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Iraq: Kurdish Parties Agree To Convene Parliament

Flying the Kurdish flag The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have agreed to convene the Kurdistan parliament following months of political wrangling over the presidential post and leadership of a unified Kurdish administration. At issue were the term length and duties of the president, the command over a unified peshmerga, and, according to some media reports, who would control the finances of a unified administration. Both parties had agreed in December 2004 that KDP head Mas'ud Barzani would serve as president of the administration.

Under the agreement announced on 29 May, Barzani will also serve as commander of the peshmerga, while an undetermined PUK politburo member will serve as deputy commander. PUK Deputy Prime Minister Adnan Mufti will be nominated by both parties to head the parliament; Nechirvan Barzani, currently head of the KDP-led Kurdistan Regional Government, will serve as the Kurdish prime minister; and the current PUK Prime Minister Umar Fattah will serve as deputy prime minister of the unified administration.

The agreement is indicative of the Kurdish parties' style of governance, in which democracy is practiced through a top-down approach. The KDP and PUK hatched a deal weeks before the 30 January parliamentary elections over the number of seats their parties, along with a handful of smaller parties on their coalition list, would get following the election.

Agreement Followed Four Months Of Talks

The long-awaited agreement was apparently reached after PUK head and Iraqi transitional President Jalal Talabani returned to Al-Sulaymaniyah last week.

Abd al-Salam Barwari, head of the Democracy and Human Rights Research Center in Irbil, told RFE/RL in a 27 May interview that Barzani had sent a letter to the PUK a day earlier demanding that the issues between the two sides be settled and the parliament convened -- with or without Barzani assuming the previously agreed upon position as president of the Kurdistan region. Media reports had indicated that the PUK was hesitant to meet a KDP demand that Barzani assume the presidency for a four-year term.
"In every representative or democratic system, there must be a highest level where some issues [are] decided."

Asked about the alleged disagreement, Barwari said: "It is not a matter of Barzani or not Barzani, it's a matter of that post. Who knows after two or three elections who will take the post.... Barzani wanted to send the message 'Don't make me or my person or that position as a problem. Forget it, we will begin without a president.' The message, as I understood myself, is to put the ball in [the PUK's] field.... Many say that it was a good move, a clever move by Barzani and that the PUK -- Talabani and his party -- will be forced to come and agree about all points including the president of the region."

The PUK apparently met the demand and an agreement was announced on 29 May. PUK Deputy Prime Minister Mufti confirmed the agreement in a 31 May interview and said the parliament will convene on 4 June, more than four months after the Kurdistan elections. Mufti said that once in session, the parliament will examine the proposed presidency law agreed upon by the leadership of both parties following which Barzani will be formally elected by parliament as president. The "election" is a mere formality, however, as there is no challenger to Barzani.

Executive Agreement

Both Barwari and Mufti dismissed complaints that their parties were stifling the legislative process by working out an agreement in lieu of sending it to the parliament. Both contended that the parties felt it was better to negotiate the agreement rather than risk the possibility that the parliament would fall into a logjam over the issue. "In every representative or democratic system, there must be a highest level where some issues [are] decided. And by practice as the government begins to work, maybe there will be a need for such authority and maybe that will be another way that the parliament begins to discuss that issue," Barwari said.

Mufti also claimed that it was the responsibility of the parties to work out an agreement first. "We must go to the parliament after [concluding] an agreement between the two parties. If you look to the members of parliament, the majority are members of parties. So, without reaching that agreement, [it] was difficult to bring to the parliament all [those] problems without understanding and without reaching that agreement.... We can have a decision for the law maybe in one day but if we [didn't have] this agreement it would be difficult to discuss it inside the parliament because this is the responsibility of the leaderships, Mr. Barzani and Mr. Talabani. So, now it's better to have a meeting of the parliament with this agreement [already concluded]. It will be easier for the members of parliament of course."

Mufti told RFE/RL that the unified administration would also include members of minority parties representing Kurdish Islamist groups, and Assyrian and Turkoman parties. While no timeframe has been agreed on, Mufti suggested that ministries from both sides would begin merging as early as two to three months from now. "Some ministries need time to unify, like the Interior, like peshmerga, like Finance, but I don't think it will be a big problem because we have a plan on how to continue and how to reach a unification of ministries," he said. Asked if an agreement had been reached on who would be responsible for finances in the new administration, he said: "Not yet. We are going to reach an agreement in three or four days, before the meeting of parliament."