The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is a leftist Iraqi-Kurdish political party that splintered from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the mid 1970’s after the KDP’s Mustafa Barzani-led Peshmerga was defeated by the Iraqi Army led by Saddam Hussein. The PUK is said to have been founded by Jalal Talabani, Nawshirwan Mustafa, Ali Askari, Fuad Masum and others.
The PUK founders were the intellectuals and academics of the KDP who had a more left-leaning, democratic, socialist political philosophy. The KDP was more traditional, conservative and tribal in their political philosophy and constituency.
When the Barzani-led Peshmerga was defeated, Barzani took the KDP into exile in Iran. Talibani and his colleagues formed the new PUK party to fill that vacuum and provide leadership for Iraqi Kurdistan. At it’s founding, the PUK was an umbrella group for various leftist organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan. The PUK’s constituency comes from the southern part of Iraqi Kurdistan centered in Sulaymaniyah.
Civil War with KDP
Almost from its’ founding, the PUK was at odds with the KDP who, even though they were exiled in Iran, objected to the way the PUK was conducting its resistance to the Iraqi army. Eventually, the KDP re-emerged in Kurdistan and during the 1980’s Iran-Iraq War, they put aside their differences to gain autonomy and defend against the genocide campaign.
After the 1990-1991 Gulf War, the Coalition Forces implemented a no-fly zone in Kurdistan which protected them from Iraqi Air Force and allowed them to maintain their autonomy.
Unfortunately, due to clashes between the KDP and PUK in how to administer the government and oil resources, a civil war erupted and lasted till 1998 when the Washington Agreement was signed by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani.
Power Sharing and Gorran
Since peace was instituted and has held, there’s been elections in 2005 and 2009 in which the KDP and PUK ran as a united party and shared power and positions. But in 2009, a new party called the Movement for Change (Gorran) Party, splintered off from the PUK and ran as an anti-corruption and anti-nepotism party and won a surprising number of votes and parliamentary seats (25 out of 100) winning over votes from both the KDP and PUK constituencies. In 2013, the KDP and PUK ran separately; the KDP won 38 seats and the PUK 18 out of 100 while the Change Party won 24.
Under the new Government, the KDP’s Massoud Barzani is the President, KDP’s Nechirvan Barzani is the Prime Minister, PUK’s Qubad Talibani is the Deputy Prime Minister and Movement for Change‘s Yousif Muhammed is Speaker of the Parliament.