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Will Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani hand over power?

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 29/10/2017


Erbil - Iraq - Iraqi-Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani will not extend his presidential term beyond November 1, a Kurdish government official said, casting doubt over who will lead the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) after he leaves office.

The veteran Kurdish leader initially said he would step down after Iraqi Kurds would to go the polls on November 1, but these elections have now been postponed by eight months, leaving it unclear what would happen to the presidency in the interim.

Rumours have been circling for the past two weeks that Barzani, 71, would end his presidency, a post he has held for 12 years. His tenure had officially expired in August, 2015.

On Saturday, unnamed politicians and Kurdish media reported that Barzani had sent a letter to parliament, laying out how power should be distributed once he is no longer in office.

Parliament will hold a closed-door session at 11:00 GMT on Sunday, after which a statement or news conference is expected to clarify the content of the letter.

Some in the Kurdish region believe that Barzani stepping down is of little consequence; that he will remain in the background and that the Barzani family maintains its grip here - perhaps with his nephew and current KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani taking over the interim period.

Other analysts suggest that this is small step towards giving Kurdish institutions more sway; empowering parliament that has been suspended since 2015 when a rift between Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the opposition Gorran movement resulted in it being shut down.

Barzani's legacy

The president only recently re-activated parliament to vote through the controversial September 25 referendum on secession, which Barzani wanted to be his legacy.

In 2016, Barzani said "The day we have an independent Kurdistan, I will cease to be the president of that Kurdistan".

Barzani went ahead with the referendum, against the wishes and warnings of some of his closest allies, most notably the United States.

READ MORE: Barzani: Kurd region poll to occur despite opposition

The referendum resulted in an overwhelming "Yes" but the backlash proved to be more surprising; Iraqi federal forces, within two days taking over large areas of the disputed territories that the Kurds had controlled for the last few years, losing oil-rich Kirkuk - the beating heart of any future Kurdish state - whose oil would have allowed the hypothetical state to fund itself - gone in a moment.

Kirkuk was among territory seized by Kurdish forces when the Iraqi military abandoned the city in the face of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) advances in 2014 but is not within the borders of the KRG's autonomous territory.

Tensions have steadily mounted between Baghdad and the KRG since the referendum, with many warning it distracted from Iraq's ongoing fight against the ISIL and further destabilised the region.

Baghdad has made it clear that it would re-assert federal control over all the borders the KRG currently controls - with Syria, Turkey and Iran - in line with the Iraqi constitution.

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