Barzani - Talabani Coalition and its Challenges

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ali Akbar Asadi
PhD Candidate, University of Allameh Tabatabaei & Expert on Middle East Issues

Since several decades ago the Iraqi Kurdistan region has been under the influence of policies and activities plotted by its two major parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Massoud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Jalal Talabani. The parties have started to manage mutual assistances with the aim of enhancing the Kurdish ideals and interests in the post-Saddam era which have been followed by many important achievements for Kurds both in Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and in Central Government of Iraq. Accordingly, it can be claimed that a significant part of the privileges the Kurd people, based in North Iraq, are taken advantage of now are deeply indebted to the joint activities carried out under an ethnical-political coalition concluded between KDP and PUK. The coalition was officially acknowledged by the two parties through signing a strategic agreement in 2007. Barzani and Talabani endorsed the agreement in order to establish a joint government; according to the agreement the Kurdistan Regional Government is installed once every two years under the presidency of one of KDP or PUK.

In spite of their common interests and considerable assistances in the recent years, presently there are many evidence and proofs indicating disputations between the two Kurd leaders which have brought the maintenance of the coalition and any other mutual works in KRG under question. Talabani’s implicit support of Nouri al-Maliki when most Iraqi leaders expressed their distrust of the Iraqi current vice president and Barzani’s reluctance to cooperate with Talabani for holding a summit with the aim of resolving the disputations among various Iraqi groups are among evidence portend deep disputations between KDP and PUK leaders.

The question then becomes what are the main obstacles and challenges faced by Talabani and Barzani, as the two major Kurd leaders in Iraq, for maintaining their coalition and strategic assistance? Seemingly, four main components can be outlined here as the major challenges and obstacles they face for maintaining the abovementioned coalition.

The first challenge is the different approaches followed by KDP and PUK on the fundamental issues of Kurdistan and Iraq, out which Kurdish problem and future of KRG is the most important one. Unlike Talabani who stresses the maintenance of the Kurdish interests under the framework of a united Iraq and believes in forming bigger unions rather than separating the country, Barzani not only supports overtly the Iraqi Kurdistan independence theory, but he has threatened the Central Government many times that Kurd people will decide on their own destiny if their rights and interests are not realized by the Iraq central government. Likewise, for interacting with the Iraqi groups and participating in the central government, Talabani prefers to interact with Arab groups, particularly Shias, and to participate in the central government in Baghdad, while Barzani did not give credence to supporting Maliki’s government and also is not optimistic about cooperation with the Shia groups. Moreover, Barzani intends to achieve further rights and profits in the Kurdistan region and prefers higher degrees of independence and sovereignty to participation in the central government.

The second challenge is nothing but the mutual distrusts between Brazani and Talabani and their affiliated parties which are rooted in the former mental experiences and many ups and downs in their relationships. Despite the current considerable ties, they have experienced different competitions and conflicts in the past decades. Under various coalitions with Baghdad, Ankara or Tehran governments, KDP and PUK had involved in struggles against each other. The most important conflict between PUK and KDP took place during 1990’s which had left heavy damages and death tolls for both parties; however, it was finally ended to peace and concord between the Patriotic Union and Democratic Party. Such kind of experiences along with more limited but permanent competitions and mistrusts perpetuated the mistrust and hesitation over their bilateral relations and has overshadowed their complete cooperation.

The third obstacle, which of course is a general syndrome in all political parties and groups in all countries and regions, is the competition between the two parties for taking the proper political legitimacy and position in the Iraqi Kurdistan system. While Barzani emphasizes the Kurdish interests and ideals not only in Iraq, but also across the region as the most significant voucher for gaining position and legitimacy, the PUK has focused on cooperation with the other Kurdish groups, attracting criticisms and meeting needs of people. Similarly, competitions between the two parties in other political and security levels can be pointed out either.

The fourth problematic challenge is the emergence of various opposition groups in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, particularly the improved position of the Gorran Party (Movement for Change) in Kurdistan has changed the outlook of the political equations and coalition in the KRG. In this condition in which KDP spares no efforts to keep away the opposition groups from the Kurdistan regional government’s central pyramid, PUK does not lose any opportunity to develop new fields of cooperation with the opposition groups.

Generally, regarding the mentioned components, it can be stated that Talabani and Barzani face significant challenges for maintaining their political coalition; hence, possible fractures in their coalition and ties is hardly surprising. However, please keep in mind that they have reached consensus on many issues such as following Kurdish interests and goals and emphasizing some claims against the central government, so even if their cooperation level on the fundamental issues is declined, they will at least struggle for maintaining their joint objectives.

Key Words: Barzani - Talabani Coalition, Challenges, Kurdistan Democratic Party, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Iraq, Kurdistan Regional Government, Opposition Groups, Asadi

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