mardi 8 janvier 2008

Nechirvan Barzani set to remain prime minister in Kurdish region

The New Anatolian / Ankara-Erbil
08 January 2008

Kurdish leaders have agreed to keep Nechirvan Barzani as prime minister for another two years within the framework of a power sharing arrangement in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Nechirvan Barzani's term in office ended on January 1, 2008 and he was supposed to handover the prime minister's office to a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) which is led by Jalal Talabani. However, after a summit meeting between Talabani, who is the president of Iraq, and Massoud Barzani the president of the Kurdish region and the chairman of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) on Saturday in Dukan near Suleimania the two leaders decided to keep Nechirvan Barzani as prime minister for another term and also allow Adnan Mufti who is the regional parliament speaker from the PUK to remain in office.

According to the original arrangement Nechirvan Barzani was supposed to be replaced by a PUK member and Adnan Mufti by a KDP official.The New Anatolian learnt that the leading candidate for the prime minister's post in Erbil was Dr. Barham Saleh who is currently the deputy prime minister of Iraq for economic affairs. The Kurdish leadership did not want to bring Dr. Saleh from Baghdad and give up an important cabinet post in the central government.

The Kurds have three important portfolios in the Baghdad cabinet besides the deputy prime minister's post including the Foreign Ministry which is led by Hoshyar Zebari, the uncle of Massoud Barzani. The PUK felt the prime minister's job in Erbil is extremely important and Nechirvan Barzani who has a full grasp of the problems should stay on during this sensitive period.

The coalition government in Erbil is primarily comprised of KDP and PUK ministers but also has members from other smaller parties, tribes and ethnic groups like the Turkmens thus making the number of portfolios mushroom to 47.

Turkmen's have two seats including the ministry of industry and the state ministry in charge of Turkmen affairs.

The Kurds face major challenges in the upcoming days. They are at odds with Baghdad over oil contracts. Baghdad was irked in the summer when the Kurds passed their own oil bill and started handing out contracts to foreign companies for oil prospecting. Baghdad opposed these moves and declared the contracts null and void.

The Kurds say they were fed up with the delays in new the oil law in Baghdad which tied their hands and legislated their own bill to allow the development of the oil resources of the relatively stable and secure northern regions of Iraq. They say the oil extracted would be sold in the name of Iraq and the revenues will go to Baghdad.

Iraqi Arabs say this move is designed to create more autonomy for the Kurds bordering on independence and undermines the unity of the country and the integrity of the central government.

Nechirvan Barzani has visited Baghdad before the New Year but despite intensive talks with the central government and the Shiite leadership has returned to Erbil empty handed. The Kurds also want the Baghdad government to finance the peshmerga forces in northern Iraq who they say are the main defense force of the country in the region bordering Turkey, Syria and Iran.

They are also furious that the referendum for the future of Kirkuk was not held by the end of 2007 as stipulated in the Iraqi Constitution and about suggestions floating in Baghdad that now that the polls were not held Article 140 of the constitution on Kirkuk is null.

The Arabs say the Kurds forced them into agreeing to the rerferendum when they were in disarray during the drafting of the Iraqi constitution in the early days of the American occupation. Now many Arabs reportedly have second thoughts on the Kirkuk referendum.

The Kurds agreed to a United Nations brokered deal that the referendum be delayed for six months. The issue will again be raised with Baghdad and Kurdish leaders want Nechirvan Barzani to do the job.

Barzani gave signals at the end of 2007 that he is prepared to give up his post as prime minister but observers said this was a tactical move to strengthen his own position knowing that the PUK did not have anyone viable to replace him.

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