UN says political infighting in Iraqi Kurdistan 'very disturbing'

Tension between two major parties over issues including parliamentary elections

UN special representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert called on Kurdish parties to work towards elections. AP
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The UN mission to Iraq has expressed concern over political infighting between the major rival parties in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have been at odds over many issues since late last year, mainly elections to the regional parliament now scheduled for November 18.

Tensions over key election-related laws led to a fist-fight in the parliament on Monday between representatives of the two parties, raising fears of a further delay to the vote.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN Secretary General's special representative for Iraq, voiced concern over the situation late on Wednesday.

“Ongoing political infighting in KRI [the Kurdistan Region of Iraq] is very disturbing,” Ms Hennis-Plasschaert said.

“Once again, we call on all parties to work in the interest of all peoples and find common ground on outstanding electoral issues soonest.

“Timely, credible elections are a democratic essential.”

The last election for the region’s 111-seat parliament and president was held in 2018. The next election was to be held last year, but it was postponed because of deep differences between the KDP and PUK.

The PUK wants to amend the parliamentary elections law to divide the Kurdish region into four constituencies instead of one and to review the voters’ roll, alleging it contains false names.

The scuffle between KDP and PUK politicians in parliament on Monday began after the KDP forced a vote on reactivating the electoral commission.

The PUK wanted to put the amended election law and the reactivation of the election commission in one package.

On Tuesday, the Kurdistan Region’s official gazette published the controversial decree.

The two sides have since entered a legal battle as to whether the parliamentary session was legal or not, deepening disagreements and threatening to delay the elections.

Attention has now turned to the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court to rule on whether last year’s decision by the Kurdistan Region’s parliament to extend its term was constitutional.

The final ruling was scheduled for Wednesday, but has been postponed until May 30.

To prevent the Kurdistan Region from entering a legal vacuum, the majority of the legislators voted in October last year to extend the four-year term of the legislative body by one year.

The KDP currently holds 45 seats in parliament to the PUK's 21.

Further disagreements between the KDP and PUK are over power-sharing, assassinations of PUK-linked officials and sharing oil and gas revenue.

The Kurdish region won self-rule in 1991, when the US imposed a no-fly zone over it in response to Saddam Hussein’s brutal repression of Kurdish uprisings.

The PUK and KDP fought a civil war in the mid-1990s that killed thousands. Many more Kurds sought refuge abroad. In 1998, the two sides stopped the fighting after signing a US-brokered deal.

After the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam and paved the way to recognise the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in the 2005 constitution, the two parties entered a power-sharing deal.

Updated: May 25, 2023, 12:49 PM