Barzani makes comeback on both Kurd, Iraq fronts

Veteran leader Masoud Barzani’s party can form a majority without the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2018
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Barzani makes comeback on both Kurd, Iraq fronts

  • ‘Now that he is the great heavyweight of Kurdish politics, no-one can do without him in Baghdad’

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq: A year after a disastrous independence vote he had championed in Iraqi Kurdistan, veteran leader Masoud Barzani has made a strong comeback both on the home front and in Baghdad.
While Iraq’s presidency, a ceremonial post, has gone to Barham Saleh of the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) was on Sunday declared the clear winner of the September 30 parliamentary elections in the autonomous region of northern Iraq.
In the political maneuvering for ministerial posts in Baghdad, meanwhile, the KDP can also even boast it is the largest single party in Iraq. The party garnered 25 seats in Iraq’s legislative elections in May, contested mainly against party lists.
With 45 seats won in the 111-member Iraqi Kurdish parliament, Barzani’s party can form a majority without the PUK.
It can, in theory, rely solely on the 11-seat allocation reserved for the region’s minority Turkmen, Christian and Armenian communities.
“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 predicted Barzani would seek the deputy premier, foreign and finance minister posts for the KDP in the federal government that is to be formed by November.
“He lost the gamble of the referendum, but the legislative (polls) in May were a tremendous moment of grace; he was courted by the Americans and the Iranians,” the two key powerbrokers in Iraq, he said.
Barzani looked down and out after the Kurdistan independence vote, which was ruled illegal by Iraq’s central government and resulted in Baghdad imposing economic penalties and retaking disputed territory.
The Iraqi Kurdish presidency has been left vacant since Barzani stepped down following the fiasco.
The appointment of a new president has been on hold, pending the drafting of a new Kurdish constitution for which no timetable has been set.
The leaders of the region’s top two political parties also took their rivalry to Baghdad, contesting the role of Iraqi president.
The PUK’s candidate 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.
Kurdistan is split politically and geographically between the KDP and the PUK, which won 21 seats in the region’s election, but unlike in the past they no longer have to work together to form a government.
According to political scientist Wathiq Al-Hashemi, the region could “see the return of two leaderships” but “regional pressures” from neighboring states are likely to rule out a return to the deadly clashes of 1994-2006 when the Kurds had rival governments.
Kurdistan’s parliamentary vote also saw the emergence of the New Generation movement, which was founded this year to channel public anger at the region’s elite.
The movement picked up eight seats in the vote, while the main opposition Goran (Change) party lost half of its seats and was left with 12 lawmakers.
Analysts put Goran’s losses down to the arrival of New Generation, whose candidates stood in opposition to the KDP and PUK.


France urges Iran to free human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

Updated 5 min 6 sec ago
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France urges Iran to free human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

PARIS: France on Thursday called for Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh to be released and warned Tehran that its adherence to a nuclear accord does not give it a blank cheque on human rights.
“We will do all we can to secure the release of Mrs.Sotoudeh,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the upper chamber Senate.
“She was condemned under astonishing conditions,” for “defending the rights of women, in particular those who contest the obligation to wear the Islamic veil,” he added.
Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan told AFP on Sunday that his wife had been sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison over a case with seven charges, but she is to only serve the longest sentence, 12 years imposed on Sunday for “encouraging corruption and debauchery.”
She has also been convicted of espionage.
Sotoudeh has also been sentenced to a total of 148 lashes for appearing in court without the hijab Islamic head covering and for another offense.
According to Khandan, Sotoudeh has refrained from choosing a lawyer as attorneys on her previous cases have faced prosecution for representing her.
“We have been making considerable efforts in recent months to preserve the (Iranian) nuclear accord, despite America’s withdrawal,” said Le Drian.
“We are doing so because we respect our signature, but Iran must also respect its obligations in particular those international agreements relating to civil and political rights,” he added.
Last month the UN atomic watchdog said that Iran has been adhering to its deal with world powers on limiting its nuclear program, as diplomatic wrangling continues over the future of the accord.
The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran was still complying with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with global powers under which Tehran drastically scaled back its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
Last week, European nations rejected a call from US Vice President Mike Pence to follow the US lead in withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal.
Le Drian said Thursday: “Our wish to preserve the Vienna accord does not grant carte-blanche to Iran and certainly not in the matter of human rights.”
Before her arrest, Sotoudeh, 55, had taken on the cases of several women arrested for appearing in public without headscarves in protest at the mandatory dress code in force in Iran.
Sotoudeh won the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize in 2012 for her work on high-profile cases, including those of convicts on death row for offenses committed as minors.
She spent three years in prison after representing dissidents arrested during mass protests in 2009 against the disputed re-election of ultra-conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.