Is Barzani Assuming Talabani’s Role

Despite lingering and tense disputes with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki  over the Iraqi budget and the oil law, Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani  is increasingly perceived as taking up the mantle of mediator while Iraqi  President Jalal Talabani remains outside Iraq because of health issues.

Following Barzani’s return from his European tour at the end of last week, a  series of meetings has been held in the region between Kurdish factions under  Barzani’s supervision and Iraqi parties who have visited him in the last few  days.

Barzani’s European tour lasted for more than a week, during which he  participated in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and visited  Germany and Northern Ireland.

Upon his return, he oversaw the meeting between the political offices of his  party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, headed by Iraqi President Jalal  Talabani. He then welcomed a delegation from the Sadrist Movement and another  from the American Embassy in Baghdad. Some sources also indicated that he  welcomed a delegation from the national coalition, of which al-Maliki is a  member. Barzani ended his week by overseeing a meeting for Kurdish parties.

All the meetings and reunions were centered on the current Iraqi political  crisis, the protests in the Sunni regions and how to pull the  country out of the general political problems from which it suffers.

The data collected by the Iraqi Kurdistan Region presidency show that  Barzani is playing a key role in the political process in the country,  especially with the absence of Talabani from the political scene due to health  complications.

All the information issued by the region’s presidency regarding these  meetings indicates that Barzani promised to keep up the efforts to calm the  situation and join all the parties together to reach a unanimous agreement to  end the tensions in the country. Consequently, Iraq would move into a new phase  through persistent steps to build the main sectors in the country and banish all  concerns and worries.

Barzani has played an important role in resolving political crises in the  country’s past. Following the 2010 elections, the Erbil agreement was signed and led to the formation of the  current Iraqi government, which had been delayed for more than 10 months at the  time.

Iraq witnessed a major political crisis after the 2010 elections, when  Maliki’s national coalition list, winning 89 parliamentary seats, and Iyad  Alawi’s Iraqiyya list, which obtained 91 seats, were both fighting for the right  to form the government.

The Iraqi constitution stipulates that the parliamentary majority  should form the government. However, the growing conflict between Baghdad and  Erbil has caused tension between Barzani and Maliki. Several issues and  unsettled problems are disputed between both men, including Article 140 of the  constitution, which deals with Kirkuk and the disputed regions; the privileges  of the current government in Kurdistan region; the oil contracts signed by the  region’s government with foreign companies, which are unrecognized by the Iraqi  government and the Kurdish Peshmerga’s budget. Ever since, Talabani has had to play the  role of peacemaker.

Talabani’s latest health complications have not helped him to lead the  national dialogue, for which he had lately been preparing, especially after  Maliki brought the Tigris Operations Command to Kirkuk and was faced with  Kurdish military mobilization.

Adnan al-Mufti, a prominent leader in Talabani’s party and the former  president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, believes that Talabani’s absence has  affected the Iraqi political scene, and that the political parties cannot search  for solutions in his absence.

Mufti told Al-Monitor, “I think that Talabani’s absence from the  political scene has affected the country, not because of his role as president,  but due to his character and history. He is a person respected by everyone, and  his absence creates a gap and leads to a crisis. If he were present, he would  have joined everyone together and led them on the right path.”

He added, “With Talabani’s absence, the political forces must take the  initiative to shield the Iraqi people from subsequent harm.”

Kurdish political analyst Basharat Zangana agreed with this and said, “The  absence of President Talabani has left a huge void in the political  process.”

Zangana believes that “Barzani can play a key role in drawing the different  viewpoints closer, and the political action in the region is headed in the same  direction.”