Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region rocked by political feud

Lahur Talabani, co-president of the PUK party, takes fight against ‘baseless’ allegations to court

A political row in Iraqi Kurdistan escalated on Tuesday when a leader of one of its largest political parties said he would fight to clear his name in court.

Lahur Talabani is embroiled in a complex family dispute that has simmered for months.

The charges levelled against him are vague, but they are being led by his cousin Bafel Talabani, with whom he shares the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan presidency.

Bafel is the eldest son of the late Jalal Talabani, one of the region’s two most powerful leaders.

Lahur said he would step down from his position as co-president of the PUK party and hand over responsibilities to his cousin on the condition that a committee was formed “to reveal the truth” about what he called “baseless” allegations made against him by fellow members of the party.

“Unfortunately, it seems that my party has not been able to form this committee due to a blockade,” he said in a statement.

“After being disappointed in my party’s politburo, I decided to seek legal recourse through the Sulaimani judiciary and ask that all the accusations against me be resolved through the courts.”

The men were elected in February last year.

Lahur said he would remain in Kurdistan “until [his] last breath”, and accused government forces of trying to push him out.

Opposing sides within the PUK have a large network of business interests and well-armed supporters.

Lahur has cultivated a large network of supporters in the intelligence services in Sulaymaniyah, the PUK’s power base, in eastern Kurdistan.

Bafel stands accused by some observers of making moves to consolidate growing influence over the party. He has reportedly replaced high-ranking officials with loyalists and changed his title to President of the PUK on public forums.

His appointment of Iran-allied Salman Amin as director of the PUK’s intelligence agency and Wahad Halabji as head of the counter-terrorism agency also indicates a departure from Lahur’s position as a US ally.

In another shake-up, Bafel’s brother Qubad Talabani, who is Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdish Region, will lead a coalition comprising the PUK and its competing Gorran party before Iraq’s parliamentary elections in October.

Lahur was instrumental in brokering the PUK-Gorran agreement.

He was also a player, within a joint effort with the Kurdish region’s Peshmerga militia, in the fight against ISIS.

The PUK shares power with the Erbil-based Kurdish Democratic Party, although smaller political parties have emerged in recent years. The Peshmerga’s support is is divided between the KDP and PUK.

Lahur has close ties with Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, and both men previously led the Kurdish Region Intelligence Forces.

On Monday, a crowd of Lahur’s supporters gathered outside his home with more protests expected in the coming hours.

Updated: August 3rd 2021, 1:05 PM