London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Amid continuing political deadlock in Iraq, the selection of the country’s next president remains mired in confusion despite the return of incumbent president Jalal Talabani from medical treatment abroad on Saturday.
Reports say that Iraq’s Kurdish parties were unable to agree on the nomination of a single candidate for the presidency over the weekend, despite expectations that a parliamentary session to confirm the choice will take place on Wednesday.
The Iraqi presidency, a largely ceremonial post, is reserved for a member of the country’s Kurdish minority under an informal agreement that emerged during attempts to form a new government in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion of the country.
State TV said President Talabani returned to Iraqi Kurdistan on Saturday, two years after a stroke led him to seek medical treatment in Germany.
According to press reports, Iraq’s Kurds have narrowed the choice of his successor down to two candidates: former deputy premier Barham Salih and former speaker of parliament Fuad Masoum.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday, Masoum, who is the deputy secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), said he had not been officially informed of his nomination by the party.
“I have not been officially informed of the nomination so far, even though I am aware of it,” he said, adding that “the post of president of the Republic is a huge responsibility and a great honor, and what is important today is to preserve the unity and stability of Iraq and the Iraqis.”
Asked about reports of the possibility of the nomination of Salih for the post, Masoum said he sent a message to the PUK’s Political Bureau informing them that if there was a consensus on Salih, then “I am with this consensus, and if there is not, then I am happy to be nominated for the post of president.”
Masoum, who enjoys the backing of most Iraqi blocs, hails from the same town as President Talabani, and was one of the PUK’s four co-founders.
According to sources in the PUK, the party’s leaders had decided to nominate Masoum following a disagreement between Salih and Kirkuk Governor Najmiddin Karim, when the sudden return of President Talabani from Germany brought the process to a halt.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday, Farhad Hassan, a PUK member of parliament, said the return of President Talabani “resulted in the postponement of the meeting of the Political Bureau which was scheduled for Saturday evening to put the final touches to the nomination and present it to Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani, who in turn would present it to Baghdad.”
Hassan said the Political Bureau would make its decision after consulting President Talabani.
He added: “While we can say that Talabani is in very good health, it may be difficult to involve him in the details of this process. However, since he is back home and he is the secretary-general of the party, it is not possible for the Political Bureau to make such a major decision without consulting the president.”
He added: “If President Talabani expressed an opinion on this issue, all nominations will become null and void because he alone has the authority to nominate his successor for the Presidency, and his decision will be binding for everyone.”
Meanwhile, more than 50 other Iraqis have nominated themselves for the post of president, most prominently former planning minister Mahdi Al-Hafez, who said he was attempting to challenge the sectarian and ethnic basis on which the country’s top political jobs are allocated.
Hafez told Asharq Al-Awsat that his candidacy for the president’s post was in a “personal capacity and aims to break the flawed foundations on which the political process is built, in addition to my feeling that there is an urgent need for an Arab president of Iraq.”
Another MP, Fawzi Akram Tarzi, a member of the Al-Ahrar parliamentary bloc of the Sadrist Movement, said he had also nominated himself for president, maintaining he wanted to assert the right of Iraq’s Turkmen population to run for the country’s most senior political posts.
Meanwhile, members of the Iraqi Forces Alliance, a Sunni umbrella movement, announced the nomination of former parliament speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi for the vice-presidency.
However, Mohamed Al-Khalidi, former secretary of the parliament and a close aide to Nujaifi, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Nujaifi had “not made a decision about the nomination or the acceptance of another sovereign post.”
Nujaifi, a fierce critic of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, resigned in June in a bid to pressure Maliki to do the same.
The Iraqi prime minister has been struggling to build a majority in parliament in order to allow him to serve a third term as premier since inconclusive elections at the end of April. He also faces fierce criticism for failing to prevent large swaths of northern and western Iraq from falling out of government control and allowing militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to gain a foothold in the country.
Additional reporting by Hamza Mustafa in Baghdad.