BAGHDAD: Veteran Kurdish leader Barham Salih has been nominated to be the president of Iraq.
Iraq’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the ruling Kurdish parties, selected Salih to take over from Fuad Masum, Kurdish leaders told Arab News on Wednesday.
The nomination and election of the president is the second step in the process of forming a government.
The elected president will then assign the candidate of the largest bloc to the post of prime minister, to form a government.
The rival Shiite-led blocs on Tuesday agreed to nominate Adel Abdul Mahdi, the former vice president, for the post of prime minister.
An initial deal was made by the two heads of the factions to dedicate the parliament session on Sept. 25 to elect the president and assign the nominated prime minister to form a government, negotiators told Arab News.
Salih, who was born in Sulaymaniyah in 1960, is a graduate of American universities and holds a PhD in statistics and data. He headed the Kurdistan Regional Government in 2001, and was one of the deputies of the federal government in 2006. He occupied many ministerial posts in Baghdad and Erbil in the last 15 years.
“Barham is the sole nominee for the post of president,” Sa’adi Berah, the PUK spokesman said on Wednesday. “PUK leaders have voted today on this decision after he (Barham) accepted all the conditions of the PUK.”
The relationship between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region dominated by the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK), the second ruling Kurdish party, has faltered since September last year when the Kurdistan regional government held an independence referendum.
Baghdad responded by launching a military campaign to push Kurdish forces out of disputed areas they had taken control of in the preceding years. This included the city of Kirkuk - one of Iraq’s main oil producing regions.
Salih, a secular politician, is a moderate and acceptable figure to all political parties and can play an active role in dismantling both the crisis between the Kurdish region and Baghdad, and disputes between the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish political parties inside the Iraqi capital, Shiite negotiators said.
The backing of the Shiite and Sunni parliamentary blocs in Baghdad for Salih’s nomination is crucial to him winning the post as the president needs two thirds of the votes of the 329 members of parliament to be approved.
“Initially we are happy to back Barham for the post as he is calm, pragmatic and has no problems with Arabs,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.
“We are waiting for them (PUK and DPK) to conclude their decision and officially present his name for us, then we can discuss the other details.”
The US envoy to Iraq and Syria, Brett McGurk, played a key role in restoring Salih to the PUK, which he had split from in 2017 to form his own coalition.
McGurk met with Hero Khan, secretary-general of the PUK and wife of the late Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, several times last week at her residence in Sulaymaniyah.
Khan and her two sons have dominated the leadership council of the PUK since 2013 after Talabani fell ill. McGurk’s efforts were rewarded on Wednesday as Salih won 26 votes of the 40-member PUK leadership council, sources told Arab News.
The post of Iraq’s president falls to the Kurds as part of a power-sharing agreement adopted by Iraqi political forces after 2003.
Salih's candidacy must first be approved by the DPK.
“We have no objection to Barham's nomination for this post. The DPK does not look for this position,” Reibein Salam, a DPK leader told reporters.
“But we have made many concessions in favor of the Kurdish interest and we have to get something in return.
“We want the position of governor of Kirkuk in return. It is not reasonable that PUK gets both posts.”