By Hawre Hasan Hama & Arkan Ahmed Jaf
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was founded by Jalal Talabani on June 1, 1975, after the defeat of the Iraqi Kurds in the 1974–1975 Revolution. From its foundation to present, there have always been fragments and splits within the PUK; the Party’s base is comprised of socialist. Leftist, and nationalist groups. The word “Union” remains the unachieved goal of the PUK. The most recent division of the PUK was in 2009, When Nashirwan Mustafa, Jalal Talabani’s deputy, formed the Change Movement (Gorran). Mustafa’s new political party joined by many, but mostly former PUK leaders.
The intra-conflicts within the PUK have recently reached a point where it seems almost impossible to hide them from the public any longer. This is more apparent, especially after the Talabani’s absence (Talabani suffered a debilitating stroke). On September 1, 2016, Two deputies of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), denouncing what they describe as a group acting “unethically” within the Party, have announced the establishment of new front called “Decision-Making Body” and they claimed that any decisions made outside of this core “will not be recognized.” Kosrat Rasul Ali, first deputy of the PUK, and Barham Salih, second deputy, two of the senior PUK leaders, made the announcement in a message backed by several members of the PUK political bureau, leadership committee, and MPs. Disputes and divisiveness are common amongst the Kurdish movement, nearly every Kurdish party has been divisive. As mentioned before, Gorran divided from the PUK, and even Talabani himself along with some others separated from Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in 1964. Talabani’s PUK formed from disaffected members of the KDP, which was established in 1946 by Mulla Mustafa Barzani. The main argument of this article is that the PUK compared to the KDP, adopted inconsistent policies and could not be decisive on many occasions because of its intra-conflicts. Therefore, these policies negatively affect the party and sometimes boost the KDP, PUK’s historical rival.
The first double standard policy of the PUK can be dated back to the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, in 1979. Although the KDP had a strong relationship with the SAVAK (intelligence service established by Iran’s Mohammad Reza Shah) prior to the revolution, shortly after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, they visited the leader of the Islamic Revolution, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The KDP leaders decided to join the Islamic Republican forces, and the KDP turned its Peshmerga against the Iranian Kurdish forces. The PUK, however, on the one hand, supported the Iranian Kurdish factions by sending them supporting troops, at the same time Talabani sent the messages of goodwill to the Iranian leader through the Iranian newspapers, and he repeated the PUK’s friendship to the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a result of this, the PUK was not trusted by the Kurdish parties of Iran, on the same direction, the newborn Islamic Republic of Iran was not prepared to help the PUK.
The PUK’s ambiguous policy reached the point that, the PUK’s officials were not desired to get closer to the Iraqi government because they try to avoid repeating the same failed experience of 1966. In 1966 Talabani and some former KDP members forced to ally with the central government to launch a military campaign against the KDP. However, as a reaction, Mustafa Barzani reached an agreement with the Iraqi Government in March 1970. All of these disadvantaged the PUK. Once the war broke out between Iraq and Iran, the KDP chose Tehran over Baghdad. The KDP supported Iran from the start, and at times acted almost as an advance unit for its attacking armies. The PUK, on the other hand, at first wavered between the two enemies. After many losses, the PUK finally joined Iran in the second phase of the war.
Following the Kurdish uprising of 1991 in the north of Iraq against Saddam’s regime, the KDP without any doubt joint Turkey against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PUK reluctantly waged war against PKK in favor of Turkey, but it soon deteriorated its relations with the Turkey. The KDP compared to its counterpart, had a straight policy and benefited more from the Turkey, as Turkey supplied arms to the KDP at the time. When the civil war broke out between the KDP and the PUK, the KDP, with the help of Turkey and Iraq, could force the PUK out of Erbil. As a result, the PUK suffered more losses in the civil war.
When Nawshirwan Mustafa decided to split from the PUK and declared the Gorran list, the PUK could not successfully deal with this new power, wavered between the KDP and Gorran, and It ends up joint the KDP, unwillingly extended the power of Masoud Barzani, the president of Kurdistan region and the leader of the KDP, which was expired at the time. Consequently, the PUK suffered from a drastic decrease of votes in 2009 provincial elections in its main stronghold city of Suleimaniyah at the hands of the Gorran list. It is because people of the green zone (PUK and Gorran’s controlled areas) punished the PUK for being closed to the KDP. The KDP has been undesirable and unpopular amongst the population of the green zone . This is partly because the green zone historically has been beyond the KDP’s influences, and partly because the people of the area do not forget the fact that the KDP invited the Iraqi tanks and the Turkish forces into the Kurdistan Region to fight and destroy the PUK.
Last, but not least, The PUK’s current policies are ambiguous. For it signed an agreement with the Gorran list On 17 May 2016, but the agreement principles remain on the paper so far. Having said that, the PUK is the opposition in the green zone, but it is part of the government in the yellow zone’ (Erbil and Duhok provinces under the control of the KDP). Despite its agreement with the Change movement, there are allegations that the PUK and the KDP are about to reach a new arrangement. This may indicate that some leaders of the PUK tend to the KDP, while others prefer the Gorran movement. This division, on one hand, prevents the PUK and Gorran’s agreement from being implemented, and also an obstacle to reaching an agreement with the KDP.