Iraqi Kurdish leader calls for referendum to overcome legal vacuum
BAGHDAD - Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani has suggested a referendum as a way to overcome a political vacuum in autonomous northern regions of Iraq caused by the expiry of his term as president.
The possible power vacuum is one of many challenges facing the Kurdistan region. It also must deal with growing security threats by Islamic State (ISIS) militants, a financial crunch and fresh Turkish military activities against Kurdish rebels in the area.
Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is pushing for its chief’s term to be extended again. However, other Kurdish parties want the parliament speaker to take up the presidency of Iraqi Kurdistan for two months until elections are held.
Barzani’s latest term as president of Iraqi Kurdistan, which was renewed in 2013, ended August 20th.
His suggestion of a vote came in a closed-door meeting September 5th with Jan Kubis, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for Iraq.
“In case a solution to the question of the leadership of region was not reached between all the sides, we prefer to return to the people to say their word,” Barzani told Kubis in remarks carried by the Kurdish and Iraqi media.
“The opinion of the people will give us solutions.”
Legal expert Tareq Harb told The Arab Weekly that the Kurdistan region has entered a legal vacuum with the expiration of Barzani’s term.
Barzo Majid of the regional parliament’s Goran bloc — one of the main parties in the region — insisted that the “problem must be resolved quickly; otherwise, we’re falling in a serious legal problem”.
If political parties cannot agree on a solution, the parliament speaker should “take up the position of the president of the region for a period of two months until elections are held”, Majid said.
The KDP has refused the proposal.
Harb said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi could appoint a temporary Kurdish leader.
“Being the head of the Federal Council of Ministers, Abadi can name a personality from the region to preside over it until elections are held, whether that is done through the Kurdish regional parliament or a referendum,” Harb explained.
However, Mohammad Khalil, a leading member of the KDP, countered the suggestion, saying: “Interference by the Iraqi prime minister would be a flagrant constitutional violation.” Kurdish parties have met for talks on the issue at least a dozen times since August 20th.
Barzani, 69, is the son of revered Kurdish nationalist leader and KDP founder Mustafa Barzani and has been in office for ten years, two terms as president with a two-year extension since 2013. His family has long been the dominant force in Kurdish politics, with its members holding top positions in the regional government.
Iraqi Kurdistan has its own government, security forces, borders and flag. Barzani had earlier proposed another referendum on the future of the autonomous Kurdish areas, but then said the fight against ISIS has impeded the move.
Iraq’s Kurdistan is dependent on the federal government for funds but complains that Baghdad has either paid it less than its share of the budget or not at all and the region is independently exporting oil to boost revenues.
On April 20th, Republicans in the US House of Representatives introduced an arms bill that proposed that the Pentagon bypass Baghdad’s government and directly supply weapons to Iraq’s three major ethno-religious factions — Sunni Muslims in the West, Shias in the south and Kurds in the north.
Most significantly, the document referred to the various regions as “countries”, language strongly rejected by Baghdad and the rest of the Arab world.