With A Little Help From Your Friends: US, Iran and Turkey All Getting Involved in Kurdish Presidency Problem
The current Iraqi Kurdish presidency officially ended yesterday. Massoud Barzani, who heads the Kurdish Democratic Party, or KDP, has held the post for a decade now. For eight of those years he was a legally elected representative and for the past two he has served after his term was extended by the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament.
Iraqi Kurdistan is a semi-autonomous region in the north of Iraq and has its own borders, military and parliament and the Barzani family are in charge of many aspects of the region's system.
Despite this – or perhaps because of this - the issue of Barzani's ongoing presidency is an extremely sensitive one, not least because Iraqi Kurdistan purports to be a democracy. If Barzani stays in power, all those claims that Iraqi Kurdistan is actually his fiefdom or a sultanate will be hard to argue with.
Politicians inside Iraqi Kurdistan are trying to resolve the issue. Other than Barzani's own KDP, one of the two most popular and powerful parties in the region, all other political actors want him to step down.
Barzani's party, the KDP, has 38 seats in the 111-seat Parliament here and they say the President should stay on until elections are held and Iraq's security crisis has ended; the region needs a strong leader at a time like this, they argue. However all other major parties – the Change movement with 24 seats, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan with 18 seats, the two Islamic parties with 16 seats together – think Barzani should go.
But of course, who runs Iraqi Kurdistan is also of importance to the region's neighbours, Iran and Turkey, and other foreign powers like the US. And in the space of less than two months, there have been visits by delegations from Iran, Turkey and the US, ostensibly to discuss this issue and to encourage a solution that benefits the visitors best.
Turkey has many interests inside the region, related to security and the economy. Unofficial estimates put the volume of trade between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey at around more than US$12 billion. And from a strategic point of view, Turkey believes that Iraqi Kurdistan can be it's gateway to the Middle East and it has put a lot of effort into increasing its influence there; Turkey also competes with Iran along these lines.