Kurdish political parties and the upcoming elections


A great deal has changed in Iraq since the last parliamentary elections. The Islamic State (IS) has come and left its impact. I would like to say that IS is no longer a threat, but it appears to be making a comeback and will have an impact on the outcome of the elections. The shadow of Iranian influence has lengthened to cover most of the country outside of the Kurdistan Region but is large enough to impact the Kurds. The forcible occupation of the disputed territories to include the city of Kirkuk and several actions in violation of the constitution.

The constitutional failures most disturbing are, in no particular order of impact: the inclusion of Hashd a-Shaabi, the Iranian-led and financed Shia militias, into the Iraqi military. This is a clear violation of Article 9 whose intent was to correct the imbalance from the past and the bitter experiences endured by the Iraqi people as a result of the misuse of the Iraqi army by one of the components or sects as a tool to suppress and exclude other ethnic and religious groups of Iraq. The Hashd al-Shaabi led the assault on Kirkuk and other disputed territories. This last may be another attempt to avoid constitutional failure on the part of the government since Art. 9 also states that the armed forces “…shall not be used as an instrument to oppress the Iraqi people, shall not interfere in the political affairs, and shall have no role in the transfer of authority.”

Article 4 is clear in the declaration that the Kurdish language is an official language of Iraq on par with Arabic. Following the occupation of Kirkuk, all Kurdish language signs where removed and the occupying forces have made all official pronouncements in Arabic, in a mostly Kurdish city.      

Articles 48, 65, and 137: Among major violations of the partnership principle by federal government officials in general and the legislative branch is the suspension of implementation of these three articles in respect to the partnership principle and maintaining a balance between the federal and regional authorities by establishing the second chamber. Thus far, the Iraqi Council of Representatives unilaterally passes legislation on a majority basis without consulting the regions and those governorates not organized within a region. Therefore, since the interests of the regions and governorates are under the blessings of the larger political parties and parliamentary blocs, the Sunni and Kurdish components will be subject to the Shia positions as they constitute the majority of the Iraqi society and, therefore, the Iraqi Council of Representatives. 

The above is a very short list of constitutional violations, but enough to understand the conditions currently in Iraq and show that the Shia-dominated government has no intention of following the constitution or presiding over a pluralistic and federal country.

Where does this leave Kurdish representation in Baghdad? As the Shia parties continue to build strength and Iran continues to grow in power with them, it will be difficult for the Kurds to wield power or leverage their strength. However, this is made worse by the internal dissent within the Kurdish political establishment. The increase in the number of parties within the Kurdistan Region has further diluted Kurdish influence in Baghdad.

This dissent will further be seen in the presidential and parliamentary elections in November and will have a significant impact on how the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) power is apportioned. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Gorran (Change) Movement, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) hold the majority of the 111 seats followed by the Islamic parties. The breakup of some of the current parties may change all of that. The greatest impact will be on both the PUK and Gorran. With the deaths of Jalal Talabani, leader of the PUK, and Nawshirwan Mustafa, founder of Gorran, members of these two parties feel released from their obligation and have ventured off to form or join new parties.

While the PUK itself is a breakaway party, established by Talabani after he left the KDP, one of the biggest names in the new order is a former PUK Deputy Secretary-General, former Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq and Former Prime Minister of the KRG Barham Salih. Following Talabani’s death, Salih left the PUK to form the Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ). CDJ has joined Gorran and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal) to form a list (Nishtiman) to contest in the May 12 Iraqi elections as well as for seats in the KRG parliament. Another new party that has the potential to change the political landscape is the New Generation Movement, led by Shaswar Abdulwahid, a millionaire and founder of Nalia Media and Radio

Both new parties have the potential to draw votes away from the PUK and Gorran. Salih has a large following inside the PUK and will attract many from that pool. The head of Nishtiman is the former speaker of the Kurdish parliament, Yousif Mohammed of Gorran. Gorran, a breakaway from PUK, arrived on the scene quickly. Founded in 2009, it established itself and won the second most seats in the 2009 KRG parliamentary elections. The main party that can claim Gorran votes is the New Generation Party since many of Gorran’s main supporters believe the party went mainstream and no longer represents the values and ideology of the founding movement.

The impact Nishtiman will likely have will be on the makeup of the Kurdish bloc in the federal parliament, likely further reducing Kurdish power in Baghdad. Both will have an impact on the makeup of the KRG parliament and may well represent a true opposition party. The other side of this is that the newer parties will drain seats from Gorran and PUK which may leave the KDP, already the strongest party, in an even stronger position.

All of this is indicative of a young and growing democracy. As any growing organization, there will be growing pains that will cause a shockwave in the region. These must be anticipated and absorbed in order for the region to continue its inevitable march forward.

Paul Davis is a retired US Army military intelligence officer. He has been a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently, he is the President of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington DC.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany