BAGHDAD: Iraqi Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani was on Monday sworn in as president of the autonomous region.
The 52-year-old politician succeeds his uncle, the prominent Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani.
Kurdish leaders told Arab News that the move would further cement the dominance of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Barzani’s family in the region.
Iraq’s northern region of Kurdistan has enjoyed autonomy since 1992 following the first Gulf War when the UN Security Council imposed economic and military sanctions on Iraq, including a military ban on southern and northern regions where opponents of former president, Saddam Hussein, were based.
During a parliamentary session held last week in the presence of 81 members out of 111, most of them representing the KDP and its allies, 68 members voted for Barzani to fill the presidential post. It had been vacant since 2017 when his uncle quit after failing to obtain international and regional support for the declaration of Kurdistan as an independent state.
Barzani’s inauguration ceremony took place in the regional capital Irbil and was attended by hundreds of prominent figures including Arab and foreign ministers and representatives of diplomatic missions. Iraqi President Barham Salih and Iraq’s Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi were also present.
Barzani was born in Kurdistan in 1966. He is the grandson of Mullah Mustafa Barzani, one of the founders of the first Kurdish republic in Mahabad, Iran, in 1945 and the founder of the KDP.
The newly elected president has been one of the key leaders of the DKP since 1989 and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from an Iranian university. He is married with three sons.
All the positions allocated to the Kurds within the federal government in Baghdad and regional government in Kurdistan, have been shared by the two biggest Kurdish parties the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which was led by the late Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
But disagreements between the two parties, which have shared all the gains made by the Kurds in Iraq since 1991, deepened after the death of Talabani in 2016.
“The KDP has the intention and the program to control all joints (positions) in the government of the Kurdistan region and to monopolize the representation of the region in Baghdad and international forums,” Arize Abdullah, a prominent leader of the PUK told Arab News.
Shiite and Sunni leaders in Baghdad believe that the flexibility and calm personality of Barzani may contribute to resolving the long-term tensions between Baghdad and Irbil.
In a speech during Barzani’s inauguration ceremony, Ammar Al-Hakim, a key Shiite political figure, said: “The relationship between Kurdistan and Iraq is bigger than governments and people…and the brother Nechirvan Barzani is keen on unity and solidarity of Iraqis.”