PUK’s Bafel Talabani and Lahur Sheikh Jangi trade barbs as tensions escalate within party

FILE: PUK Co-Presidents Lahur Sheikh Jangi (left) and Bafel Talabani (File)

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SULAIMANI — Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Co-President Bafel Talabani declared on Thursday (July 15) that he would continue to pursue major changes within the party amid serious internal tensions with his counterpart Lahur Sheikh Jangi, who later made a speech blaming external forces for moves against him over the past week.

"I decided to make radical changes in the managers of all the security and partisan institutions who have been in the service of some people's interests for years and were used for partisan infiltration and to move against the high interests of our nation and our party,” Talabani said in a post on social media following a visit to the grave of his late father and longtime PUK leader Jalal Talabani.

Without naming Sheikh Jangi directly, Talabani said that, in coordination with "loyal” party members, he had decided to take action against "law breakers” who had engaged in threats, extortion, smuggling, and spying.

The post came hours after PUK-affiliated media outlets published accusations from an anonymous party official alleging that a "spy” had been arrested at the party headquarters on Dabashan Hill in Sulaimani, implying that the person had been working on behalf of Sheikh Jangi.

"No one is allowed to put spies in Mam Jalal's house or among the people's groups and government institutions and these inappropriate acts are not allowed,” Bafel Talabani said in his message, using his father’s widely used sobriquet.

Later in the day, Sheikh Jangi spoke to a gathering of families of PUK Peshmerga martyrs, telling attendees that he was not backing down.

"What’s happening is because of the plans of the Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP], Turkey, and their men within [PUK],” Sheikh Jangi said.

"I got my legitimacy from the [party] Congress, so I will continue in my post until [the next] Congress,” he asserted.

He said that he would release "a strong message” on Thursday night addressing the tensions and floated the possibility that he could be arrested on Friday.



The dueling statements are the latest developments in serious tensions between the party’s co-presidents, who were elected to their positions in early 2020 in reflection of the outcome of the PUK Congress in December 2019.

Despite Sheikh Jangi’s assertion, the tensions are largely caused by dynamics within the PUK, a result of the failure of those leadership arrangements.

At the Congress, Sheikh Jangi unexpectedly garnered the most votes from attendees in an election for the General Leadership Council, reflecting his popularity with the party’s grassroots, which upended plans to solidify power around Jalal Talabani’s sons, Bafel and Qubad.

The result was the co-presidency arrangement, an attempt at a show of unity in the notoriously divisive party, which had drifted in the years following Jalal Talabani’s stroke in 2012 and death nearly five years later. However, the rivalries between the two groups persisted, with Sheikh Jangi’s personal popularity and loyalty to the Talabani family pulling the party in different directions.

Tensions between the Talabani brothers and Sheikh Jangi erupted into public view on July 8, when the Sheikh Jangi’s pick to lead the party’s Zanyari intelligence agency was rejected by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and supplanted by a pick by the Talabanis.

In rapid succession, the head of the PUK affiliated Counterterrorism Service (CTS), who had been Sheikh Jangi’s brother, was also replaced.

Qubad Talabani currently serves as KRG Deputy Prime Minister and is seen as close to the PUK’s historic rival, the KDP, which controls the security institutions that are responsible for signing off on the nominees to those posts.

Following the changes in the security realm, the Talabanis also began trying to assert their power in other areas as well.

Media outlets affiliated with the brothers began referring to Bafel Talabani simply as "president” of the party, rather than "co-president.”

On Tuesday, security forces loyal to the brothers’ faction raided iPlus, a media outlet supported by Sheikh Jangi, briefly detaining staff and breaking equipment.

Anonymous party officials then told a media outlet affiliated with Bafel Talabani that plans were underway to reorganize the party’s approach to media, appearing to suggest that existing outlets would be brought under the control of the Talabanis.

(NRT Digital Media)