Iraq presidency vote could be delayed over rivalries between top Kurdish parties

Parliament set to hold session on Saturday but experts believe it will be postponed

President Barham Salih shows his inked finger in Baghdad, as Iraq went to the polls for the parliamentary election in October 2021. Reuters
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Disputes between Iraq’s leading Kurdish parties have delayed the selection of the country’s president nearly six months on from the general election.

Parliament will hold a session on Saturday to vote for the next president but experts are doubtful that quorum will be met for the vote to take place.

The role of president is a four-year post held by a member of Iraq's Kurdish minority. It is currently occupied by Barham Salih who was nominated by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party (PUK).

“Iraq will have a president, but it may be delayed, the reason why is that there has to be an agreement from all sides and right now because of that they are also deciding on who will be the prime minister,” said Renad Mansour, a senior research fellow and project director of the Iraq Initiative at London’s Chatham House think tank.

The country’s government process usually takes a long time as there is a strong competition for the presidential position, Mr Mansour told The National.

“The lesson is to understand how a government in Iraq is formed, elections are only part of that equation but competition also happens with the judiciary, and violence,” he said.

Before the election, Iraq’s political parties had formed alliances with different motives that had so far stalled the formation process.

Populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who has the largest parliamentary bloc with 73 seats, formed an alliance with the Sovereignty Coalition led by parliamentary Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

On the opposing side is the Co-ordination Framework, a coalition of Shiite parties, all former allies of Mr Al Sadr. They consist of the Fateh Alliance of Hadi Al Amiri, leader of the Badr Organisation, the State of Law Coalition of Nouri Al Maliki and the PUK.

“The co-ordination framework has often relied on violence to send messages [to the opposing sides]. We’ve seen violence and messages against the tripartite alliance, attacks on the KDP and Mr Halbousi,” Mr Mansour said.

All this has led to the process being delayed.

“The role of external actors, in particular Iran, in supporting the co-ordination framework has meant that the presidential vote has been delayed and is part of a bigger issue,” he said.

In early February, Parliament indefinitely postponed a scheduled presidential vote after most major political blocs boycotted the session.

“It seems that Barham Salih doesn’t have a chance but a more likely scenario is a third candidate, a relatively independent Kurdish politician,” Sajad Jiyad, an analyst at the Century Foundation told The National.

The PUK has nominated Mr Salih to run for office once again but the KDP is keen on Rebar Ahmed, the Kurdistan’s Regional Government’s (KRG) interior minister.

“The issue has been that the PUK has not been willing to accept the KDP’s nomination. Even if all the other parties agree on who will be the prime minister and other cabinet positions, they cannot choose the president, it has to be between the Kuridsh parties,” Mr Jiyad said.

If the two Kurdish parties cannot come to an agreement on a candidate, then Saturday's vote will be postponed, he said.

Updated: March 21, 2022, 3:13 PM