With Iraq leader in Berlin, party struggles at home

With Iraq leader in Berlin, party struggles at home
Iraq's president Jalal Talabani.

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq - As Iraq's president recovers in Germany from a stroke, his political party at home faces a stiff challenge from an emboldened opposition in upcoming elections, with some forecasting a disastrous showing.

The struggles facing Jalal Talabani's bloc, which for decades has held a duopoly on power in the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, could prove instructive for parties across the country.

Many of them, like his bloc, remain dependent on personalities rather than policies, ahead of national elections due in less than a year.

Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has faced increasingly tough competition from a breakaway faction as well as Islamist and Communist groupings in its home base of Sulaimaniyah ahead of the three-province Kurdish region's September 21 parliamentary election.

The PUK has put Talabani front and centre in its campaign - posters plastered across Sulaimaniyah urge voters to cast their ballots for "Mam Jalal", as the president is affectionately known.

But the posters have been competing for space on the city's streets with Goran, a bloc comprised largely of ex-PUK officials, and the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU).

"It will be a very big shock" for the PUK, said Asos Hardi, a Sulaimaniyah-based journalist and analyst.

"It will be a turning point, I believe, for the PUK ... in a bad way."

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