Kurdish figure, who treated very respectfully with the Arab situation," referring to Zebari's tenure as Iraqi Foreign Minister.
Moussa also commented, "Zebari, in his first representation of Iraq after the invasion, was able, through his wise dealings, to restore Iraq's role with its Arab surroundings, without causing any disturbances in the country's relations with its neighbors."
In a recent report, the Washington Institute speaks clearly of the need for, "Leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government (K.R.G.) to make the difficult choice and take on the role of kingmakers in Iraq," wondering if they are willing to do so.
The report also stated, "Kurdish parties should work to empower the Iraqi presidency, which is the most prominent position they have achieved in the federal government. Otherwise, they risk facing several challenges," adding, "In the wake of the October elections, the Kurds had an opportunity to find federal partners capable of alleviating some of these challenges."
Therefore, it is only normal to wonder whether the step of nominating Barham Salih, in this way and timing, will indeed serve the "Kurdish house" and its role.