Is Maliki Plotting Return to Power with Kurdistan Visit?

Led by Massoud Barzani, acting president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the KDP is the dominant party in the Kurdish government and has adopted rhetoric highly critical of Maliki. Whereas the KDP publicly advocates secession from Iraq, or at least greater powers for the Kurdish region in the form of a confederal structure, the PUK and Gorran favor reconciliation with Baghdad and exhausting all available options before any decision to push for statehood.

Against this backdrop, many have questioned Maliki's motive for visiting PUK-Gorran representatives and ignoring the KDP at a time of such acute political rivalry among Iraqi Kurds. “Whether Maliki’s visit was as innocent as he said or not, suspicions about his real intentions can only deepen when it is rumored … that Maliki is plotting to form a new alliance with the aim of returning to power as prime minister,” said Kamran Karadaghi, a veteran Iraqi Kurdish journalist and former chief of staff to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, also the PUK's leader.

“During his two terms as Iraq’s prime minister [2006-14], Maliki became a controversial and divisive figure,” Karadaghi added. “As such, his Sulaimaniyah visit has stirred problems in Kurdistan. I am afraid Maliki’s visit has had a negative impact on efforts to overcome differences between the Kurdish parties.”

Maliki's past relationship with the Kurds was a troubled one, reaching a tipping point when he withheld the Kurdistan region's share of the Iraqi budget in early 2014 after the KRG sold oil independently against Baghdad's wishes. In addition, Barzani had been a main figure in attempts to unseat Maliki in 2012 in a failed no-confidence motion in the parliament. The PUK's Talabani did not support the effort to remove Maliki from power. Thus, it is of no surprise that Maliki's visit stirred controversy among the Kurds.

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