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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

Iraq elects Kurdish Barham Salih as president

Rival candidate Fuad Hussein withdraws moments before results 

Barham Salih, former Prime Minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, with his wife Sarbagh Salih show their ink-stained fingers after casting their votes at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Sulaimaniyah in May 2018. Reuters 
Barham Salih, former Prime Minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, with his wife Sarbagh Salih show their ink-stained fingers after casting their votes at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Sulaimaniyah in May 2018. Reuters 

Iraq's parliament elected veteran politician Barham Salih on Tuesday as the country's eighth president.

In a vote long delayed by political wrangling, Mr Salih of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) ran against the Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP) candidate Fuad Hussein. Mr Salih won with 219 votes.

Mr Hussein withdrew moments before the announcement was made, at the request of KDP leader Massoud Barzani, a party official told The National.

"The head of the KPD, Massoud Barzani, requested that Dr Hussein withdraw from the presidency nomination," Janghis Awakaly, a KDP official told The National. Mr Awakaly said the reason behind this decision was to protect Kurdish unity.

According to an informal power-sharing arrangement dating back to the 2003, United States-led invasion, senior government roles are divided between the predominant ethno-sectarian groups - with the prime minister being a Shiite Arab, the speaker of parliament a Sunni Arab, and the president a Kurd.

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Read more:

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Iraqi KDP leads preliminary results from Kurdistan Region election

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But Kurdistan's two main parties have been unable to agree on a nomination for the president, in a state of indecisiveness that threatened their usually united front in regards to Baghdad.

The KDP nominated Mr Hussein, a chief of staff to former Kurdish President Mr Barzani, who got 90 votes in the first round.

The PUK named former Iraqi deputy prime minister Mr Salih as their choice, who got 165 votes in the first round, asserting that the post should be held by one of its members.

Mr Hussein, 69, is a Shiite Kurd - a favourite to win support from members of the Shiite-majority in Baghdad. But, Mr Salih, a 58-year-old moderate, has served in both administrations, once as Iraqi deputy premier and Kurdish prime minister.

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Barham Salih writing in The National in January:

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Politicians were supposed to vote on Monday, but delayed the session for nearly 24 hours after the two Kurdish parties were unable to agree on a candidate.

Mr Salih is likely to be a key player in bringing all Iraqis together, working to build a better future and helping the country rebuild after four difficult years, Ranj Talabany, a PUK official said in reference to the war against ISIS. He founded the American University of Iraq in 2007.

The new president will have 15 days to task the nominee of the largest parliamentary bloc with forming a new government. The prime minister-designate will have 30 days to submit his cabinet to parliament.

The presidential vote comes just two days after parliamentary elections in the autonomous Kurdistan Region and one year after the Kurds' ill-fated independence referendum.