Kurds voted in a parliamentary election in their semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq on Sunday, with political dynasties expected to extend their power sharing rule despite growing discontent with perceived corruption and economic hardship.
The vote comes a year after the region of six million, which gained semi-autonomous status after the 1991 Gulf War, made a failed bid to break away from the rest of Iraq in a campaign headed by Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Barzani has retained a support base even though his independence drive prompted an intense backlash from the Baghdad government and resulted in the Kurds being stripped of some territory and economic autonomy.
What does the parliament do?
The Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament is responsible for passing laws in the Iraqi provinces governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Of its 111 seats, 11 are reserved for minorities: five for Turkmen, five for Assyrians and one for Armenians.
The majority bloc forms the government. Since the region established its autonomy in 1991, this has usually taken the form of a coalition between the two parties that have traditionally controlled the region’s biggest cities: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), based in the capital Erbil, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), based in Sulaimaniya. This arrangement was interrupted by a civil war between the two parties in the 1990s.
Who are the main parties?
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)
Founded in 1946 by Kurdish nationalist leader Mustafa Barzani, the KDP is the largest Kurdish party, holding the most seats in both the regional parliament, 38, and Iraq’s federal parliament, 25.
Its stated goal is Kurdish independence and it has always been led by the Barzani clan. Mustafa Barzani’s son, Masoud Barzani, was the only president the region had known until he stepped down in 2017 following a failed bid to secure independence through a referendum. He remained leader of the KDP, however.
Masoud’s nephew, Nechirvan Barzani, is the current KRG prime minister. Masoud’s son, Masrour Barzani, leads the region’s security forces.
The KDP traditionally enjoys close relations with neighboring Turkey.
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK):
The PUK was founded in 1975 by a group of leftists in Sulaimaniya dissatisfied with the KDP. The most notable among them was the late Jalal Talabani, who went on to become the first post-Saddam Hussein federal president of Iraq, and whose family still controls the party.
The PUK slipped to third place in the 2013 election, but its dominance of the Sulaimaniya area meant it extended a coalition with the KDP that has ruled autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan since 1991. Jalal’s son Qubad Talabani is the current deputy prime minister.
The PUK holds 18 seats in both the Kurdish assembly and the Iraqi federal parliament, where it is the second-largest Kurdish party. It has traditionally been close to Iran.
Gorran (Or Movement for Change):
Gorran has been the main opposition movement in Iraqi Kurdistan since it was founded in 2009 by Nechirvan Mustafa, a former senior PUK leader. It currently holds 24 seats in the regional parliament.
Gorran has been riven with infighting since Mustafa’s death in 2017, and managed to win only five seats in Iraq’s federal parliamentary election in May, down from eight in 2010.
Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU):
The KIU was founded in 1994 and is the main Islamist party in Kurdistan. It has been formally affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood since 2015 and currently holds 10 seats in the regional parliament.
Founded in 2017 by entrepreneur Shaswar Abdulwahid to contest Iraq’s federal election in May, and won four seats.