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Kurdish Party Hits Out at Former Leader

Prominent former PUK leader accused of using dissident faction as proxy to settle political scores.
By Wrya Hama-Tahir
The party of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani has accused an influential former leader of fomenting factional unrest.

Senior officials from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, say Nawshirwan Mustafa, a co-founder of the party, encouraged a dissident faction to criticise the leadership.

The Rag faction – named after the Kurdish acronym for democratic change – emerged earlier this month, demanding PUK top brass make way for new blood.

Its members, who were subsequently expelled from the party, deny any link to Mustafa, saying they merely share some of his objectives and do not have his support.

Their swift dismissal from PUK ranks was seen by some critics as an overreaction, and prompted warnings that the leadership's inflexibility could force the party to fragment.

However, a senior PUK official, speaking to IWPR on condition of anonymity, said the faction was ejected because it was seen as a proxy for Mustafa.

"This has Nawshirwan's fingerprints all over it," said the official.

Mustafa resigned as the PUK's deputy secretary general following an internal power struggle in 2006 and went on to establish a powerful media company, Wusha.

In comments published in his press outlets, he has positioned himself as an outspoken critic of the party of which he remains a member, accusing its leadership of mismanagement and autocracy.

He recently told IWPR he was using the media to encourage reform and had no plans to form a political party opposed to the PUK.

Mustafa has not responded to IWPR's requests for comment on the PUK's claims that he was involved in Rag.


The London-based faction announced itself on November 7, demanding that the PUK leadership resign as it had become ineffectual and corrupt.

Days later, Rag's four founders – Shorish Haji, Mala Khidr, Haval Qwestani and Hishiyar Abd – were expelled from the party. A PUK politburo statement described them as a "confused" group, attempting a coup against the party's "lawfully-elected" institutions.

The head of the PUK's media office told IWPR the faction's allegations had no substance.

"Corruption charges have become very handy for anyone who wants to pick on those they dislike," Azad Jundiyani said. "There is nothing in these accusations.”

Rag's complaint, he said, "is not about corruption in the way that Nawshirwan's was not about reform. They are all driven by a political agenda." Jundiyani said he believed Rag represented "part of Nawshirwan's tactics".

However, Rag insists it is an independent faction with no ties to Mustafa.

"Some of our demands and objectives are similar to his," one of the faction's leaders, Shorish Haji, told IWPR.

"Moreover, on several occasions, [Mustafa] has said that Rag's proposals were reasonable – and we thank him for that," he said. But, he said, "Nawshirwan has nothing to do with Rag."

"Others might have a different interpretation for certain purposes," Haji said.


Factional feuding has been a feature of the party from its earliest days, with senior officials leading three separate groups.

The rivalries intensified after the internal power struggle of 2006, in which the mainstream wing, led by Talabani, saw off a challenge from Mustafa's supporters, dubbed the "reformists".

Mustafa later resigned from the leadership. Observers say his exit proved to be a catalyst for the appearance of several smaller factions in the party.

Rag, or Democratic Change, is the freshest of these new factions, which have names like Renaissance, Unification and Statute Followers.

Rag's founders are veteran PUK members who have never been promoted to leadership posts and are based outside the country.

It has called on Talabani to resign as secretary general of the party, along with other members of his leadership council. It says the leadership is involved in corruption and must be held accountable for the party's failures.

"These days, the PUK approaches an unknown fate," the faction's foundation statement says. "If things continue this way, the party will end up dissolving."

Following Rag's expulsion from the PUK, local privately-owned newspapers printed petitions in support of the faction, apparently signed by hundreds of party members.

A Rag statement accused PUK leaders of seeking to polarise opinion in the party in order to "curb any outspoken or honest voice".

Haji said the PUK leaders should have discussed his faction's demands instead of branding them as divisive. "They feared widespread support from cadres," he said. "They want to prevent others from joining us.”

However, PUK spokesman Mala Bakhtiyar said the party leaders stand by their decision.

"The decree by the politburo will remain valid," he said. While the PUK was willing to accommodate different perspectives, Bakhtiyar said it was also "keen to protect the consensus among the ranks of the party".


Some commentators have warned that the action against the faction was unduly harsh – and could end up backfiring on the PUK.

"I do not see any logical reason for expelling the cadres," said Adnan Othman, editor-in-chief of Rozhnama newspaper, which is part of the Wusha media group owned by Mustafa.

"The PUK leadership does not trust in others' skills, does not have the ability to be renewed and does not believe in different ideas."

Sardar Qadir, a political science professor at Sulaimaniyah University, says it is not uncommon for members to call for change inside the party and Rag's demands are quite normal in this context.

According to Qadir, Rag could pose a threat to the PUK from outside the party as its "founders are middle-positioned leaders who can influence the lower cells”.

"Most of the PUK members in Europe have already given their support to the new group's first step," he said

"This will encourage others to announce more of these groups if the PUK continues to reject reformist calls from its ranks.”

Qadir says Rag could form a new party to challenge the PUK unless its demands are discussed at the next party convention. However, the PUK has only held two conventions in its 33-year history and a date has yet to be set for the next one.

With no imminent outlet for rising tensions in the party, the only hope for an end to the infighting rests on a possible reconciliation between Talabani and Mustafa.

"If Talabani and Mustafa reach an agreement, the issues will be settled," Qadir said. "This will also settle Rag's problems, for the latter's demands are the same as those of Mustafa."

Wrya Hama-Tahir is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sulaimaniyah. IWPR staff in London and Sulaimaniyah also contributed to this report.

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