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Tensions mount as KRG council calls on Barzani to extend presidency

Opposition parties have disputed the validity of the KRG Consultative Council's call to keep president in his role until 2017
Iraqi Kurdish president Massoud Barzani delivers a speech in the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk (AFP)

A judicial body of the Kurdistan Region Government (KRG) in Iraq has called for the tenure of the current President Massoud Barzani to be extended by a further two years.

The KRG Consultative (or Shura) Council on Monday declared that Barzani should stay in his current role with powers intact until elections can be held, according to local news media.

Barzani has held the presidency for 10 years after being first elected by the parliament in 2005 and then re-elected by a direct presidential election in 2009.

His term was set to expire on 20 August, but the lack of any clear successor and the instability afflicting the region has lead many of his supporters to call for his presidency to be extended until elections can be held.

The council’s announcement provoked a strong response from opposition politicians.

Shortly after the announcement, the official twitter account of the Movement for Change (Gorran) opposition party criticised the validity of the announcement:

The KRG Consultative Council opinion is advisory and is in no way binding, Parliament is supreme. #twitterkurds #BarzaniLifePresidency

گۆڕان Gorran (@Gorran_Change) August 17, 2015

KRG parliament speaker Yusef Sadiq also reportedly rejected the council’s decision, which he said would not be legal without his approval, according to local media.

However, some analysts suggested that, in private, opposition parties would welcome the continuation of the Barzani presidency.

"This decision is privately welcomed by Gorran, PUK [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] and Islamist [party], as they haven't opposed Barzani's extension, but didn't publicly tolerate it," wrote Ari Mamshae, a senior civil servant in the president's office, on Twitter.

"Opposition parties will publicly oppose decision, but happy that it was not them who extended Barzani's term and repeated August 30, 2013."

Barzani’s term had previously been extended in 2013, following protestations from opposition parties, with the parliamentary chambers reportedly descending into physical conflict.

Barzani was originally elected president by the KRG parliament in 2005, following the establishment of the autonomous area in the newly formed Iraqi constitution.

Stabilising force

While some have criticised Barzani's tenure as undemocratic, many within the KRG have seen Barzani as a stabilising force within the region and called for him remain in power.

In a statement on Monday, representatives of various Christian communities in the KRG issued a call for Barzani to remain in power citing his protection of religious minorities.

"We, as Christians, believe in the supremacy of the law and serve the community and the country," read the statement, which was backed by Christians from Assyrian, Chaldean and Orthodox backgrounds. 

"Through past experiences, it has become clear for us that President Barzani is a leading factor behind the Kurdistan region's peace and stability. Therefore, we as the representatives of Kurdistan’s Christians, including all elements, express our support for extending the Barzani presidency term."

The KRG has been seen as a stronghold of stability in a region wracked with violence, primarily between the Islamic State (IS) group and regional governments, but the KRG's Peshmerga forces have faced an uphill struggle in keeping the militant group at bay.

Renewed conflict between the Turkish government and the left-wing Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who are based in northern Iraq, has also caused trouble for Barzani, who last month called for the PKK to leave their bases in the Qandil mountains in order to avoid further civilian casualties.

Some commentators have warned of the danger of Barzani's stepping down in such a fractious climate.

“I think the last thing we need now, with the ISIS militants at the gate and complicated wars spreading around us, is to reshuffle an experienced leader like Barzani,” said political analyst Saro Qadir on Rudaw TV.

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