A year after a disastrous independence vote he had championed in Iraqi Kurdistan, veteran leader Massud Barzani has made a strong comeback both on the home front and in Baghdad, AFP reported.
While Iraq's presidency, a ceremonial post, has gone to Barham Saleh of the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) was on Sunday declared the clear winner of the September 30 parliamentary elections in the autonomous region of northern Iraq.
In the political manoeuvring for ministerial posts in Baghdad, meanwhile, the KDP can also even boast it is the largest single party in Iraq. The party garnered 25 seats in Iraq's legislative elections in May, contested mainly against party lists.
With 45 seats won in the 111-member Iraqi Kurdish parliament, Barzani's party can form a majority without the PUK.
It can, in theory, rely solely on the 11-seat allocation reserved for the region's minority Turkmen, Christian and Armenian communities.
"Now that he is the great heavyweight of Kurdish politics, no-one can do without him in Baghdad," said Adel Bakawan, a research associate at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris (EHESS).
He predicted Barzani would seek the deputy premier, foreign and finance minister posts for the KDP in the federal government that is to be formed by November.
"He lost the gamble of the referendum, but the legislative (polls) in May were a tremendous moment of grace; he was courted by the Americans and the Iranians," the two key powerbrokers in Iraq, he said.
New opposition movement
Barzani looked down and out after the Kurdistan independence vote, which was ruled illegal by Iraq's central government and resulted in Baghdad imposing economic penalties and retaking disputed territory.
The Iraqi Kurdish presidency has been left vacant since Barzani stepped down following the fiasco.
The appointment of a new president has been on hold, pending the drafting of a new Kurdish constitution for which no timetable has been set.
The leaders of the region's top two political parties also took their rivalry to Baghdad, contesting the role of Iraqi president.
The PUK's candidate Saleh won that race, maintaining a tacit accord between the two parties which sees the PUK take the federal presidency while the KDP holds the Kurdistan presidency.
Kurdistan is split politically and geographically between the KDP and the PUK, which won 21 seats in the region's election, but unlike in the past they no longer have to work together to form a government.
According to political scientist Wathiq al-Hashemi, the region could "see the return of two leaderships" but "regional pressures" from neighbouring states are likely to rule out a return to the deadly clashes of 1994-2006 when the Kurds had rival governments.
Kurdistan's parliamentary vote also saw the emergence of the New Generation movement, which was founded this year to channel public anger at the region's elite.
The movement picked up eight seats in the vote, while the main opposition Goran (Change) party lost half of its seats and was left with 12 lawmakers.
Analysts put Goran's losses down to the arrival of New Generation, whose candidates stood in opposition to the KDP and PUK.