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Institute for the Study of War: The 2009 Kurdish Elections

Author: James P. Danly, International Affairs Fellow, 2009-2010
July 23, 2009


A report detailing the structure of the Kurdistan Regional Government, its major political parties, and the dynamics of the upcoming election.

History of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)

The Kurdistan Regional Government was estab­lished in 1992 following the collapse of Saddam Hussein's government within the Kurdish region. Operation Provide Comfort, coalition-established no-fly and security zones, and repeated Kurd­ish rebellions led Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kurdistan and blockade the borders along Kurdish-controlled territories. The effective col­lapse of the central government's authority within Kurdistan provided the opportunity for Kurdis­tan's two main political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Demo­cratic Party (KDP), to agree to hold an election to select members for a legislature and a president for Kurdistan. The election, held in May of 1992, seated Iraqi Kurdistan's first elected government, resulting in a virtual tie between the PUK and the KDP. Although Massoud Barzani, the leader of the KDP, won a marginal victory over his oppo­nent, Jalal Talibani, leader of the PUK, in the race for the presidency, neither could assume the office as neither polled the required majority of votes.

Within three months of the election, the Kurdis­tan National Assembly convened and established itself as the KRG's legislature. It also established an election law that was to govern the region's periodic elections.5 Shortly thereafter, a council of minis­ters was created. The two major parties agreed to a power-sharing arrangement where the legisla­ture was split evenly between the KDP and PUK and each ministerial position that was held by a member of one party would have a deputy min­ister representing the other. 6 With neither party initially willing to concede power to the other, this arrangement lasted for over a year with power split so effectively that there was a substantial deadlock within the KRG and no clear executive authority empowered as ultimate decision-maker.

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