Patton Boggs working to get Kurdish parties off terrorist list

Patton Boggs will be working for two of the major political parties in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, according to forms recently filed with the Justice Department.

Leading the charge for the firm is former State Department official and Patton partner, David M. Tafuri. 

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The firm is attempting to get the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) off the United States’ list of terrorist organizations.

The Kurdistan Regional Government – predominantly composed of the PDK and the PUK – is the ruling body of the Northern region of Iraq, which has a large Kurdish population. It falls under Tier III terrorist group under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which was amended by the Patriot Act in 2001.

“The work on analyzing Tier III and drafting a legal brief we will not exceed $25,000 USD,” a letter from Patton to the client reads. “If subsequent phases are required, including to perform advocacy, we will provide a budget and estimated fees and costs.”

Critics of having the parties on the list note they became designated as Tier III groups after helping the U.S. overthrow former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The designation prohibits the group from obtaining a visa to enter the United States without a waiver, including senior officials. 

The Obama administration has said it cannot take the groups off the terrorist list until Congress approves the move in legislation. The Senate Judiciary Committee has pushed back against fixes that zone in on individual parts of the law, instead favoring a broad reform.

Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, has refused to visit the White House until the designations are lifted.

"The moment the invitation was sent [in January] I spoke to the [American] ambassador personally and said that the president would not visit the U.S. until this was sorted out," Falah Mustafa, a minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, told The Guardian in February.  

"I wrote to them last year and the year before and we were promised at the highest levels that this issue would be sorted out. [It has not] and that is the only reason that President Barzani is not visiting the U.S.,” Mustafa continued. “He will not go until it is sorted out."

Barzani was scheduled to visit Washington on Jan. 27, but skipped the trip. A Kurdistan Region-based news source, BasNews, first reported the contract with Patton Boggs on Feb. 11, but it only showed up in Justice Department records this week.

"America did not receive a single casualty here in this region dominated by the PUK and KDP, which they consider terrorists. The question that needs to be asked of the American government and Congress is how can you allow this to continue? It is wrong, it is unfair and it has to be remedied," Mustafa told The Guardian.

Tafuri works with several Middle Eastern clients at Patton Boggs, including Libya and the largest bank in Iraq. He is involved with the U.S. Kurdistan Business Council and helped found the Iraq Business Initiative at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

At the State Department, he served as the rule of law coordinator for Iraq at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Last week, Mustafa held talks with White House and State Department officials about several issues important to the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, including the terrorist designation, according to a release on the Kurdistan Regional Government’s website. 

“Minister Mustafa met with the newly appointed senior director at the National Security Council, Robert Malley, at the White House where he congratulated him and assured him of the KRG’s continued cooperation,” the release says. 

“For his part, Mr. Malley spoke about the U.S. administration’s full support in removing the two Kurdish political parties from Tier III designation through a legislative amendment to the Patriot Act in a timely manner.”

Last fall, Republican Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and John McCain (Ariz.) introduced an amendment to Defense legislation that would remove the two parties from the list of terrorist organizations. That amendment didn’t make it into the law.

Having the PDK and the PUK on the list “is contrary to the cooperative and friendly relationship between Kurdistan and the United States,” Blunt said in a statement at the time. “Surprisingly, the Executive Branch does not have the authority to remove entities labeled as Tier III terror groups from that designation. Only Congress can grant a group exclusive relief as it did in 2008 when it acted to remove the African National Congress (ANC) from the list.”