A MEMBER of the Iraqi security forces takes down a Kurdish flag in Kirkuk, Iraq..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Kurdistan autonomous region (KRG) in northern Iraq has a new government. “Today we inaugurated a new Kurdistan Regional Government, marking a new era for Kurdistan,” Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani tweeted Wednesday. It is an important and strategic step, coming more than a year and a half after the region held an independence referendum and suffered sanctions from Baghdad, and is now on its way to becoming a center of economic and security stability.
“My commitment now is to work together with every party and every part of our nation to build a strong Kurdistan region for all,” Barzani said. The prime minister was sworn in at 11:30 a.m. according to Rudaw, the local Kurdish media network. He had been a key security official prior to his political role, as chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council. He is the son of former Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani.
The new KRG government includes two women among its 27 ministers. The new transportation minister is also from the Christian minority. He chose to be sworn in on a Bible burned by ISIS, a symbolic testament to the defeat of ISIS and to Christians in the region overcoming the hardships of recent years, after many were forced to flee the fighting.
Qubad Talabani was named deputy prime minister of the new government, cementing the usual tradition in the region where the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has held the top offices while the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the second largest party, has held other essential offices in a kind of balance of power.
The main goals of the KRG today, according to Barzani, are to fight corruption and create a diversified economy. He also wants a “stable and constructive” relationship with Baghdad and to finally usher in reform for the large Kurdish regional armed forces, which are called Peshmerga. Reforms in the Kurdish region suffered a setback as a result of attacks by ISIS in August 2014 that led to an economic crisis in the region. With the war against ISIS a priority, many reforms were put on hiatus or postponed.
International supporters of the KRG –including the US and UK – have long argued that the Peshmerga need to be built into a unifying force, free from their political and familial ties. The Peshmerga emerged in the 1990s out of the mountains, having fought the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but they were largely rooted in the KDP or PUK. The concept after 2003 – when the Kurdistan region became a key player in the politics of Iraq – was that the Peshmerga would remain independent, but that the units based on political parties would be reduced. A Peshmerga ministry was supposed to accomplish this reform.
Other issues the KRG faces are security cooperation with Baghdad and disputes over Kirkuk and Sinjar. Iraqi forces pushed the Peshmerga out of Kirkuk in the wake of the independence referendum. ISIS has been able to exploit tensions between the Kurdish region and Baghdad to operate in some areas between the Iraqi forces and Peshmerga.
In addition, the region faces economic challenges. An oasis of security and an economic success story, the KRG wants to expand its economic power and reforms.
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