Live: It’s congress day! Follow all the latest as PUK summit gets underway

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Evening summary 

The absence of any comment from KDP leader Masoud Barzani and deputy leader Masrour Barzani is noteworthy given the historical context of relations between the KDP and PUK.

Traditionally, the KDP leadership would issue a statement extending good wishes to the congress.

The absence of such a statement suggests tensions regarding Bafel Talabani’s direction with the PUK are set to deepen. Both men are spectacularly stubborn political actors and have been clashing heads repeatedly as they tightened the grip over their respective parties.

President Nechirvan Barzani did attend, giving a good natured address and even cracking a few jokes. But he leads the KDP’s more diplomatic and amenable wing. A wing that has steadily lost influence within the party over the last five years. It remains to be seen if President Barzani’s presence represents a division or a division of labor within the KDP. 

That’s all we have for you for Day One of the PUK’s fifth congress. Today was largely ceremonial.

We should get into the nitty gritty tomorrow. Stay tuned with us for more comprehensive coverage.
Translated statement from the Kurdistan Region Security Council:


The owner of the hall that caught fire in Hamdaniya [also Qaraqosh] district was arrested by our institutions.

Hundreds of people were killed in a fire at a banquet hall in the Hamdaniyah district of Nineveh province last night. In response, the Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant for several individuals, including the hall's owner, Samir Sulaiman Krumi Rafo Aso.

Upon receiving the arrest warrant, agencies under the Kurdistan Region Security Council in Erbil apprehended the owner of the hall. He has since been transferred to the Ministry of Interior of the Federal Government of Iraq.


Breaking: Kurdistan Region security forces have arrested the owner of Al-Haitham Wedding Hall

The venue at which over 100 people died last night is located in the Qaraqosh district of northern Nineveh province.

Samir Refo Aso was arrested in Erbil province, according to the Kurdistan Region Security Council.
Breaking: Security forces in the Kurdistan Region have arrested Samir Refo Aso, owner of the Al-Haitham Wedding Hall in Hamdaniya district, northern Nineveh province. 

The arrest was made in Erbil province, according to the Kurdistan Region Security Council.

Iraq-Turkey Pipeline restart 'not imminent' – Argus

A senior Iraqi official informed Argus's Bachar Halabi that the restart of the Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline (ITP) isn't on the horizon primarily due to financial concerns.

"The issue is not about logistics, but financial commitments," the source highlighted. 

Elaborating on Turkey's loan to the Kurds, the source revealed, "The Turks have loaned the Kurds a certain sum of money. It seems like payback used to happen through Turkey getting a certain share from Kurdish crude exports through the ITP."

Turkey's energy minister, Alparslan Bayraktar, suggested that the resolution lies with Erbil and Baghdad, urging, "They need to get together and decide how they're going to proceed."
The restart of the Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline (ITP) continues to be "complicated" by financial compensation issues between the two countries and is not imminent, a senior Iraqi source told Argus, as expectations are mounting over a possible return of around 470,000 b/d of northern Iraqi crude following a six-month shut-in.

From the Secretary General of Socialist International Benedicta Lasi to the PUK

"Your goals for a more inclusive, democratic, and equitable society are ones that we share. We believe that we can all contribute to a brighter future for everyone via communication, teamwork, and dedication to shared values."

At least the Iraqi president mentioned 'challenges' in his speech

"The PUK has seen numerous challenges, joys, and sorrows throughout its political and struggle life, but it has never wavered in its pursuit of the interests of the Kurdish people, sacrificing its own interests in the process.”

Not the sorts of challenges critics say are facing the party now, but historical challenges the party faced so valiantly.

But still, at least he used the word.

As the PUK prepared to launch its congress, KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, younger brother of the PUK leader and supervisor of President Mam [Jalal Talabani]'s Secretariat Office, offered some remarks.

"I extend heartfelt congratulations to the families of our martyrs and to the citizens of the Kurdistan Region," Talabani said. He emphasized the importance of viewing the congress with party enthusiasm and respecting the PUK's enduring struggle. "The PUK is keen on evolving its vision to meet the present-day challenges in the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and neighboring areas," he added.

Discussing the forthcoming event, Talabani noted, "The early convening of this fifth congress showcases the PUK's vitality and its commitment to the future."

Underscoring the PUK's regional importance, he said, "The PUK holds a pivotal role in Kurdistan, Iraq, and the surrounding regions. It's imperative that we invited esteemed guests to this congress to mark this historical milestone with us."


Fire hall owner on the run as nine suspects arrested

Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant Wednesday for the owner of Al-Haitham Wedding Hall, located in Hamdaniya district of northern Nineveh province, following a fire at the venue.

Interior Minister Abdul Amir Al-Shammari traveled to the region and informed journalists that nine individuals have been detained in relation to the blaze. Efforts are underway, in coordination with the KRG interior ministry, to locate and apprehend the hall's owner, who is currently at large.

Initial reports indicate that approximately 800 attendees were present at the wedding hall when the fire ignited.

Disturbing video footage capturing the moment the fire erupted, while the bride and groom danced, spread rapidly across social media platforms. Clips depict panicked guests scrambling in all directions to evade the growing flames.


Turkey says PKK member killed in Sulaymaniyah

Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT) announced Wednesday that it has "neutralized" a member of the PKK/KCK in Sulaymaniyah province.

State-run Anadolu Agency cited security sources who said the MIT targeted Mazlum Ozturk, also known by the codename Berxwedan Ciyager, in a rural part of Sulaymaniyah.

According to the report, Ozturk was a recent recruit to the PKK. He traveled from Turkey to Europe last year and then returned as an active member. While in Europe, he was engaged in activities with the European Kurdistan Democratic Societies Congress (KCDK-E).

Investigations indicated that Ozturk joined the group's rural faction in France in January 2023. He was reportedly involved in armed activities and trained in assassination tactics targeting security forces.

The term "neutralized" is often used by Turkish authorities to suggest that a PKK member either surrendered, was killed, or was captured.


Here's what Ammar Hakim, the leader of the Al-Hikma Movement, stated during his speech earlier today:

  • He praised the PUK’s track record, including the achievements of the late leader Jalal Talabani. He mentioned that Talabani was not only a Kurdish leader but also one of Iraq's notable figures, maintaining good relations with most Iraqi political parties.

  • Hakim expressed his optimism regarding PUK leader Bafel Talabani and the current leadership, hoping they would continue Mam Jalal’s unifying approach and policies to bridge the differences between Erbil and Baghdad.

  • All Iraqis wish to see a prosperous Kurdistan Region within a federally united Iraq that upholds its sovereignty.

  • He emphasized, "Baghdad will never be strong without a robust and united Kurdistan Region." [Bafel Talabani and Nechirvan Barzani applauded]

  • The challenges between Erbil and Baghdad must be directly addressed, believing there's a national will to surmount them.

  • Hakim stated that the security of the Kurdistan Region is intertwined with the security of the entire country. Therefore, any threat to Sulaymaniyah is a threat to Iraq and its security and interests.

  • He cautioned against forces aiming to divide the country, which jeopardizes national interests.

  • Hakim conveyed his anticipation for the PUK and its leadership to play a pivotal role in unifying both the Kurdish domain and the broader Iraqi landscape.

Bakhtiar Kawani skips congress

Yet another high profile absentee. Though this one less of a surprise than some of the others. 

"Upon reaching the doors of the congress hall, I chose not to participate in the fifth congress, which was forcibly imposed on the cadres and members of our party."

Bakhtiar Kawani, a senior cadre and former manager of the PUK politburo's office in Erbil, wrote, "They are inciting conflict among our comrades and dividing our union according to the wishes of our adversaries."

"I extend my support to Comrade Mala Bakhtiar and his colleagues in the Supreme Council. I wholeheartedly back Comrade Lahur Sheikh Jangi [Talabany] and his associates. I concur with their insightful messages."

Bakhtiar Kawani
Bakhtiar Kawani  


It could be a party conference, academic conference, or even a mall grand opening night. The front rows seem to always be the same.

Former Iraq PM Haider Al-Abadi speaks

Haider Al-Abadi
Haider Al-Abadi   credit: Gali Kurdistan TV

He ends by paying tribute to the victims of the Qaraqosh wedding hall fire.
Sardar Harki, a PUK leadership council member member, expressed concerns that the fifth congress of the party might exacerbate internal conflicts. He was speaking to Kurdistan 24, a TV station linked to PM Masrour Barzani.

“The congress represents a pivotal moment in the party’s lifecycle, serving as a juncture to review past policies, establish new leadership, and determine the future direction of the party. An unprecedented number of PUK leaders have opted out of attending this congress. With upcoming provincial council and parliamentary elections, holding the congress post-elections might have provided the PUK with a clearer perspective on its policy evaluation.”

“If the objective of the congress is to solidify the party’s unity and aim for higher goals, then it has the potential to achieve a lot. However, if its intent is factional, serving to sideline one group while bolstering another, then it seems driven by a desire to only promote those with aligned loyalties to key leadership positions.”

“The procedures adopted for member nominations to the congress appear to have bypassed democratic principles. Speculations suggest that there will be fixed lists during the congress, dictating the voting process, rather than granting members the freedom to run and cast their votes.”

“From what can be observed, this congress has sown further discord within the PUK. Prior to the congress, it would have been prudent to engage in discussions with all dissenting voices and critics of the current PUK stance. The approach taken for this congress only seems to deepen the crisis.”
Soran Jamal Tahir, PUK's spokesperson and a member of the politburo, is among those who voiced concerns and chose to boycott the congress, citing potential rifts within the party. 

Tahir told Rudaw that he does not wish to be a part of any division within the party.

When your own spokesperson is publically briefing against the party leadership...

Reminds us of when former spokesperson Saadi Ahmed Pira once issued an official PUK statement and the polibuto countered with someone along the lines of 'Pira's statement doesn't represent all of the PUK.'

Those were the days.

Ammar Al-Hakim now speaking

Ammar Al-Hakim
Ammar Al-Hakim   credit: Gali Kurdistan TV

President Nechirvan Barzani speech

He concludes his speech by congratulating the PUK and offering platitudes for the future.

President Nechirvan Barzani speech

No political interference in institutions, says a KDP leader at the PUK party congress.

President Nechirvan Barzani speech

Back on track. He says those participating in the federal government (KDP and PUK included) should work together towards solving these issues.

President Nechirvan Barzani speech

He's now off on a tangent on how Kurdistan salaries can't be victim to politicking and brinkmanship. 

Very tenuous links to his hosts on the day. Unless it's because of the implication(!)

President Nechirvan Barzani speech

President Nechirvan Barzani is discussing the relations between the PUK and KDP. 

He emphasizes that unity is essential for them to accomplish anything, overcome challenges, and preserve their constitutional achievements.


President Nechirvan Barzani speech

The president begins by joking about whether he should still call Bafel Talabani the PUK leader or not.

"You said you're 'no longer PUK leader as of five minutes from now' so what do I call you?"

Plenty of laughs and applause. 

Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani takes to the stage

Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani
Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani   credit: Gali Kurdistan TV
Talabani's speech was concise and to the point. He did not address any internal party issues, including the noticeable absence of key figures like Mala Bakhtiar and supporters of Lahur Talabany
He started hesitantly but the speech became more assertive and emotionally charged towards the end, emphasizing that the PUK will protect its people and will 'bow to no one but God.'

Talabani concludes his speech. There's a brief applause, and a few people stand up.

Talabani: "Whatever position you assign to me, I promise I will never leave you and will not let our enemies and rivals take you by surprise."

Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid is now speaking

The only highlight from his speech that will make inroads on social media is him fumbling a page turn for what seemed like an eternity. Poor guy has been getting pelters online for perceived clumsiness since becoming president. 
President Abdul Latif Rashid
President Abdul Latif Rashid   credit: Gali Kurdistan TV
Talabani: "This is the last time I speak as the leader of the PUK. From now on, I will be a regular member of the PUK. Whatever happens during the congress, we will accept it and remain united."
He says, "We should defend freedom of speech, women's rights, as well as the rights of minorities and the youth."
"Holding the PUK congress now, on schedule, despite the economic crisis, demonstrates our trust in our supporters, members, and the people."
Bafel Talabani: "We are starting a new phase and uniting the party even more."
Bafel Talabani: "Our aim to strengthen the PUK and serve our people."

The PUK leader is making a speech. As he walks to the stage, there's no standing ovation.

Maybe that comes after the speech.
We recently watched a mini-doc on the history of the PUK, primarily focusing on the late PUK leader Jalal Talabani and his achievements. Current leader Bafel is his son.
The documentary featured a notable shot of Bafel Talabani's mother, Hero Ibrahim Ahmed. She is conspicuously absent from the congress due to health reasons.

PUK leader Bafel Talabani is flanked by Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani and Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid

Other notable delegates include Iraqi politicians such as former PM Haydar al-Abadi and Ammar al-Hakim. Today's agenda is expected to be largely ceremonial as the three-day event kicks off. 

PUKMedia published a piece stating that the changes to be adopted include:
  • A proposition was put forward to decrease the members of the political bureau to 10 individuals.
  • Establishing three distinct councils: the Supreme Political and Interests Council, the Leadership Council, and the Support Council.
  • The Leadership Council of the PUK will undergo a reduction, resulting in a total of 51 individuals, consisting of one president and 50 members.

Morning briefing

Good morning everyone. 
Let's get right to it. 
Today, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party congress is taking place as the party faces criticism and boycotts from notable members like veteran Mala Bakhtiar and even party spokesperson Soran Jamal Tahir

Additionally, there's the scathing statement issued by the ousted co-leader, Lahur Talabany.

As we've mentioned before, this event is under close scrutiny because many believe it to be a pre-planned affair in which the current PUK leader, Bafel Talabani, is expected to further consolidate his control over the party. 

Stay tuned for an upcoming analysis by journalist Renwar Najm that will explore how this conference differs from previous ones. Be sure to check back later to read the piece.

Tragically, at least 100 people were killed and more than 150 injured in a fire that broke out during a wedding at an event hall in the town of Qaraqosh. Our piece on that is now up.