President Barzani stresses ‘unity’ at controversial 5th PUK congress
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani on Wednesday stressed the importance of unity among the Region’s political parties at the controversial Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) congress in Sulaimani.
President Barzani attended the first day of the congress along with Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid and other Kurdish and Iraqi leaders in Sulaimani province.
"The strength and survival of all of us lies in unity and solidarity; the contrary leads to the loss and weakness of the Kurdistan Region," President Nechirvan Barzani said.
The current Kurdistan Region’s circumstances require the political parties to set aside their differences and be united in Baghdad to defend the Kurdish people’s rights, President Barzani said.
PUK’s Bafel Talabani and President Abdul Latif Rashid delivered their remarks at the beginning of the event as well.
The congress comes as numerous top leaders and cadres of the party have recently announced that they would not take part in the political gathering, citing the "illegality" of the congress according to the party bylaw.
Lahur Sheikh Jangi, the ousted PUK co-leader, is among those who had publicly denounced the congress along with Mala Bakhtiyar, another top party leader.
Bafel Talabani and Lahur Sheikh Jangi were both elected PUK co-leaders in the party’s 4th congress in Sulaimani in 2019.
In July 2021, Sheikh Jangi was ousted from his position by his co-chair, claiming that he had been “poisoned” by his party comrade.
Since then, Sheikh Jangi has been voicing concerns regarding the party’s leadership in his TV addresses.
New congress, downsized leadership
The PUK is expected to downsize the leadership council members to 51 from 124 cadres, who will be headed by a president.
A new council is also expected to be established, named the "Support Council," that will be headed by the party leader directly, according to the party’s PUK Media.
The bylaw will be amended, and a “centralized system” will be adopted at the leadership level, per the PUK official media, adding decisions will be made by “consensus.”
The High Political and Interests Council will continue to be part of the architecture.
PUK was founded by the late Jalal Talabani and his comrades on June 1, 1975, in Syria’s Damascus.
Following the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein from power by the US-led coalition, Jalal Talabani became the first Kurdish president of Iraq in 2005 until 2012. He later died of a stroke in Berlin in 2017.
In the Kurdistan Region, the party holds the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) deputy premiership and a number of other ministries, including agriculture, planning, and higher education.
The party has gone through a number of splits in its history. The late Nawshirwan Mustafa, a top PUK leader, withdrew from the party and established the Change Movement in 2009, which vigorously challenged the Green party in its stronghold of Sulaimani.
Barham Salih, the former Iraqi president, also left the party in Sept. 2017 and established the Coalition for Justice and Democracy, an opposition political group. Following an electoral defeat, Salih rejoined the party, which had nominated him for the Iraqi presidency, serving one term in the largely ceremonial role.
The members who did not take part in the fifth congress have warned that the party is likely to experience another split.
In the latest televised address released on Tuesday night, the ousted Sheikh Jangi said he would run independently in the planned Feb. 2024 Kurdish parliamentary elections, adding the current party leadership will have to "bear the responsibility."
“The responsibility for the failure of this PUK is the responsibility of those who brought the PUK to this day.” Sheikh Jangi said in his remarks, likely referring to the current party leadership.