PUK returns to Kurdish Regional Government meetings after boycott

The move has eased tensions building since the assassination of an intelligence officer that KDP blamed on PUK.

Bafel Talabani - Interview
Bafel Talabani is the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) [Al Jazeera]

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) political party in northern Iraq has ended a months-long boycott of the Kurdish Regional Government cabinet meetings with its main coalition partner, the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

The move eased tensions between two factions, who fought a civil war in the 1990s, and calmed Western fears that the rift would deepen between the PUK and KDP, both of which have been instrumental in the fight against ISIL (ISIS).

The PUK had boycotted cabinet meetings since Hawker Abdullah Rasoul, an intelligence officer who had spent two decades with the PUK, was killed in his SUV by a bomb in Erbil on October 7, 2022, according to three Kurdish government officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The PUK is a junior coalition partner with Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani’s KDP, with which it has a long history of wrangling for influence and power. The PUK is led by the Talabani clan.

Last year, the KDP openly blamed the PUK for the brazen assassination of Rasoul, triggering a series of incidents that have strained the power-sharing arrangement.

The PUK has strongly denied the accusations, saying they are politically motivated.

On November 9, PUK leader Bafel Talabani flew to Erbil, which is controlled by the KDP, accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, dozens of security personnel, and one of the men wanted for Rasoul’s killing.

The group was unable to leave the airport until the president intervened, a source told Reuters.

Political relations continued to deteriorate until the PUK ministers boycotted KRG meetings.

Last week, Barzani and Qubad Talabani met for the first time since the assassination and agreed to work together to overcome their differences, according to statements posted on their Twitter accounts, along with a photo of them looking at each other and smiling.

The breakthrough came days after a United States foreign ministry delegation, including Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, visited Erbil and met with leaders from both parties.

Analysts have said the rift is a major distraction from what the government should be doing to address public service problems and high unemployment in a region rich in oil and gas.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies