Kosrat Rasul, the acting head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan landed in the International Airport of Sulaimani late on Saturday afternoon, nearly two months after he left for Germany to receive medical treatment.
Many Kurdish officials like Sulaimani Governor Haval Abubakir, and veteran Peshmerga commander Muhammad Haji Mahmoud, aka Kaka Hama, welcomed Rasul at the airport after landing in a private jet.
PUK officials, some of whom who do not see eye to eye, were also present to receive Rasul, 66, with high hopes that he may reunite the party following the biggest crisis to hit the party since its foundation in 1975.
Rasul left Sulaimani for Berlin in late November following the death of the party’s founder Jalal Talabani on October 3 and the October 16 loss of the oil-rich Kirkuk, a PUK stronghold, to Iraqi forces. At the time, he accused some PUK elements of “treason,” especially those from the Talabani family, a charge since denied.
Before falling ill, Rasul was involved in intensive efforts to prepare for the party’s congress. He headed a meeting that in effect dissolved the politburo office, and paved the way to appoint an 11-member committee to run the PUK’s affairs until a congress is held.
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Mahmud Sangawi, a senior PUK official who was at the airport, told Rudaw that he was happy to see Rasul back in Sulaimani, adding that the task ahead is difficult.
“We hope that he will head the leadership meeting to solve the problems that we have been suffering for a while now,” he said, emphasizing that the PUK’s politburo office has been dissolved, and a decision to form the 11-member committee has not been made final.
Mohammed Saeed, otherwise called Hamay Hama Saeed, said that the PUK acting head first has to rest for “several days” before starting to engage in party affairs. He insisted that Rasul is the only rightful official who can take decisions about the PUK moving forward.
He said since the politburo had been dissolved, only the Leadership Council has legitimacy, and that “Only Mr. Rasul can call for a meeting, or make the decision to call for a meeting.”
Hero Ibrahim, the widow of Jalal Talabani and a leadership member, stated last month that the party is going to hold a congress in March. But Saeed said that statements like this remain just unofficial “remarks.”
“The PUK cannot hold a congress with the current situation in place,” Saeed said, explaining that the situation should first go back to “normal.”
Lahur Talabany, the head of the PUK-controlled counter terrorism force who otherwise does not have a senior leadership position within the party, said that the party’s members are calling for a congress so changes can be made to current leadership.
“We are delighted that he [Rasul] came back while his health is very good. We hope that he can serve the PUK and the people of Kurdistan,” Talabany said, adding that a congress must take place before the general elections in Iraq or that of the Kurdistan Region.
Iraqi elections are scheduled for May 12. A date for elections in the Kurdistan Region is yet to be set, but are likely to be held in April.
Talabany is among the people accused by Rasul of handing over Kirkuk to the Iraqi forces and the Iranian-backed Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi. He denies all such accusations.
Rasul was in Germany when a wave of anti-government protests hit many Kurdish cities in PUK’s powerbase provinces Sulaimani and Halabja last month which caused the deaths of three people. He then said in a statement warning all Kurdish parties and people of Kurdistan that the Kurdish house is suffering from lack of unity, a fact that may push the Kurdistan Region “towards the unknown.”
Rasul fell ill in early November in Sulaimani a day after attending Jalal Talabani’s memorial service. He underwent an emergency surgery in Sulaimani on November 11 for a stoppage of blood flow to his small intestine and a second surgery on December 15, a month after he was flown to Berlin for further treatment.
Since he had been receiving medical treatment in Berlin, many Kurdish politicians visited him to check on his health, chief among them Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and his deputy Qubad Talabani at the tail end of a diplomatic trip to France where they met with President Emmanuel Macron.
Rasul became the PUK's acting head after the death of the party's founder and leader Jalal Talabani in early October.