Elections, the future of Southern Kurdistan and new developments

Elections planned to be held in Southern Kurdistan have been postponed. While the gains of the region are brought up for negotiation, the latest events are also a harbinger of new developments.


The regional parliamentary elections in Bashûr (Southern Kurdistan, Northern Iraq), which have been planned for 2 years, have been postponed again. While all gains, including the status of the region, are brought up for negotiation over the elections, the tables where these issues were discussed were set up in Washington, Ankara, Tehran and Baghdad. While what the KDP leaves on these tables to save its power is of vital importance for the people of the region, the doors opened to Tehran and Washington amidst the conflict between the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) are the harbingers of new developments.


Some developments have taken place in Iraq as a result of Nechirvan Barzani's meetings in Tehran, the most prominent of which was the decision announced by Baghdad to stop the preparations for the regional parliamentary elections. Although not officially announced, this decision means the postponement of the elections.


The new decision of the Iraqi Supreme Federal Court regarding the preparations for the elections was realised as a result of the appeal of Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan region. While this situation brought about a new stage, both KDP leader Masoud Barzani and Prime Minister Masrour Barzani had previously stated that the decisions of the same court against them were not legitimate. While the KDP described the decision as "a ruling by the court of the Baathist regime", the fact that the new decision was also welcomed by Hewlêr (Erbil) gave 'legitimacy' to the other decisions taken by the court. Indirectly, other decisions taken by the court were thus accepted as well, including the transfer of the sale of oil and the regional revenues to Baghdad. While Iran got Hewlêr to accept this situation through Nechirvan Barzani, some details are slowly coming to light about what was given away in order to save the power in Tehran.


Iran, which considers Iraq as its backyard in historical development, is one of the main fields where it is advancing the ball to keep the war away from its own field. In this context, the question "in return for what Tehran chose to soften the tension between Baghdad and Hewlêr" remains on the agenda. The prominent topics were the elections, the sale of oil in the region, the disputes over the Khor Mor Gas Field and the Kirkuk issue. Tehran, which wants Hewlêr to join the axis of Baghdad rather than the axis of Ankara, had a decision taken that brought Baghdad and Hewlêr together regarding the elections. Accordingly, it is expected that the elections will be held with a 100-seat system, while the 11-seat minority quota, which was recently cancelled, will be halved and these will be divided between KDP and PUK.


While it is a matter of curiosity until when the elections will be postponed, it is stated that the parties are focusing on two options. The first one is to postpone to October and the second one to 2 years later, to be held together with the Iraqi general elections. Considering the instability in Iraq and Hewlêr, it seems unlikely that the second option will be realised, while the parties are likely to agree on the first option. The KDP's desire to coincide the elections with the anniversary of the places it lost on 16 October as a result of the referendum it insisted on in 2017 also contains a message towards the PUK. This is intended to say to the PUK that "you betrayed."


The postponement of the elections is directly related to the negotiations over Kirkuk. The idea that the PUK is willing to postpone the elections in return for the governorship of Kirkuk is getting stronger, as the names of Neşet Şahwêz Xurşîd and Xalid Şiwan, the current Iraqi Minister of Justice, are being circulated for candidacy. It is reported that Xurşîd was proposed with the hope that he could treat the Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds in Kirkuk equally, while Şiwan was proposed upon the request of the Sudani government. Some parties also emphasise the possibility that Şiwan may have been suggested by Iran.  


As a matter of fact, the disputes between Arab and Kurdish farmers in the village of Pelkan in Kirkuk are not seen as a coincidence in the series of events. Sunni groups and the KDP, who do not want the Kurds to have power in Kirkuk, stand out as the two main forces looking for an opportunity to light the fuse of events. Under the influence of the Turkish state, sections affiliated to the Ezim Movement, headed by Xemis Xençer, take the lead in stirring up nationalist sentiments dating back to the Ba'ath period in order to bring the peoples of Kirkuk against each other. Likewise, the recent events in Kirkuk are not considered independent of the "confrontational role" of such groups.


Another important issue discussed in Tehran was the situation of gas fields, especially the Khor Mor field in Southern Kurdistan, and the regional powers' desire to dominate these energy resources. While one of the largest gas deposits in the Middle East is located here, the region, where 6 main natural gas refineries are located, contains 5.7 trillion cubic metres of natural gas, which is about 3 percent of the world's natural gas. While Southern Kurdistan ranks 8th in the world in natural gas, about 60 percent of this gas is located in the Çemçemal (Chamchamal) region of Sulaymaniyah, which is under the control of the PUK. The gas companies that supply 80 percent of Southern Kurdistan's electricity are operated by companies owned by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). On the other hand, the gas extracted from the Soran Region is first exported to Kirkuk, then to Basra and from there to some places in the Gulf.


As in the case of oil sales, Turkey made many attempts both to meet its own needs and to sell gas to Europe. While Turkey's attempts hit the wall of other regional powers, the KDP wanted to apply the same pressure on the PUK in Iraq as the Turkish state applied on the KDP. While this situation mobilised Russia as well as Iran, Iran also carried out drone attacks against the Khor Mor Gas Field in order to warn against these attempts. The fact that Russia and Iran wanted the gas, one of their most effective threat trump cards against the Western world, to be sold outside via Turkey was seen as a cause for war by the relevant powers. While the Turkish Republic continued such attempts through the KDP, Tehran gave Barzanis an ultimatum on this issue and put an end to their search.


The oil agreement between the KDP and the Turkish state, which was made secretly in 2013, was shelved within the scope of the economic decisions taken by the Iraqi Supreme Federal Court in recent months. While one of the main endeavours of the KDP and the Turkish Republic was the re-export of oil, this issue was put on the table in many secret and open meetings. However, no results have been obtained so far, and it is understood that this issue was discussed extensively during the visit to Tehran and that Iran does not favour options other than the realisation of oil sales through Baghdad. Barzani accepted this proposal during the meeting, but the KDP has not completely put an end to these quests.


The realisation of Iran's demand from the KDP, which is biologically based on Israel, to remove Israeli headquarters from Hewlêr does not correspond to the realities on the ground. Tehran is well aware of this, and its main concern is that the parties from Rojhilat (Eastern Kurdistan, Northwestern Iran) which are likely to cause it headache in the future, come under the control of Israel through the KDP. Iran, which has sternly warned the relevant parties about this issue, has once again declared through the KDP that they will not hesitate in this sense. Hewlêr, on the one hand, reorganised these forces in order to use them as a trump card, and on the other hand, made commitments to Iran for their liquidation.


On the other hand, the fact that the PUK leader was in the USA and Nechirvan Barzani was in Tehran on the same day and at the same time indicates that Iran and the USA have given their consent on the mentioned issues. While the details regarding this matter are expected to be reflected on the field in the coming days, it is predicted that new decisions and agreements will move some more stones in the Middle East, especially in Iraq.