Kurdish PUK party returns to cabinet meetings as relations thaw with rival KDP

Parties have been jockeying for power in northern Iraq's autonomous region for decades

Qubad Talabani, deputy prime minister and head of the electoral list of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), shows his ink-stained index finger after casting his vote for the parliamentary election at a polling station in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah on September 30, 2018. Voting began across Iraq's Kurdistan for a new parliament in the autonomous region which is mired in an economic crisis a year after an independence referendum that infuriated Baghdad. / AFP / SHWAN MOHAMMED
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The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the main political parties in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, ended its boycott of the region’s cabinet meetings on Sunday in a sign of reconciliation with its rival, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

The boycott by PUK senior leader Qubad Talabani began late last year, driven by tensions between the PUK and KDP over power-sharing, parliamentary elections law and sharing oil and gas revenue.

Mr Talabani, Kurdistan's Deputy Prime Minister, and his six ministers attended the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, the government said.

It comes a week after he met Kurdistan's Prime Minister Masrour Barzanii, when the pair agreed to co-operate through dialogue.

The two sides have been under local and international pressure to reconcile ahead of the region’s parliamentary elections scheduled for November.

The parties have jockeyed for power in the Kurdish region for decades.

In mid-1990s, when Saddam Hussein lost his power in northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, the PUK and KDP ignited a Kurdish civil war that killed and sent more many more Kurds fleeing abroad as refugees. In 1998, the two sides stopped the fighting after signing a US-brokered deal.

After the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Hussein and paved the way to recognise the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in the 2005 constitution, the two parties entered a power-sharing deal. Tension rises from time to time over various issues.

Iran summons Iraq ambassador

Meanwhile, Iran has summoned Iraq's ambassador to protest over the presence of Iranian opposition groups at an official ceremony in Kurdistan, AFP said, citing Iranian media outlets.

Isna news agency, quoting the Foreign Ministry, said Tehran had expressed its "strong objection" to the invitation of members of "separatist groups" at Saturday's ceremony, "contrary to the recent security agreement" between Iran and Iraq.

The headquarters of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) in Iraq's Kurdistan region have recently been the target of Tehran's security forces, coming under artillery fire, with missiles and drone attacks.

Iran accuses the groups of using Iraqi territory to destabilise its internal security by launching attacks or fuelling unrest. It considers them terrorist organisations.

Iraqi Kurds host camps for several Iranian-Kurdish factions, which Iran has accused of serving western or Israeli interests in the past. Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, also has bases in Kurdistan.

A ceremony was held on Thursday in the Kurdistan region to open a cultural centre in tribute to the late Kurdish hero Mustafa Barzani.

The event was attended by Iraqi President Abdel Latif Rashid and Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani, as well as representatives of Iranian opposition groups, AFP reported.

"Following the invitation of members of separatist groups to an official ceremony in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the continuation of some terrorist groups' movements in this region, the Iraqi ambassador in Tehran was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday," Isna said.

Updated: May 14, 2023, 3:29 PM