Kurdish party nominates Iraqi veteran Barham Salih for next president

Barham Salih and his wife, during the May election. Salih has been nominated by the PUK to be the next president of Iraq. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Kurdish party nominates Iraqi veteran Barham Salih for next president

  • Iraq’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the ruling Kurdish parties, selected Salih to take over from Fuad Masum
  • The nomination and election of the president is the second step in the process of forming a government

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.”


One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

Updated 18 October 2018
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One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

  • While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins
  • ‘The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future’

RAQQA, Syria: A year after a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove the Daesh group from the northern city of Raqqa, traumatized civilians still live in fear of near-daily bombings.
“Every day we wake up to the sound of an explosion,” said resident Khaled Al-Darwish.
“We’re scared to send our children to school ... there’s no security,” he added.
The militants’ brutal rule in Raqqa was brought to an end in October 2017 after a months-long ground offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces supported by air strikes from a US-led coalition.
But despite manning roadblocks at every street corner, the SDF and the city’s newly created Internal Security Forces are struggling to stem infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells.
At Raqqa’s entrance, soldiers verify drivers’ identity papers and carefully sift through lorry cargoes.
Inside the city, there are regular foot patrols and armored vehicles sit at strategic points.
Women wearing the niqab are asked to show their faces to female security members before entering public buildings.
“If there wasn’t fear about a return of Daesh, there wouldn’t be this increased military presence,” said Darwish, a father of two, speaking near the infamous Paradise Square.
It was here that Daesh carried out decapitations and other brutal punishments, earning the intersection a new name — “the roundabout of hell.”
While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins and there are near daily attacks on checkpoints and military vehicles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Although a series of stinging defeats have cut Daesh’s so-called caliphate down to desert hideouts, the militants still manage to hit beyond the patches of ground they overtly control.
Some Raqqa residents say the city’s new security forces lack the expertise to cope.
“We are exhausted. Every day we don’t know if we will die in a bomb explosion or if we will go home safe and sound,” said Abu Younes, sitting in his supermarket near a roundabout not far from Paradise Square.
“There is no security — (the new security forces) on the roadblocks are not qualified and there is a lot of negligence,” he complained.
“There are faults that enable Daesh to infiltrate the city easily and carry out attacks.”
But despite the continued attacks, a semblance of normal life has returned to the city.
Shops have reopened and traffic has returned to major roads — albeit choked by the impromptu checkpoints.
In a public garden, children climb up a multi-colored slide and onto dilapidated swings as their mothers sit on nearby benches carefully keeping watch.
They are set amidst an apocalyptic backdrop of twisted metal and splayed balconies — the remnants of buildings torn apart by US-led coalition air raids.
Nearby, Ahmed Al-Mohammed pauses as he listens to music on his phone. Like others, he does not hide his disquiet.
“We’re scared because of the presence of Daesh members in the city,” the 28-year-old said.
“The security forces need to tighten their grip.”
Ahmed Khalaf, who commands Raqqa’s Internal Security Forces, defended the work of his men and claimed successes against the militants.
He said patrols are highly organized and that a “joint operation cell” had recently been established with coalition forces to monitor the city’s security.
“Recently we arrested four (militants) — it was a cell that took part in attacks that terrorized the city,” said Khalaf, sporting plain green fatigues.
“We are continuing our investigation to uncover the other cells,” he added.
“Daesh’s goal is to destroy the country and to not let anyone live in safety,” he said.
Security and stability are what Najla Al-Ahmed wants most for her children.
“The nightmare of Daesh follows us everywhere — whenever we try to rest, explosions start up again,” said the 36-year-old, as she shopped with her young ones.
“The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future,” she said.