Kurdistan’s Ex-President Barzani Regroups for a Comeback

When he resigned as president of Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday Oct. 29, Masoud Barzani took care to leave the position vacant. In his statement to parliament in Irbil, he asked that no other president be appointed in his place, and confided to his family that the presidency must disappear and be replaced by a new constitutional order he planned to set up soon. Meanwhile the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) must remain headless.

DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Irbil disclose Barzani’s plans.

He had little choice but to step down under the shock of the Peshmerga’s disastrous defeat at the hands of the Iraqi army and Shiite militias under Iranian command. But at 54 he is not ready to relinquish the reins of government. He has decided to play for time to regroup and rebuild his prestige for another bid for the leadership. Barzani reckons he has just seven months to prepare for his comeback, up until next May, when the KRG holds general elections and June, when the country votes for president.

He will spend those months in consolidating his political following, rehabilitating the Peshmerga army which is falling apart and restoring parts of the republic’s economic strength.

Barzani knows that this is a herculean task. Even his closest loyalists and kinfolk are skeptical about his chances. Still, he is determined to reach his aim come what may, driven by loathing for the rival Talabanis and bent on revenge for their perfidy. Indeed, he has publicly accused the followers of the PUK founder Jalal Talabani (who died in early October) of “high treason” for opening the gates of the oil city of Kirkuk to Iraqi forces without a fight.

The ex-president is gunning for three particular Talabani leaders, whom he holds personally responsible for the loss of Kirkuk.

One is the family’s matriarch, 69-year old Hero Ibraham Ahmed, Jalal Talabani’s widow, who was born and grew up in a political family that fought for the Kurdish cause against Iraqi government oppression. Her father, Ibrahim Ahmad, was imprisoned at Abu Ghraib in the 1950s, after which the family was exiled to Kirkuk and held under house arrest. After his release, her father was injured in an attempt on his life.

In 1958, the family moved to Baghdad. Her education was interrupted by a military coup, which forced the whole family to flee to Iran. She finally graduated in psychology from Al-Mustansiyriya University in Baghdad.

Hero Talabani made a career in the media and founded one of the main Kurdish TV channels, Kurdsat TV.

Experts in Kurdish politics rate her as the engine behind her husband who finally attained the post of Deputy President of Iraq after the 2003 US invasion.

Barzani says he has received intelligence, some of it from American sources, describing Hero Talabani as the moving spirit behind her clan’s decision to join Revolutionary Guards Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a conspiracy to topple his rule in Irbil.

The second target of the former president’s vendetta is Qubad Talabani, aged 40, whose formal title is deputy prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, although his real job is head of the secret service of the Talabani clan’s PUK party.

Barzani is convinced that Hero, after forging the deal with Soleimani, relegated its implementation to Qubad. He sent his undercover field agents to make contact with the commanders of the Peshmerga units and direct them to down arms in the face of the advancing Iraqi army and Shiite militia assault.

Some of the commanders were said to be heavily bribed; others were promised promotion to high ranks in the military, or plum jobs in the Talabani-led government, that would rise after the Barzanis’ overthrow.

The third foe in Barzani’s sights is Bafel Talabani, a dark character known as the “White Wolf.” for his sinister pursuits in the past. The oldest son of Jalal and Hero Talabani, Bafel is in his 40s and has long aspired to become the strongman of Iraqi Kurdistan. (See DEBKA Weekly 774 of Oct. 20, 2017)

The ex-president is well aware that seven months is scarcely enough to prepare his comeback as the chief executive of the KRG. He relies on his kinsmen who still retain high posts in the regional administration for support in damping down the simmering clan warfare. His nephew Nechirvan Barzani is prime minister and his son Masrour Barzani heads the government’s security apparatus.

But his rivals are not expected to stand still, when Barzani goes forward with his plan is to create a ruling administration in Irbil that does not depend on parliament or other constitutional institutions, where the Talabanis may fight him. To pull this off, he knows he needs a strong foreign helping hand. Meanwhile he is turning to the US Presidential envoy Brett McGurk, who has spent the last fortnight on the line between Irbil and Baghdad in an effort to broker an accommodation that will ward off a clash. At the same time, the deposed KRG president, feeling that the Americans jilted him when the region was under attack, is looking around for other supporters.

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