Can the ‘hunter’ bring peace to northern Iraq?
The crisis in northern Iraq, which began with the independence referendum on Sept. 25, has intensified with the resignation of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani.
The United States and Britain welcomed Barzani’s resignation while also praising his “leadership” and “opposition to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL].”
The Anglo-Saxon alliance pointed at Nechirvan Barzani and Qubad Talabani as leaders of the new era in northern Iraq’s politics, which until today was led by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani.
Germany and France have also sent their Baghdad-based ambassadors to Arbil in order to meet Nechirvan Barzani. The two countries, which offer mediation between Baghdad and Arbil, have both recognized Nechirvan Barzani and Qubad Talabani’s leadership in the region, as have the U.S. and Britain.
Turkey, on the other hand, is not taking clear steps concerning the future of northern Iraq, but is giving advice to Barzani.
Let us take a closer look at these new rulers of the KRG, favored by the West and Iran.
Northern Iraq’s new generation leader
Nechirvan Barzani was born in 1966. “Nechir” means “hunt” in Kurdish, and Nechirvan means “hunter.” He is the son of Idris Barzani, who is the brother of Masoud Barzani. When the family was expelled from Iraq, he moved to Iran at the age of nine.
He entered politics in his youth. At the age of 23, he was selected to the central committee of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). When he was 30, he became the deputy prime minister of the KDP government. At 40, he played an active role in meetings where regional political parties gathered, and became prime minister of the newly established KRG. He never hid the fact that he preferred a Western lifestyle. Nechirvan Barzani is known for showing his wine cellar to Western guests at his house and offering them expensive wines.
When Barzani received an honorary degree from Washington & Jefferson College in 2008, Jess Baily, a U.S. diplomat based in Arbil, who also worked at U.S. missions in Adana and Ankara, introduced him as a progressive figure.
“Prime Minister Barzani revealed a vision; one that places significance on education, the rights of women and minorities and economic development in northern Iraq and Iraq as a whole,” Bailey had said.
Can Qubad Talabani gather the PUK?
The second biggest party in northern Iraq is the late Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). When Barzani became the president of the KRG, Talabani had become the president of Iraq. After Talabani left his party, his wife, Hero Talabani, took over, leading to a schism that divided the party in two. The Goran Party had surprisingly received huge support.
In the new period ahead for the KRG, the Talabani couple’s youngest son, Qubad Talabani, will represent the PUK. He was born in 1977, raised in the U.K. and has for quite a long time served as the KRG’s representative in Washington.
Two important duties await him: Solving the problems in front of the KRG together with Nechirvan Barzani, and ensuring a reshuffle within the PUK
Why the nephew but not the son?
You might also be wondering whether Masoud Barzani has a child, and if so, why his son does not take over instead.
He has four children. The oldest is Masrour Barzani. He is the most important security and intelligence figure in the KRG.
He is three years younger than Nechirvan, his cousin. While Nechirvan chose politics, Masrour chose to become a soldier.
Since the age of 16, he has fought for the Peshmerga. While his younger brother, Mansour, serves as a military officer for the Peshmerga.
According to some diplomats, the most important reason behind Masoud Barzani’s decision to pass the post onto his nephew instead of his son is that one of his sons is a politician and a diplomat, while the other is a soldier and an intelligence officer.
For this reason, the West also prefers Nechirvan Barzani.
Another important reason is that Nechirvan Barzani never warmed to the idea of a referendum. Masrour Barzani, on the other hand, is a staunch defender of independence, and would even advocate war to achieve this end.
The cards are being reshuffled in northern Iraq. The new Kurdish leaders have important tests ahead of them.