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Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) formed in the late 1970's and was led by Jalal Talabani. Its influence was centered around Suleymaniye. Support for the PUK came mainly from urban Kurdish populations and radicals. Geography, politics and history have conspired to render 30 million Kurds the largest stateless people in the Middle East. In northern Iraq, all central government functions had been performed by local administrators, mainly Kurds, since the Government withdrew its military forces and civilian administrative personnel from the area after the 1991 uprising. A regional parliament and local government administrators were elected in 1992. This parliament last met in May 1995. Discussions among Kurdish and other northern Iraqi political groups continued on the reconvening of parliament, but fighting between the PUK and KDP continued to prevent normal parliamentary activity.

In 1997. fighting took place in northern Iraq between the two main Iraqi Kurdish groups, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the PUK. In addition, attacks on civilians by the Turkish Kurd terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), resulted in many deaths, particularly among the vulnerable Assyrian minority and villagers who supported the KDP. Turkish forces entered Iraq several times during the year to combat the PKK. These separate conflicts converged in November, when Turkish air and ground elements joined the KDP to force the PUK and the PKK to return to the established intra-Kurdish ceasefire line. Intra-Kurdish fighting in October and November resulted in the deaths of over 1200 fighters and an undisclosed number of civilians. A ceasefire established on 24 November 1997 ended the fighting for the remainder of the year, albeit with a few sporadic clashes.

The KDP estimated that 58,000 KDP supporters were expelled from Suleymaniyah and other PUK-controlled areas from October 1996 to October 1997; the PUK says that more than 49,000 of its supporters were expelled from Irbil and other KDP-controlled areas from August 1996 through December 1997. The U.N. reports that more than 10,000 persons were forced from their homes when fighting broke out between the Kurdish factions along their cease-fire line in October 1997.

The United Nations has documented over 16,000 cases of persons who have disappeared in the Iraqi sector of Kurdistan. According to the Special Rapporteur, most of these cases occurred during the Anfal Campaign. He estimates that the total number of Kurds who disappeared during Anfal could reach the tens of thousands. Human Rights Watch estimates that the total at between 70,000 and 150,000, and Amnesty International (AI) at more than 100,000.

In early June 2004 Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said that most of the country's powerful militias had agreed to disarm. Their members would either join state-controlled security services, or return to civilian life. Nine militias with a total of some 100,000 fighters agreed to disband under the deal. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party together field some 75,000 fighters known as peshmerga. About half of the peshmerga will join the national army or police forces but that thousands of others will join Kurdish-controlled regional forces. Those forces are three specialized units -- mountain troops, counterterrorist forces, and quick-reaction battalions -- under the command of the Kurdish regional government that controls northern Iraq.

The Sunni boycott of the provincial elections in Kirkuk province in January 2004 resulted in a lopsided win for the Kurds, in particular the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). With the blessing of its coalition partner the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), PUK snapped up a sizeable majority of provincial council (PC) seats and assumed the most important leadership positions (Provincial Council Chair and director generals in most of the ministries).

In 2005, reports suggested that there were various levels of curruption occuring within the PUK. Including taking land for its natural resources and smuggling for financial growth. Many of the party members have been accused of acting in favor of profit rather than their constituency. This corruption may possibly stem from the lack of accountability within the administration. Additionally, since the PUK has control over media outlets, it allows for the possibility of corruption to go undetected. Nepotism had also reportedly been an issue within the PUK. Talabani's only two sons and his two brother-in-laws all hold government positions.

On 7 April 2005, Jalal Talabani was sworn in as president of Iraq as well as holding his position as leader of the PUK. He would be the first non-Arab president of an Arab country. After having fought for Kurdish rights for many years, Talabani would seek equal rights for all in Iraq. The president's role in Iraq is largely ceremonial, but Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, used his position to mediate disputes among the country's various ethnic and religious groups.

In 2007, Talabani committed himself to acheiving benchmarks aimed at assisting Iraqi national reconciliation. These benchmarks include a new oil law defining how Iraq's energy revenues would be divided among federal and provincial authorities, a resolution of the status of former Saddam-era Ba'ath Party members and a new election law. He also committed to the training of the Iraqi army and their forces to gradually replace the American forces in taking responsibility for the security of Iraq.

Jalal Talabani's PUK suffered significant losses in the July 2009 KRG parliamentary elections, calling into question the bipolar PUK-KDP Kurdish political order that had obtained since 1998. The opposition Goran ("Change") Movement outperformed the PUK in Sulemaniyah traditionally the PUK's stronghold, seriously damaging Talabani's stature. Talabani was no longer on equal footing with KRG President Masoud Barzani, who won 70 percent of the popular vote in his run for the KRG presidency in 2009. The disastrous election results occasioned a debilitating internal power struggle within PUK.

With Talabani in a weakened state, his former PUK Deputy Nawshirwan Mustafa (now head of Goran Movement) pounced on the opportunity to weaken him further, luring PUK members to Goran and, in a direct threat to the PUK's base, consolidating power in Sulemaniyah and Kirkuk. Many stalwart PUK politburo members - resentful of the prosperity their KDP counterparts enjoyed with the Barzanis helming the regional government in Erbil - blamed Talabani for their predicament.

In 2007, a few Sunni Arabs and Turkomans entered into a power-sharing agreement with the Kurds for participation on the Kirkuk PC. However, by 2010 they held only 15 of the 41-seat PC. Due to the disputed status of Kirkuk, no provincial elections can be scheduled. The longer that the current political make-up of the PC continued, the more PUK believed that it was entitled to the leadership positions it holds. The 2010 national parliamentary elections were the first real opportunity for other parties to contest PUK's control of Kirkuk province. The greatest threat to PUK's dominance comes from the Kurdish opposition party Goran Movement, which draws increasing support from disillusioned PUK members. PUK's aggressive and abrupt tactics on its own membership is a reflection of how shakened Talabani was by the number of PUK defectors who voted for Goran in the KRG parliamentary elections.

The 79-year-old President Jalal Talabani was hospitalized for a stroke on 17 December 2012, and then transferred to Germany for treatment. Talabani had dealt with several health problems in recent years. In 2008, he underwent heart surgery in the United States. He made a 2007 visit to a U.S. clinic for weight-loss treatment, and the same year spent more than two weeks in Jordan receiving treatment for exhaustion and dehydration.




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