Head of Peshmerga veterans’ group pans PUK efforts to resolve bitter leadership rivalry

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

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SULAIMANI — Head of the Kurdistan Veteran Peshmerga Association Jamil Hawrami said on Wednesday (August 4) that no conclusions were reached during a meeting of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) Politburo earlier in the day with regard to the power struggle between party co-presidents, Bafel Talabani and Lahur Sheikh Jangi.

The meeting was chaired by Talabani, but Sheikh Jangi was absent. The two are engaged in a battle for factional primacy within the party.

A readout of Wednesday’s conference lacked substance about what was discussed, beyond the general political situation within the party and the upcoming parliamentary election in October.

Although it had been simmering for months, Talabani and Sheikh Jangi’s rivalry exploded into public on July 8, when Talabani and his younger brother, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, began a campaign to oust Sheikh Jangi’s allies from leadership positions within the party’s affiliated security forces.

During an appearance on NRT’s Tawtwe interview program, Hawrami said that the powerful PUK General Leadership Council is expected to meet soon to discuss the dispute, appearing to indicate that that body’s role could be more influential than the private meetings between the major players in the party that have taken place so far.

Taking a broader view, he also argued that the leadership arrangement that was put in place following the 2019 PUK Congress is not well suited to the party, which he said cannot be led by two co-leaders.

At the all-party gathering that December, Sheikh Jangi unexpectedly topped the vote, causing consternation on the part of the Talabanis who had expected to use the Congress as an opportunity to consolidate power around themselves as the rightful heirs to their father, longtime party leader Jalal Talabani, who died in 2017.

As a compromise, Talabani and Sheikh Jangi were chosen as co-presidents, an awkward arrangement from the start.

Instead, the party should have opted for a system with one president and two deputies, Hawrami said.

"Disagreements between the [PUK] co-presidents are about power, not reform," he continued, adding that those disagreements will cause great damage to the party’s electoral prospects.

The retired Peshmerga also criticized the role of the party’s High Political Council, saying that it had been "ineffective" in mediating intra-factional disputes and had generally been inactive since its formation more than a year ago. That group is made up of older PUK figures to give advice on the direction of the party to the younger generation of leaders.

Hawrami said that trying to broker an agreement between Talabani and Sheikh Jangi is like "striking while the iron is cold."

(NRT Digital Media)