On the one hand, the KDP, led by Masoud Barzani who is also president of the autonomous Kurdish region, accused the PUK of “treason.” On the other hand, the PUK has cleared itself from the accusations. The Sulaymaniyah-centered PUK defended the decision of its leaders to order the Peshmerga fighters to withdraw from the contested city as right and appropriate move with regard to the field realities.
The fact is that the PUK decision mainly derived from a consideration of the Kurdish interests. Making a responsible and farsighted decision, the second largest Kurdistan party has steered clear of grave consequences that Barzani’s destabilizing moves could bring about to the interests of the Kurdish citizens, Iraq, and even the West Asian region as a whole.
Barzani shortsightedness vs. PUK farsightedness
Before and after the controversial late September independence referendum, Masoud Barzani, who stood as the breakaway vote’s main driving force, strongly stressed that he was firm in pressing ahead with the organizing the referendum and materializing its results and that there was no way he could quit this course for secession. In addition to Kirkuk, Barzani Peshmerga forces, who operate as an army to the (Kurdistan Regional Government) KRG, have lost major areas including Sinjar, Nineveh Plains, and Makhmur in past few days. But he still resists accepting the reality that his dangerous scheme for separation from Iraq is far from practical. With the Iraqi government, regional actors, and even the Kurdish citizens well aware of the destabilizing and catastrophic ramifications of the Barzani independence bid, the plan is widely regarded as a failed project.
Following the losses, Barzani and other leaders of the KDP along with their media launched a propagandistic campaign to shift the blame and evade shouldering the responsibility. Labelling the PUK order to the Peshmerga forces to retreat as a traitorous act, the Barzani orbit tried to throw the ball in the PUK leaders’ court and so hold them accountable for the recent setback.
Since the beginning, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan with leadership of its late Secretary-General Jalal Talabani took a realistic and farsighted track throughout the Iraqi and Kurdish political developments. The PUK leaders question the KDP labelling of them as traitors and seek explanation for the traitorous acts. For them, the real treason is falling into the trap of the foreign advisors all guided by and linked to the Israeli and American spying agencies. They also see organizing the referendum to distract the public opinion from the Kurdistan economic and presidential crises as the genuine acts of treason to the Kurdish people. They, moreover, argue that Barzani’s rejection of all of the offers of dialogue by the Iraqi religious and political figures for peaceful solution to the problems and avoiding human and financial damages to both the Iraqi and Kurdish people are the actions that represent treason.
Endangering Kurdish citizens’ political and security stability
One more reason can help substantiate the authenticity and rightness of the confrontation-avoiding decisions taken by the PUK leaders in the present conditions. They believe that economic, political, and social growth is only possible if there is political stability that is an outcome of stable security conditions. Military adventures and the resultant destabilization of the Kurdish region and Iraq will only render things worse. One of the aftermaths of Iraq split will be tumultuous security conditions, something that will leave impacts on the already-critical political and economic situation in the autonomous northern region.
Driven by righteousness for making decisions, the PUK made the right decision and ordered its fighters out of the disputed regions in order to stabilize Iraq and check expansion of conflict and ignition of a new civil war. This move is meant to open the door for negotiations to strike a constructive political deal with Baghdad within the framework of the national constitution to end the discords and save the country’s cohesion.
On the other side, the field realities indicate that calm has returned to Kirkuk after government forces retook its control after nearly three years. Even after the recapture, the Kurds are still in command of the police forces in the city. Just contrary to the claims of Barzani, the city is even more stable under the current conditions.
Need for harmony, and not dispute, in post-ISIS Iraq
Having an understanding of the difficulties and realities of the Kurdish region including the political and financial challenges, the PUK has come up with the notion that consensus and cooperation, rather than disagreement and strife, can efficiently serve the Kurds and other Iraqis’ interests. The leaders of the PUK find federalism as the system of choice for the various Iraqi ethnic groups to keep contacts. They are in favor of saving the federal system and invite for removing the existing flaws in it through political ways. This comes while Barzani-led Erbil especially after ISIS terrorist group’s offensives in the country in 2014 exploited the critical conditions of Iraq to cultivate secessionist agenda.