WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – On Monday, Brett McGurk, US Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, visited Erbil, where he met with Nechirvan Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister.
McGurk’s visit followed Iraq’s announcement, very early that morning, of the preliminary results of Saturday’s parliamentary elections. Those results included the surprising news that the electoral list of Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shi’ite cleric who had been an avowed foe of the US during the Iraq war (2003-11), held the lead.
The runner-up, according to the preliminary results, was the list of the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.
America’s most favored candidate, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, was running in third place.
Against that background and with a strong showing by his own party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which held the largest share of the vote among Kurdish parties, Prime Minister Barzani met McGurk and his accompanying delegation, which included the US ambassador to Baghdad.
Brookings Institution scholar Ranj Alaaldin tweeted a video of that meeting and remarked, “Quite the smile on @PMBarzani: the US is now ruing its miscalculations, before & after the Kirkuk debacle.”
According to a KRG summary of the meeting, McGurk and his delegation “thanked the people of Kurdistan and Iraq for participating in the elections.”
The US officials also emphasized the “necessity for the Kurdish parties to unite and work with the winning [Arab] parties” in order to have “an effective role in forming a new government” and allow the elected Kurdish parliamentarians “to fight for the rights of the Kurdish people.”
Barzani responded by noting that voter turnout had been “much higher” in the Kurdistan Region than in the rest of Iraq. Overall, only 44% of eligible voters participated in the Iraqi elections, the lowest figure since the US-led coalition overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The Kurdish Prime Minister also stressed that the winning Iraqi and Kurdish candidates “must meet to form a new government in a timely manner.”
In the past, it has often taken months following an election to form a new Iraqi government. However, the security situation remains tenuous after the defeat of the Islamic State (IS)—which Abadi announced last December. If it were now to take an extended period of time to form a new government, that could increase the risk of a significant IS resurgence.
Barzani also informed the US diplomats that the Kurdish parties would fight for the constitutional rights of Kurdistan.
Key parts of Iraq’s post-2003 constitution have not been implemented, including Article 140, which calls for holding a referendum in the territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad in order to determine their future.
That referendum was supposed to occur in 2007, but 11 years later, it has not yet been held.
(Kosar Nawzad contributed to this report)