Kurdish candidates court Baghdad ahead of presidential vote

Without a consensus candidate from the Kurdish parties, Barham Salih and Fuad Hussein look for support from the capital in their bid for the top job

Barham Salih, Former Prime Minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government and Head of the Coalition for Democracy and Justice with his wife show their ink-stained fingers after casting their votes at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
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Iraq’s main Kurdish parties backing opposing presidential candidates have begun their Baghdad lobbying efforts days ahead of the meeting in parliament to choose the next head of state to take up the largely ceremonial post.

The two main political parties in Kurdistan have been unable to agree on a nomination for the president, something that threatens their usually united front in Baghdad.

The Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP) nominated Fuad Hussein, a former chief of staff to the previous Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, on Monday.

The rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) named Barham Salih as their choice last week, asserting that the post should be held by one of its members.

The country's top roles in government are shared between the predominant ethno-sectarian groups. The prime minister is a Shiite Arab; the speaker of parliament a Sunni Arab; and the president a Kurd.

Both politicians have been campaigning ahead of a scheduled parliamentary vote for the post next week.

Mr Hussien held talks with former Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi and heads of political blocs.

"Our stance is to have strong ties between Erbil and Baghdad," Mr Hussein told Mr Al Maliki, adding that the KDP's nomination speaks volumes about their willingness to resolve the outstanding issues between the two sides.

The Kurdish politician also met with Hadi Al Amiri, a prominent but controversial Shiite militia commander who heads the Fatih coalition bloc which came in second in May’s parliamentary elections.

The KDP is currently the largest political party in the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It won 25 seats in May's national elections, and any presidential candidate needs the party’s approval before being elected by the parliament in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, Mr Hussein's rival, Mr Salih, met with populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who delivered a surprise win in the elections, in the Holy city of Najaf.

The two discussed parliament's preparations for electing a new president as well as the formation of the new government.

In addition to their nominations, there are six other candidates, including a woman, running for the post.

Sarwa Abdul Wahid announced her candidacy on Sunday, making her the first woman to run for Iraq’s top job. Ms Wahid, a former journalist who entered politics and led the Change bloc, was a critic of the region's independence referendum last September.

Two other Kurds – former Goran MP Sardar Abdullah and Iraq’s ambassador to Rome Omar Barzinji – have also nominated themselves.

Candidates not nominated by the major Kurdish parties are unlikely to corral enough votes to secure the presidency.


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