Barzani party tops Iraq Kurd vote despite failed independence bid

The Kurdistan Democratic Party won 45 seats. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Barzani party tops Iraq Kurd vote despite failed independence bid

  • The elections commission says the Kurdistan Democratic Party won 45 seats out of 111 seats
  • Barzani was the key backer of Kurdistan’s independence vote in September 2017 that was deemed illegal by Iraq’s central government

Irbil: The dominant party in Iraq’s Kurdistan has secured the most seats in the autonomous region’s parliament, despite its leader Masoud Barzani having championed an ill-fated independence referendum last year, the local electoral commission said Sunday.
Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) won 45 of 111 seats in the September 30 elections, up from 38 at the last polls in 2013, according to final results announced by the commission.
Barzani was the key backer of Kurdistan’s independence vote in September 2017 that was deemed illegal by Iraq’s central government and saw Baghdad impose economic penalties and retake disputed territory.
The KDP’s main rivals, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), likewise made gains and will see 21 of its lawmakers enter parliament, up from 18.
The leaders of the region’s top two political parties also took their rivalry to Baghdad, contesting the honorary role of Iraqi president.
The PUK’s candidate Barham Saleh won that race, maintaining a tacit accord between the two parties which sees the PUK take the federal presidency while the KDP holds the Kurdistan presidency.
However, the Iraqi Kurdish presidency has been left vacant since Barzani stepped down following the failed independence referendum.
But he still has clout in Iraq, with the KDP winning 25 seats in nationwide parliamentary elections in May.
“Now that he is the great heavyweight of Kurdish politics, no-one can do without him in Baghdad,” said Adel Bakawan, a research associate at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris (EHESS).
“He lost the gamble of the referendum, but the legislative (elections) in May were a tremendous moment of grace; he was courted by the Americans and the Iranians,” said Bakawan in reference to the two key powerbrokers in Iraq.
In Kurdistan’s parliamentary vote, the main opposition Goran (Change) party lost half of its seats and was left with 12 lawmakers.
Observers have put Goran’s losses down to the arrival of another group standing in opposition to the KDP and PUK heavyweights.
The New Generation movement, founded this year to channel public anger at the region’s elite, won eight seats in the September 30 poll.
The results mean the KDP could theoretically have the parliamentary majority without having to form an alliance with its political rivals, instead gaining the backing of minority lawmakers.
The appointment of a new president to replace Barzani has been on hold, pending the drafting of a new Kurdish constitution for which no timetable has been set.
Goran and numerous Islamist parties have said they will reject the results of the vote, which saw a 57 percent turnout according to official figures.
The ethnic and religious minorities of Kurdistan’s three provinces in northern Iraq — which have been autonomous since 1991 — are reserved 11 seats in parliament.
Five each go to Turkmen and Christian candidates, with one for the Armenian community.
The remainder of the seats were won by smaller, mainly Islamist parties.


Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

Updated 23 January 2019
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Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

  • The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict
  • Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in Syria.
“Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability,” Erdogan said in translated comments at a joint press conference after their talks, which lasted around three hours.
“With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our coordination even more.”
“We agreed how we’ll coordinate our work in the near future,” Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries’ defense ministers “effective.”
At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria.”
Erdogan used the same term for Putin and said “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region.”
The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.
Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.
Putin said that if carried out, the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria “will be a positive step, it will help stabilize the situation in this restive area.”
Turkey has also welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal, but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the NATO allies.
Erdogan had said on Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.
The US-allied Kurds, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.
Putin said Wednesday that Russia supports “establishing dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week said that Damascus must take control of the north.
The northwestern province of Idlib earlier this month fell under the full control of a jihadist group dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Russian foreign ministry said earlier Wednesday that the situation in the province remained of “serious concern.”
Putin said that the leaders discussed the situation in Idlib “in great detail today.”
“We have a shared conviction that we must continue jointly fighting terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone,” the Russian leader said.
Erdogan said that the countries will wage a “lengthy fight” in Syria.
Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the planned US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control.
Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.
The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.
Moscow plans to organize a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran early this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.
Putin said Wednesday the next summit would be held “in the near future” in Russia, saying the leaders still needed to agree the time and location with Iran.
The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.
But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered at a remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defense systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.