The ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) will meet today at the Erbil office of Kurdistan President Nechirvan Barzani in a long-delayed bid to ease tensions.
The meeting is intended to allay the ongoing pressurised standoff between three groups: the KDP, PUK and the militant insurgents of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Rivals have camped along a 500-meter stretch in Erbil province’s Zini Warte, a town that lies across a historically and strategically significant KDP-PUK buffer zone as well as PKK headquarters. Tensions spiked in March when a KDP-majority Peshmerga brigade was deployed to the area on the grounds of COVID-19 mitigation, an act interpreted as a provocation by the PUK and PKK.
Although offensives have yet to surpass media-based accusations, each group demands the withdrawal of the others, and failed reconciliation could spark violence reminiscent of the Iraqi Kurdish civil war in the 1990s. The PUK’s recent push for decentralisation—intensified by the pandemic’s effect on oil-dependent regional economies—will further complicate negotiations. In the event of an insurmountable split, Barzani has predicted a void of government, a worryingly vague prognosis that underlines the severity of the rift, in lieu of a reversion to two-administration rule.
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Daniel is an analyst and editor on the Current Developments team. He contributes regularly to the Daily Brief, focusing primarily on European, Middle Eastern and sub-Saharan politics.