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Kurdish leader concedes power to his nephew

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan [KRG.OFFICE/Wikipedia]

Masoud Barzani, the President of the Iraqi Kurdish region, stepped down on Wednesday, leaving his nephew to reconcile with the central government in Baghdad, regional neighbours and rival Kurdish parties after a failed referendum on independence, Reuters has reported. Kurdish officials said that Nechirvan Barzani is now the main authority figure in the executive of the autonomous region.

"The Prime Minister will be the key person during this transitional period," said Hoshyar Zebari, a former Iraqi foreign minister, now advisor to the Kurdish government and senior member of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Masoud Barzani is a 71-year-old veteran guerrilla leader who has run the Kurdish region with a firm hand since 2005. During his time in office it prospered while the rest of Iraq was mired in civil war. However, he announced his resignation on Sunday after a 25 September referendum on independence backfired, prompting the central government to send troops to recapture territory held by the Kurds beyond the borders of their autonomous region.

The referendum and government backlash have also revealed deep divisions among the Kurds themselves. Barzani senior used his resignation speech to accuse his political rivals of "high treason" for yielding territory without a fight.

His nephew, 51, has served as Prime Minister for all but three years since 2006. He is seen in Kurdish politics as a less polarising figure, having warmer relations than his uncle has with rival Kurdish parties.

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