Tensions over the past two months between the two PUK co-chairs in Iraqi Kurdistan have become a major issue in the region, and analysts have offered differing readings on the causes of the tensions, but they all agree that the root of the differences is because of the struggle between the Talabani and Sheikh Jangi families.
Dr. Zheger Hassan, a professor at King College of Canada, is one of those analysts who sees the root of these tensions, especially between Baffle Talabani, the eldest son of the late PUK leader, and Baffle Talabani (Sheikh Jangi), Baffle's cousin, as trying to seize power in the party.
"One of the primary reasons for the tensions and the power struggle within the PUK relates back to the passing of the long-time PUK leader, Mr. Jalal Talabani. Following his death, there ensued a succession battle between the various factions within the PUK. Recall that Mr. Barham Salih was one of the individuals who was initially vying for this power – he was of course ousted from the PUK. The other key figures that have emerged are brothers Bafel and Qubad Talabani and their main rival, and cousin, Lahur Talabani. In the midst of this power vacuum within the PUK, Bafel and Lahur agreed to a power sharing agreement that would ostensibly allow them to be co-presidents of the party," Dr. Zheger Hassan said about the main reason behind the tensions in the party.
The idea behind that agreement was to ensure that the Talabanis would continue to rule the PUK. That agreement has obviously collapsed and we are learning that the PUK is not so different from the KDP with respect to being controlled by a family.
He added that "the PUK has always touted itself as a progressive and modern political party – not influenced by the tribal and familial ties that have afflicted the KDP. The PUK can no longer legitimately make this claim."
"In terms of the power struggle, both factions – Bafel and Qubad on the one hand, and Lahur, on the other – have their own political goals, visions for the PUK, and supporters, and as such, they will continue to compete with each other for control of the party," the analyst further said.
The professor at King College of Canada considers such incidents to be normal within the parties in the region, especially in the Iraqi Kurdistan, as "What we are witnessing is a classic succession power struggle within a political party following either the retirement or death of a long-serving leader. When a political party does not have a clear and formal procedure for selecting a new leader, there often emerges factions that vie for control of the party. This is not surprising in a region like Iraqi Kurdistan where political elites do not follow the rule of law and ignore democratic norms. Instead, they resort to strong arming, intimidation, and threaten to use violence."
"I have not seen any credible evidence or reliable news to support this hypothesis. I would hesitate to make such a conclusion at this time," Dr. Hassan said about the possible involvement of foreign factors, especially Turkey, in creating tensions among the PUK leaders.
About the impact of these tensions on the PUK structure the future, the analyst said: "I believe that when the dust settles, we may see a complete consolidation of power within the PUK. The faction that survives this power struggle will enjoy absolute control of the PUK and all its apparatuses. From there, we should expect that the party’s upper echelons will be shuffled and there may also be a restructuring of the party’s operations. However, we should be cautious, it is a little too soon to speculate about the precise dimensions of what those changes may look like."
"On the first part, certainly the crisis will have an impact on the relationship of the PUK and the KDP. We know that Qubad Talabani has excellent relations with the Barzanis and the KDP. If the Bafel and Qubad Talabani faction gains control of the PUK, we should expect relations between the KDP and the PUK to improve," the King’s University College professor said about the possible effects of the power struggle on the party's relationship with the KDP, a longtime ally in the Kurdistan Region.
About the effects of the possible fall of power in PUK to Lahur Sheikh Jangi, the professor added: "If, on the other hand, Lahur Talabani is able to somehow wrestle control away from the brothers, it would constitute a major shift within Iraqi Kurdistan and perhaps even the neighboring Kurdish regions and countries. We will have to wait to see how things unfold over the coming weeks and months, and we should hope that the crisis will not escalate into violence."
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