Forming Kurdish coalition government still ‘possible’

“We are still part of Iraq and we want to engage fully with Baghdad.” - Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, KRG representative in Washington.
Sunday 14/10/2018
Fully engaged. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan  Regional Government’s (KRG) representative in Washington. (Courtesy of Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman)
Fully engaged. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) representative in Washington. (Courtesy of Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman)

LONDON - Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman has been the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) representative in Washington since 2015. Before that she represented the KRG in the United Kingdom where she grew up.

A former journalist, Abdul Rahman’s links to Kurdish politics run deep. Her father, Sami Abdul Rahman, was a veteran of the Kurdish movement and deputy prime minister of the KRG before he and his son Salah were killed in a terrorist attack in Erbil in 2004.

Like her father, Abdul Rahman is a leading figure in the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s leading parties, along with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Relations between the parties are strained. They failed in September to settle on a candidate for president of Iraq, a provision allowed under the country’s de facto power-sharing agreement. The PUK’s choice, Barham Salih, is now in office.

Abdul Rahman spoke about Kurdish and Iraqi politics via Skype with The Arab Weekly (TAW) a few days after the September 30 elections for the 111-seat Kurdish parliament.

TAW: “What are the KDP’s plans given that it looks to have won the most votes?”

Abdul Rahman: “The KDP, according to the preliminary results, has done very well and will probably get 43-45 seats and the PUK around 20, maybe 22. I still believe in a coalition government. [A coalition] with the PUK is possible. There’s also Goran, the New Generation. There are the Islamist parties and there are also 11 seats in our parliament that are quota seats for ethnic minorities. So it’s possible there could be a coalition with one or more of those groups.

“But even though I believe we’ll end up with some kind of coalition government in the KRG, it won’t be the old 50-50 basis where the KDP and the PUK would essentially share the ministries almost on an equal basis even when the election results didn’t quite merit that. I think that might not necessarily be the case.”

TAW: “Will the KDP be able to work with Barham Salih, now elected Iraq’s president by Iraqi MPs?”

Abdul Rahman: “This process didn’t just upset the KDP, I think it upset many in the PUK. Some of the PUK TV channels didn’t even mention the fact that one of their members, one of their leading members, is now president! It’s not so much about the personalities, it’s about the way this was done.

“Let’s see what steps he takes, what steps his party takes, what steps the KDP takes. It is a tense situation right now and I think there is a sense of shock that a mechanism that had been agreed on in the past, had worked in the past, was reneged on at the very last minute. It’s not so much about the personalities. It’s more about agreeing to something and not agreeing to it.

“The KDP was arguing the PUK has had this post [the Iraqi presidency] for 12 years and the KDP did much, much better than the PUK in the Iraqi elections [in May]. So as the leading Kurdish party, why shouldn’t the KDP put forward its own candidate? That’s what the thinking was.

“But all the Kurdish parties said in the run-up to the elections — and even now they’re all saying it — that we need to be fully engaged with Baghdad because in the last few years we weren’t really.

“So we want to be fully engaged. We want to be decision makers and we want to implement the constitution and that ranges from Article 140 [of the Iraqi constitution that requires a referendum on disputed territories] to actually setting up the governance system the way it’s envisaged in the constitution.”

TAW: “Is the situation calmer since the referendum a year ago, in which voters overwhelmingly backed independence? It provoked a strong response from Baghdad and the KDP claimed PUK forces coordinated with Baghdad.”

Abdul Rahman: “There are some in Iraq and maybe in the wider Middle East who will see the referendum as just an attempt to break up a country and there are people still angry about that. The referendum was a reaction against being marginalised…

“We had a decade of disappointment, a decade of setback, a decade of promises by Baghdad and even our international friends…

“If you understand the context in which the referendum took place then I don’t think you would be as angry with the Kurds for trying to split up our beautiful country. It also then makes sense why we want to engage fully with Baghdad because we are still part of Iraq… We want to make sure the constitution is implemented in full.

“I would argue this is a critical time both for the KRG and for the federal government of Iraq. Corruption all across Iraq needs to be dealt with, better services, electricity and a stronger economy. Thankfully, ISIS [the Islamic State] as a caliphate is defeated but it’s not defeated by any means as a terrorist organisation. It’s still very strong.

“In Kurdistan, our economy suffered enormously for four years because of ISIS, the fall in oil prices and Baghdad keeping back our budget but the economy is just beginning to turn and we really need the next four years to put it completely back on track.”