Mala Bakhtiar, head of PUK’s executive body, holding a press conference in Sulaimani
It is a serious mistake for Kurdish parties to boycott the Iraqi political process, Mala Bakhtiar, head of PUK’s executive body, said on his return to Sulaimani after days of meetings in Baghdad. He warned parties against letting Kurdish rivalries overshadow the importance of engaging with the federal government.
"Not going to Baghdad, not talking to Baghdad is a serious mistake just because there are problems in Kurdistan,” Mala Bakhtiar told reporters in a press conference Friday afternoon.
Gorran’s General Council on Thursday voted to boycott Baghdad in protest over widespread fraud in the election. The party’s National Council will consider the matter on Saturday. If the National Council votes against the measure, the General Council has the option to appeal and call for a joint meeting of the two administrative bodies in order to reach consensus.
Five other Kurdish parties – CDJ, KIU, Komal, IMK, and the Communists – are also considering a boycott of Baghdad if their demand for a complete re-do of the election in the Kurdistan Region and Kirkuk is not met. They have accused the PUK of rigging the vote.
"Concerning the sides that want to boycott, I imagine it is better if they visit Baghdad before they make such a decision,” Mala Bakhtiar said.
He argued that there are more grievances about the elections in Baghdad while in Kurdistan the major issues are economic and political. Taking the stance of vetoes and red lines or holding onto past grievances is a mistake, he said.
"We have to know how Baghdad is, post-referendum,” he stressed.
The PUK is ready to talk to anyone, Mala Bakhtiar announced: "For those who can have joint projects with us, let them come.”
The PUK delegation held 12 meetings with different parties and personalities in Baghdad in order to hear their opinions, Mala Bakhtiar explained.
He said that there were no official agreements or alliances made, but that there are some camps emerging with similar views. For example, Muqtada al-Sadr has shown some closeness with Haider al-Abadi, with Ammar al-Hakim in the middle but engaged in detailed discussions with the Sadr camp. On the other hand, Hadi al-Amiri and Nouri al-Maliki are closer together.
After his many meetings, Mala Bakhtiar said his sense is that the Shiites have learned that a sectarian authority will no longer work in Iraq.
Sadr, who won at the polls, campaigned on a non-sectarian platform, a call echoed by Abadi.
A KDP delegation was also in Baghdad this week. They met with the PUK while in the Iraqi capital.
Mala Bakhtiar said they will enter talks with just the KDP about federal politics if it is only those two parties participating and will try to have joint projects. But, he stressed, any negotiations can only take place after PUK solidifies its own position.
Whatever project emerges, will be a Kurdistani project, he said.
He said they would have preferred to be part of a joint Kurdish delegation, but cannot take responsibility for the fact that the parties went to Baghdad separately.
In post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, the top posts have been shared among the major groups with Sunnis taking the parliament speaker role, Shiites the office of the prime minister, and Kurds the presidency.
Mala Bakhtiar said his party’s position is to maintain the status quo. "As for the position of the republic presidency, we as the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan find the Kurds to be entitled to the post, and within the Kurds for PUK to be entitled to it,” he said.
Everything, however, is open to negotiation, he said, but not selectively – only as part of a greater scheme that would include the presidency and PM positions within the Kurdistan Regional Governmen.