“Today, crises weigh heavily on our people in Kurdistan, as a result of the dominance of a group of stakeholders over its capabilities,” said Salih, who served as prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) from 2009 to 2012, and deputy prime minister of Iraq from 2005 to 2009.
His new party, the Alliance for Democracy and Justice, aims “to fight injustice, corruption and monopoly” in Iraqi Kurdistan, he added.
“In response to the suffering (of Kurds), division, monopoly, conflict, the language of defamation and accusations of treason, our coalition has emerged to achieve social and political harmony, and to address the problems and crises accumulated due to mismanagement.”
Iraqi Kurdistan has been autonomous since 1991. Its autonomy was strengthened after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, with a regional government and separate security forces.
The most influential political parties in the region are the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), headed by Masoud Barzani, and the PUK.
They have monopolized power in Iraqi Kurdistan since the 1990s, and have shared positions in the federal government for the last 14 years.
Salih was part of this system until he left Baghdad in 2012. The following year, he threatened to resign from the PUK in protest over the lack of transparency regarding party funds and decision-making mechanisms after its then-leader, Jalal Talabani, suffered a stroke.
A former Iraqi Kurdish ambassador and friend of Salih told Arab News on condition of anonymity that after the stroke, “the families (of Talabani and Barzani) took control of the leadership of the region.”
Salih “was Talabani’s stepson, but he wasn’t a family member, so he was excluded by the family,” the former envoy said.
“Also, he wasn’t a Peshmerga (fighter), so none of the PUK’s old political leaders backed his nomination for any regional or federal post.”
Salih — founder of the American University of Iraq-Sulaimaniya, and chairman of its board of trustees — has built a popular base among youths and intellectuals.
Repoar Kareem, a member of the Alliance for Democracy and Justice, told Arab News that most of its members “are young academics, experts, engineers, physicians and professors.”
He added: “We focused on those who have vision and ideas, and who can come up with solutions for Iraq’s major problems.”
No prominent political figures have been mentioned as party members. “If some senior leaders of the PUK and Gorran (the third-biggest party in Iraqi Kurdistan) defected to join Salih, he may get a role” in the KRG or the federal government, Abdullah Al-Zaidi, a leader of Iraq’s Shiite National Alliance, told the Arab News.
Salih spent a long time in the US, having been assigned to run the PUK’s office there in 1992, so many Iraqi politicians see him as America’s man in the region and in the PUK.
He “used to represent US interests in the PUK, in the face of most of the leaders of the party, who represented Iranian interests,” Iraqi political analyst Abdulwahid Tuam told Arab News.
“Since he left the PUK and hasn’t enjoyed the support of Iran, his chances of getting a senior post in Baghdad has significantly decreased.”
But Talabani’s death on Monday could lead to a succession challenge and subsequent divisions within the PUK. This could strengthen Salih’s position and bring more recruits to his new party.
“He’ll get seats in the Kurdish Parliament, but how this would impact the internal situation will depend on the names that join him,” said the former Kurdish ambassador.
“The situation in Baghdad is different. He may eye the presidency, but it’s almost impossible without the backing of the real players in Baghdad.”