Iraq’s Kurds, seeking independence, call vote hoping to ease row


ERBIL: The president of Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan has called a parliamentary and presidential election for November which could help ease a long-running political row as the Kurds push for independence from Baghdad.

The elections will follow an independence referendum set for Sept. 25, a move that will strain Iraq’s frayed federal unity and annoy neighbours Syria, Turkey and Iran, who also have sizable Kurdish populations. The political developments take place as Iraqi government forces push back Islamic State militants from territory in northern Iraq, a campaign in which Kurdish peshmerga forces have played a vital role.

The Kurdistan region last held a presidential election in 2009 and a parliamentary election in 2013. President Masoud Barzani won the 2009 poll but has said he will not stand again. His term of office expired in 2013 and has been extended twice, during which time Kurdistan has suffered bouts of unrest and political disarray.

The parliament has not met since October 2015. An aide to Barzani said the election was set for Nov. 1. “All concerned parties are committed to do the necessary work and will support and co-ordinate with the Kurdistan Higher Independent Election Commission and Referendum to implement this decree,” Erbil-based Rudaw TV quoted a decree as saying.

Following the 2013 parliamentary election, Barzani formed a broad-based government led by his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) with the Gorran (Change) movement holding a number of posts, including the parliamentary speaker. In an escalating political crisis, four Gorran ministers were removed from the cabinet in October 2015 and the speaker of parliament was barred from entering the capital.

The KDP accused Gorran, which had demanded a reduction of Barzani’s powers, of orchestrating violent protests in which party offices were attacked. The Kurdistan parliament has not sat since. However, the KDP said this week it would drop its conditions for reconvening the parliament to help the independence referendum succeed, including allowing the speaker, Yousif Mohammed, to return.

Earlier this month, Barzani told Reuters there was no turning back on the bid to achieve an independent Kurdish state, but he would pursue it through dialogue with Baghdad and regional powers to avoid conflict. Parties such as Gorran and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) all favor independence but not necessarily under the leadership of Barzani and the KDP.

Barzani has accused the Shia Muslim-led Iraqi government, backed by Iran, of not sticking to a constitutional agreement of allowing the Kurds to have greater powers under a federal state set up after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. About 5 million Kurds live in majority Arab Iraq, which has a population of more than 30 million. Most are in the north.