Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani has decided to step down as the Iraqi Kurds battle with Baghdad over independence.
Barzani has decided to decline an eight-month extension of power, instead choosing to distribute his former powers between the Kurdish Prime Minister, Parliament, and the judiciary. His decision will strengthen the hand of the two main opposition parties, the PUK and the Gorran Movement, but the November elections have been postponed following Iraq’s invasion of Kirkuk.
“It seems that Barzani admits the defeat of the referendum, and he has realized that Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and even the EU and US are not happy with him. Having him in the presidency position will not resolve any issues,” says Kamal Chomani, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
Barzani’s presidential term will end November 1st. The announcement was met with violent protests, but most of the region’s MPs supported his decision. Turkey and Iran have also called for Barzani to step down following the referendum and its results.
Tensions between the Kurds and Baghdad have intensified at an alarming rate since the independence referendum in September. Iraqi troops invaded Kirkuk earlier this month, effectively seizing control of 50% of the territory Kurdistan has claimed over the past three years.
“Three million votes for Kurdistan independence created history and cannot be erased,” announced Barzani, accusing his opponents of “high treason” for allowing Kirkuk to be captured by Iraqi forces without a fight.
Barzani, age 71, has been a symbol of Kurdish independence for decades. He took control of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) when his father died in 1979 and became the president of Kurdistan in 2005. He played a key role in creating an autonomous territory after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The Kurds played a key role in the fight against ISIS, working with US troops on the ground and enabling Iraq to liberate the city of Mosul. Even so, Baghdad has responded to the independence referendum by sending troops to seize Kurdish territory.
“We thought that the international community would reward the Peshmerga and the people of Kurdistan in return. They would respect the blood of the martyrs,” said Barzani, blaming the central government for the regional crisis that has erupted following the referendum. “They used the referendum as an excuse. Their bad intentions were very clear from a long time ago.”
Last week, Barzani offered to freeze the results of the referendum in hopes of pursuing dialogue with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The Prime Minister refused to negotiate, insisting for a total annulment of the results.
Editor’s note: The question is whether this means capitulation for the region or if it means they are preparing for war.