Iraq’s presidency: Kurdish parties compete for it, Sunni Arabs keep trying

01-12-2021 06:53
The parties are agreeing that the post of president will also be for the Kurds in the next round, but it is unclear who will step on the red carpet to the presidency seat.

PEREGRAF– Farman Sadiq

Long before the final results of Iraq’s October 10 parliamentary elections were announced on Tuesday, taking over senior positions in the government were, and still is a hot topic between the political parties. Among those positions is the head of state.  Although an esteemed position according to the Iraqi constitution, but the Iraqis satirically call it the seat that is "rich and full of income."

Although this post is seen as the Kurds’ share by the majority of Shiites, there are efforts by the Sunni Arabs to assume the seat after every election. But there is a dispute over it between the two ruling parties of the Kurdistan Region – the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Vying for the seat created friction between the two parties in the previous term, but it didn’t stop with them. The Sunnis, who have been the speakers of Iraq’s Council of Representatives since the fall of the Baath regime in 2003, are also competing for the seat.

Faisal al-Issawi, a Sunni MP in the Iraqi parliamentarian in Anbar province told Peregraf that Taqadum Alliance, led by the speaker of parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi, made the first move to take over the president’s office, but their "first step was soon rejected."

The alliance is run by a number of prominent Sunni figures. "It’s now resolved that the Sunnis will not take the post and that the president’s seat is for the Kurds," said Issawi. Noting that the Sunnis will always look to take over. "The purpose of taking over that post has a non-material side, which is to participate in the United Nations and Arab League meetings to represent Iraq," he said.

Although not set in stone in the Iraqi constitution or any legislation, but Iraq’s senior posts after the fall of the Baathist regime led by Saddam Hussein, has been divided between three components; the post of the prime minister as the highest executive authority for Shiites, the speaker of parliament for Sunnis and president of Iraq for the Kurds.

After the fall of the regime, Sunni figure Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar was appointed the interim president of Iraq. Then Kurdish president Jalal Talabani, deceased founder and secretary-general of the PUK, served as the first Kurdish president of Iraq for two consecutive terms, and since then the seat has been run by Kurds – and only by the PUK.

After Talabani, Fuad Masoum served from 2014 to 2018, and it is currently assumed by Barham Salih, who has said he would like to stay in al-Salam Palace.

There is disagreement among the Shiites about the results of the October 10 election and those who have won fewer seats entirely reject the elections, but this has not stalled the parties' early negotiations to form a government and distribute senior positions.

The Kurds, who won an overall of 63 seats, went to Baghdad with a delegation to discuss the issue. The Shiites, who are divided between two major sides, agree that the post of president is the right of the Kurds.

Abu Mithaq al-Masari, a senior official in the Fatah Alliance led by Shiite figure Hadi al-Ameri, told Peregraf that the issue of distributing senior positions is related to the announcement of the election results and agreement of the political parties.

One of the main Shiite blocs, the Sadrist movement, won more than 70 seats. The other side, often called Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic) front, are the Fatih Alliance, the State of Law Coalition of Nuri al-Maliki, Ammar al-Hakim’s al-Hikmat movement and other parties.

Raad Faris Almas, a senior official in the State of Law Coalition, said their stance on taking over the presidency boils down to understanding and alliance with the Kurdish side. Almas told Peregraf that the Kurdish side should not dwell over who won more seats and form a major list in parliament instead.

He noted that the Sunnis have their eyes on the position, "but distributing senior positions has been resolved and the post of president is the Kurds’ share."

"Decision on the post will be within the Kurdish parties, and Masoud Barzani, the KDP leader, is discreetly working for this position," he added. "If not all Shiites, the majority agree the post of president to be given to the Kurds."

Issam Hussein, a member of the Sadrist movement, also believes the presidentship will be for the Kurds and head of parliament for the Sunnis.

The government has said there are negotiations to form a national government between Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis. And according to Arab leaders in Baghdad, the KDP, Taqadum Alliance and the Sadrist movement have come to an understanding behind closed doors – its outcome is expected to reflect in the government formation process.

"Signs indicate the prime minister's post will be for the Sadrist movement, and the speaker of parliament will be for Taqadum Alliance under the leadership of Mohammed al-Halbousi, and the post of president will be for the Kurds, but it is noteworthy that no agreement has yet been reached between the PUK and KDP on that post," said Muqtada al-Sadr's head of office.

The PUK believes, since the presidency in the Kurdistan Region is assumed by the KDP, they have the right to it in Baghdad. But the KDP, which won about half of the Kurds’ seats in Baghdad, has a different opinion and considers the post to be it's right considering the large number of seats they have.

There are different names within the PUK and KDP published in their unofficial media as candidates for the President of Iraq, but none of the two parties have yet officially published their names.

Rabiha Mohammed Abdullah, head of the PUK’s Baghdad office reiterated the position is her party’s share, "But so far no one has been chosen candidate for the post." 

However, Mahmoud Mohammed, the KDP spokesperson says, "It is true that President of the Republic is the Kurds’ share, but we may not be able to say that the share of this party, it doesn’t have to be predetermined for a specific party."

Apart from the PUK and the KDP, the New Generation movement will be in the Iraqi parliament as the third Kurdish force with nine of its parliamentarians in the Iraqi parliament. They have previously stated they don’t want senior positions and will not participate in the government.

New Generation considers the post of president "useless to the people of Kurdistan" and believes the PUK and KDP are fighting for money and position in Baghdad, not the rights of the people of Kurdistan.