Iraqi Kurdistan lawmakers delay polls and extend term

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Parliament in Iraq’s autonomous northern Kurdistan region voted Sunday to extend its term by a year, postponing polls against a backdrop of a wider national political paralysis.

Legislative elections in Kurdistan had been due this month, four years after the last vote.

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Amid disagreements between its two major parties, lawmakers will now stay until a new parliament is elected in late 2023.

Eighty out of 111 representatives voted for the measure, the regional parliament said in a statement, with members of the opposition abstaining.

The delay is the result of disputes between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) over the delineation of electoral constituencies.

But it also is part of a broader power struggle between the parliament’s two biggest parties, said Shivan Fazil, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

KDP, which controls the regional government, has challenged PUK’s claim for the presidency of Iraq, which by convention is held by a member of Iraq’s Kurdish minority. The PUK has held the largely symbolic post since 2005.

“Lack of cooperation and consensus between the two parties at the federal level... has increasingly led to a lack of cooperation and consensus” in Kurdistan too, Fazil said.

The parliament has extended its term several times in recent decades over political disagreements, and in the 1990s due to fighting between two rival clans, the KDP-affiliated Barzanis and the PUK-affiliated Talabanis.

The UN envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, warned this week that “the political fallout” of not conducting timely elections and “neglecting basic democratic principles will bear a high cost.”

“Monopolizing power breeds instability,” she told the Security Council on Tuesday. “That goes for both Iraq as a whole and for the Kurdistan region.”

Kurdish officials have painted the region as a haven of stability in conflict-ridden Iraq. It is home to several international charities, and has developed its infrastructure and projects at a faster pace than the rest of the country.

But activists and opposition figures have decried corruption, arbitrary arrests and intimidation of protesters.

The region has also been caught in the crosshairs of geopolitical conflict among neighboring countries, having recently been the target of strikes by both Iran and Turkey.

On September 28, Iran targeted positions of Iranian-Kurdish rebel groups in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing 14 people and wounding 58, including civilians.

Read more: Baghdad’s energy supply affected following Iranian gas pipeline malfunction

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