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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Kurds nominate Barham Salih for Iraqi presidency

The move pushes the country one step closer to forming a government 

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 

A prominent political party in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq nominated Barham Salih on Wednesday for the presidency post, putting the country one step closer to forming a government after months of political stagnation.

Since 2003, power in the war-torn country has been shared among Iraq's three largest ethnic-sectarian components - the prime minister is a Shiite Arab, the speaker of parliament a Sunni Arab and the president a Kurd.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) selected Mr Salih - who left the party last year to form the Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ) - as their sole candidate for the top post. He defeated Latif Rashid and Moahmmed Sabir, winning the internal party election by 26 votes.

CDJ officials in August had dismissed rumours that Mr Salih could move back to the PUK.

"He will do no such thing. If he does it, then it is political suicide," Mohammed Rauf of the CDJ said, adding that the reasons which led Mr Salih to leave the PUK in the first place have not changed.

"What has changed for Dr Barham to go back into the PUK?"

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Mr Salih, a former Kurdish prime minister left the PUK in 2017 to campaign against corruption, a major source of strife in Iraq and Kurdistan.

However, said PUK spokesman Saadi Ahmed, Mr Salih plans to return to his former party as deputy secretary general while still maintaining his place as the head of the CDJ.

The newly-created CDJ fared poorly in the May elections.

Meanwhile the KDP has yet to put forward a candidate while two other Kurds - former Goran MP Sardar Abdullah and Omar Barzinji, Iraq’s ambassador to Rome - are nominating themselves as independent candidates.

Experts say Mr Salih's background will enable him to become a key player in uniting Iraqis.

“His diplomatic experience and democratic credentials would help navigate difficult issues between Kurds and Baghdad but also among regional players,” a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, Asli Aydintasbas said.

Mr Salih can and will 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.

Mr Salih founded the American University of Iraq in 2007 and is also a former Iraqi deputy prime minister.

The position of president has been held by members of the PUK, the late Jalal Talabani and current president Fuad Masum, since the removal of former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Iraq's parliament held its inaugural session on 3 September, but it wasn't until 12 days later that they voted for the speaker as blocs battled for control of chamber.

On 15 September Mohammed Al Halbousi was elected speaker.

The new president must be chosen within 15 days of the installment of the speaker.

But in a turn of events on Tuesday militia leader Haider Al Amiri withdrew his candidacy for prime minister - a move that is likely to cause further delays to negotiations over the government formation.

A source in Baghdad who requested anonymity said an initial agreement has been made between the dominant ruling Shiite groups to nominate former oil minister Adel Abdul Mehdi for the premier's position.

Mr Abdul Mehdi is known to have good relations with Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish parties.

The politician appears to meet the most important requirement for the top position: an ability to achieve consensus between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties.

Other potential candidates are the governor of Basra, Asaad Al Eidani, and Abdul Wahab Al Saadi, a commander of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service, an elite faction of the military that was key in the battle against ISIS.