The parliament of the Iraqi Kurdish region has approved a request by Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq‘s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), not to renew his term when it expires on November 1.
The approval came during a closed session on Sunday of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament in the regional capital, Erbil.
The decision comes just over a month after a controversial secession referendum spearheaded by Barzani, which led to days of fighting between Iraqi government and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
In a letter to parliament, Barzani had said: “I, as Masoud Barzani the Peshmerga, will continue with our nation and beloved Peshmerga in endeavours to achieve the just rights of our nation and protect the achievements of our nation.”
Barzani, 71, has signalled that he wants to divide presidential powers between the regional government, parliament and the judiciary.
However, he will remain in Kurdish politics as leader of the High Political Council, according to his senior assistant Hemin Hawrami.
The KRG’s High Political Council was formed to replace the High Referendum Council to take the lead in the post-referendum phase.
Question of successor
Barzani’s decision throws the field wide open to aspirants for the KRG president’s post after he vacates it.
The veteran Kurdish leader and head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) initially said he would step down after Iraqi Kurds went the polls on November 1.
But these elections have now been postponed by eight months, leaving it unclear what would happen to the presidency in the interim.
President Barzani: Before 2005 and during the presidency And from now on, I am the same Masoud Barzani, I am a Peshmarga and will continue to do whatever is needed and will be with my people in its struggle for independence pic.twitter.com/jY8C7bu6JZ
— Hemin Hawrami (@heminhawrami) October 29, 2017
Rumours had been circulating for the past two weeks that Barzani would end his presidency, a post he has held for 12 years.
His tenure had officially expired in August 2015.
On Saturday, unnamed politicians and Kurdish news media reported that Barzani had sent a letter to parliament laying out how power should be distributed once he is no longer in office.
Some in the Kurdish region believe that Barzani’s stepping down is of little consequence – that he will remain in the background while the Barzani family will maintain its grip on the KRG, perhaps with Nechirvan Barzani, his nephew and KRG prime minister, taking charge in an interim capacity.
Other analysts suggest that this is a small step towards giving Kurdish institutions more sway, empowering parliament, which has been in a state of suspension since 2015 when a rift developed between the KDP and the opposition Gorran movement.
Barzani only recently reactivated parliament in order to win its approval for the September 25 referendum on secession, which Barzani wanted to be his legacy.
In 2016, he said: “The day we have an independent Kurdistan, I will cease to be the president of that Kurdistan.”
He went ahead with the referendum against the wishes and warnings of some of his closest allies, most notably the US.
The referendum resulted in an overwhelming “yes” but the political and diplomatic backlash came as an unpleasant surprise.
Iraqi federal forces, within two days, took over large areas of the disputed territories that the Kurds had controlled for the last few years, causing them to lose oil-rich Kirkuk – the beating heart of any future Kurdish state – whose oil would have allowed the hypothetical state to fund itself.
Kirkuk was among territory seized by Peshmerga forces when the Iraqi military abandoned the city in the face of ISIL advances in 2014, but it is not within the borders of the KRG’s autonomous territory.
Tensions quickly rose between Iraqi federal government and the KRG since the referendum, with many cautioning that it distracted from Iraq’s ongoing fight against ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group, and further destabilised the region.
The government has made it clear that it intends to reassert federal control over all borders the KRG currently controls – with Syria, Turkey and Iran – in line with the Iraqi constitution.
Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Erbil after the Kurdish parliament session, said: “The [Kurds] have to have a relationship with the central government, because it is still one country. It’s a semi-autonomous region [of Iraq].
“At the moment, for example, one of the [consequences] of the controversial referendum is that the federal authority in Baghdad is going to take over control of the border crossings that the KRG has been in charge of since 20013.
“So talks are going on at the moment. Today was the second day of the discussions in Mosul between the Iraqis and the Peshmerga under the auspices of the international coalition against ISIL.”