Iraqi PM-designate lauds Masoud Barzani—underscoring importance of KDP in Iraqi politics

“Masoud Barzani is one of the pillars of politics in Iraq” and “plays a very important role in the understandings and the alliances that pave the way for the political process.”
President Masoud Barzani, leader of Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
President Masoud Barzani, leader of Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Last week, Iraq nominated a new prime minister, after a year of political stalemate following the Oct. 10, 2021, snap elections, called in response to protracted protests that brought down the previous government.

Iraq’s new prime minister designate—Mohammed Shia al-Sudani— hailed Masoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), in a discussion with Kurdistan 24, conducted ahead of last year’s elections.

Sudani’s friendly attitude toward Barzani raises the possibility that he was chosen by his Shi’ite colleagues, at least in part, for that reason: Sudani would help persuade the Kurdish leader to switch his support away from Muqtada al-Sadr—which is, in fact, what happened.

Sudani was among a group of political figures, led by the Speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mohammed al-Halbousi, who traveled from Baghdad to Erbil on Oct. 10 to settle the final details of the new government with the “old lion of Kurdistan,” as the well-known French intellectual, Bernard Henri-Levy, referred, with great respect, to Masoud Barzani.

Soon after that meeting, on Oct. 13, Abdul Latif Rashid was named Iraq’s new president, and on the same day, Rashid named Sudani as prime minister designate.

For the KDP, Rashid, who was close to Jalal Talabani, founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and its leader until his death in 2017, was an acceptable, compromise candidate. The PUK, by contrast, had wanted Barham Salih to remain as Iraq’s president.

Indeed, in an evident fit of pique, Salih left Baghdad before formally handing over responsibilities to Rashid—although until then, Iraq’s new president had assumed his post in the presence of his predecessor.

Rashid’s appointment was one indication of the KDP’s significance in Iraqi politics. The praise for Barzani from the prime minister designate was another.

It is also notable that although Sudani is the candidate of the pro-Iranian Coordination Framework, one of his first actions as prime minister designate was to meet, on Monday, with the US ambassador to Iraq, Alina Romanowski.

In their meeting, Sudani assured Romanowski that he wanted, as Iraq’s prime minister, to maintain and strengthen Baghdad’s relations with Washington.

Barzani : Major Figure in Iraqi Politics

“Masoud Barzani is one of the pillars of politics in Iraq,” Sudani told Kurdistan 24 shortly after his designation as Iraq’s next prime minister.

Barzani “plays a very important role in the understandings and the alliances that pave the way for the political process in Iraq,” he continued.

Indeed, few, if any, individuals can match Barzani’s experience with, and knowledge of, the politics of Iraq, its leaders, and peoples, and of the region more broadly. That experience goes back nearly seven decades to his days alongside his father, the legendary Mustafa Barzani.

And it has proven invaluable in forming Iraq’s new government. In last year’s elections, Muqtada al-Sadr won the most votes. In alliance with the top Sunni Arab party, Taqadum, headed by Halbousi, and the top Kurdish party, the KDP, Sadr had a majority and should have been able to form a government.

Iran, however, suborned Iraq’s judiciary, which ruled that Sadr needed a two-thirds majority, not just a simple majority, to form a government. Such an order was unprecedented, and the result was a protracted stalemate.

Frustrated by the stalemate, in June, Sadr ordered his 73 members of parliament to resign. That was a mistake, in the view of the KDP, as Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s first post-Saddam Foreign Minister and a leading KDP figure, advised Kurdistan 24.

The Coordination Framework was happy to have its members assume the seats vacated by the Sadrists, and the following month, it proposed Sudani as the next prime minister.

Sadr responded by calling out his supporters, and armed clashes followed, resulting in the death of some 30 of his followers. But it was to no avail. Nothing changed. Sadr then announced his resignation from politics. Most recently, he has rejected Sudani’s invitation to participate in the new government.

Thus, it remains to be seen what Sadr will do and how stable the new government will prove.

Sudani’s Promises to Kurds

In the televised speech that Sudani gave on Thursday evening, shortly after being designated Iraq’s next prime minister, he pledged to strengthen relations between Erbil and Baghdad and act on the basis of the post-Saddam constitution.

That constitution provides a federal system for Iraq, with key powers devolved to local institutions. Kurdish officials regularly appeal to the authority of the constitution.

Yet it has become common practice for officials in Baghdad to ignore the constitution. Indeed, in his memoirs, “Staking our Claim,” (available in English and several other languages), Barzani stated that Iraqi authorities had violated “nearly 55 articles” of the Iraqi constitution, since 2005, when it came into effect.

In speaking with Kurdistan 24, Sudani also pledged he would ensure that federal money for the budget of the Kurdistan Region was sent to Erbil in a timely fashion—another point of contention with Baghdad.

Fighting Corruption

“Tackling corruption will be a top priority of the government,” was another pledge that Sudani made in his televised address on Thursday.

Indeed, just a few days later, that issue arose very dramatically: on Sunday, as a result of the resignation of Iraq’s Acting Finance Minister, Ihsan Abdul Jabbar.

Abdul Jabbar is also Iraq’s Oil Minister. A dubious figure, he has acted as a vehicle for Iranian influence in Iraq, and he is hostile to the Kurds. He has played a major role in Baghdad’s efforts to restrict energy production in the Kurdistan Region.

Read More: US Congressmen blast Iraq Oil Minister for being pro-Iranian, anti-Kurdish

In 2020, after Mustafa al-Kadhimi became prime minister following the protests that brought down his predecessor, Kadhimi appointed Ali Allawi as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister. However, Allawi, a highly regarded figure, resigned two months ago, in August, protesting the “vast octopus of corruption and deceit” that surrounded him.

Kadhimi then appointed Abdul Jabbar as acting Finance Minister. But Abdul Jabbar did not cooperate with the Iraqi parliament and did not provide documents it requested.

On Oct. 11, even before the announcement of the new government, the Iraqi parliament voted to remove Abdul Jabbar as acting Finance Minister.

Four days later, on Oct. 15, Abdul Jabbar announced his resignation from that post. At the same time, he released the results of an investigation into funds embezzled from a government account in Iraq’s largest bank, the Rafidain Bank.

The astonishing sum of $2.5 billion had been stolen, according to the information Abdul Jabbar released.

Sudani responded immediately, tweeting the following day, “We have put this file in the first priority of our program, and we will not allow the money of Iraqis to be stolen.”

As the money was stolen before Abdul Jabbar became head of the Finance Ministry, possibly, he released that information to deflect attention from any irregularities during his tenure.

Whatever the case, it does not diminish the validity of the charges. And, notably, they represent only one instance of corruption in Iraq—which ranks 157 out of 180 countries in the corruption rankings of Transparency International.

Moreover, the revelation underscores Ali Allawi’s dismay, as he resigned as Finance Minister in August. The problem appears to be beyond the ability of any one individual to correct and likely continued through Abdul Jabbar’s brief reign.

George W. Bush’s Blunder: Failure to Explain Iraq War

It also underscores another key point. There were very good reasons—grounded in traditional national security concerns—to oust Saddam Hussein and his regime, as the US did.

However, the George W. Bush administration—the president, as well as his key aides—failed to articulate those reasons. Rather, they misread the collapse of the Soviet Union and its significance. They concluded, wrongly, that merely removing bad, oppressive regimes, would produce good regimes.

That, they thought, is what Ronald Reagan had done to the Communist bloc, and they thought they could do the same to the Middle East: transform the region through democracy. 

Indeed, as one senior White House official told this reporter in 2011, “I didn’t pay attention to what you said”—cautions about what the US could achieve in the Middle East, as well as a lot of detail about what was involved—“because I thought we were going to do it all,” that is transform the Middle East through democracy!

Similarly, a high-ranking Pentagon aide told this reporter after leaving office, when the Iraq war had become unpopular among Americans, “We shouldn’t have argued that the war would be easy. Rather, we should have argued that it was necessary.”

Such misplaced optimism in Washington left much of the burden of establishing a stable, post-Saddam political order on local leaders. And it is in that context that Sudani spoke of his great appreciation for the role that Masoud Barzani has played in the politics of Iraq.