Tag Archives: KRG Baghdad Relations

As oil deal with Baghdad threatens to unravel, Kurdistan must decide – is oil to be their curse or treasure?

The backdrop to a raging battle with the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq is a raging political battle for control of the vast oil wealth of the country.

The billions of barrels of oil reserves under the Iraqi feet should be a real treasure and a divine gift but it has proven much more of a historical curse.

First misuse of revenues under Saddam Hussein to fund expensive wars and campaigns of repression against the Kurds and now since 2003, with the exception of the Kurdistan Region, Iraq is in a worse state in terms of economy, infrastructure and public services in spite of record revenues in recent years.

Control of oil exploration and revenues has been a real thorn in the relations between Kurdistan Region and Iraq. Several years later, no national hydrocarbon law exists and disputes continue to linger.

Many agreements have been reached between Erbil and Baghdad, often through gritted teeth and bitterness than real compromise or a common vision. As soon as the oil taps have turned on, it hasn’t been long before they were switched off again.

In addition to the rise of IS in large swathes of Iraq, another milestone in 2014 was the first independent Kurdish oil exports and revenues.

It may have sent relations with Baghdad spiraling downwards but certainly for their self-sufficiency and increased autonomy the direction was firmly upwards. Baghdad has sporadically paid Kurdistan’s share of the budget since January 2014 and Kurdistan was forced to take unilateral action but at the same time found itself in legal grey zones.

Finally, a deal was struck in late 2014 between Erbil and Baghdad that brought much optimism. Signs of unity and a willingness to find a true solution to the age old dispute came as IS remained deeply entrenched in Iraq.

The Kurds committed to export 550,000 in 2015 and in return Baghdad would resume over $1billion of monthly budget payments.

However, it didn’t take long for the agreement to become a source of more contention.

The Kurdish government has long complained that they have kept their end of the export bargain but Baghdad, suffering a massive budget deficit due to the crash in oil prices and owing over $21 billion to oil companies alone, was not moved.

Then comes the sheer irony. Kurdistan Region is washed with oil and yet still relies on budget payments from Baghdad. Oil revenues are the last noose or umbilical cord that Baghdad has over the Kurds.

Do the Kurds play the patient game that has borne little fruit or do they cut the umbilical cord and go alone, by receiving revenues directly or going after the buyers of Kurdish oil via SOMO, after all Baghdad has frequently threatened to sue buyers of Kurdish oil.

Kurdistan would receive more revenues than Baghdad would ever give if they exported directly from fields under their control. Then there is the plethora of oil companies in Kurdistan who are suffering due to the oil noose around the region. The capacity and infrastructure is there but the oil companies of course need their own revenues.

Kurdistan has criticized Baghdad for treating them like an oil company then a key part of Iraq. Although both Erbil and Baghdad recently reinforced their commitment to the deal, the government of Kurdistan has a very clear plan B. sells their own oil and receives revenues directly and bypass Baghdad altogether.

It may strike the ire of Washington who has placed firm political conditions on their campaign against IS, but if the disagreement continue unabated, then the immense oil under Kurdish feet continues to feel like a curse when salaries are unpaid, services are disrupted and the economy is hit.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Unsatisfied with a raging war with Sunni militants, Maliki launches new front against the Kurds

Relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad were already at a historical low. Yet for those who thought that ties could not get any worse, a series of events last week saw the line redrawn.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a fierce attack on the Kurds on national television, warning “We will not resort to silence while Erbil is a headquarters for Isis, Ba’athists, al-Qaeda and terrorists.”

Such strong remarks drew the inevitable ire of the Kurdish leadership, with Kurdish MP’s soon boycotting the Iraqi parliament with Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani hitting back at a Maliki who he deemed to have become “hysterical” and “lost his balance” and who he urged to stand down.

The Kurds have frequently warned that a third-tenure as Prime Minister for Maliki would signal curtains on Iraq.

On Friday, Kurds moved to secure the strategic oil fields in Bai Hassan and the Makhmour area to defend the oil infrastructure from what the Kurds deemed “politically motivated sabotage.”

KRG Ministry of Natural Resources released a statement confirming the Kurds had “moved to secure the oil fields after learning of orders by officials in the federal Ministry of Oil in Baghdad to sabotage the recent mutually-agreed pipeline infrastructure linking the Avana dome with the Khurmala field.”

A furious Baghdad had already gone as far as banning cargo flights to Kurdistan and even moved to halt international flights. At the same time it replaced Hoshiyar Zebari as Foreign Minister with Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani.

The escalating rhetoric and tit-for-tat moves would be bad enough in any normal day in Iraq with Baghdad and Erbil governments bordering each other.

Anyone observing last weeks would be forgiving for thinking that the Iraqi problem is limited to the Kurds and the Maliki government. Yet there is a not so small dilemma of an Islamist State in the middle.

Over a month since Mosul, Tikrit and large swathes of territory was taken over by ISIS led Sunni insurgents, Iraq is gripped in violence. Despite military aid from Russia and Iran, Iraqi forces have largely failed to dislodge the militants.

While the militants have not made advances, what they have done is essentially entrench their new borders and with it Iraq’s partition into 3 separate entities.

The Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been involved in fierce battles with ISIS militants, filling a crucial security vacuum and housing hundreds of thousands of refugees. But it seems that Baghdad is intent on creating more enemies in the midst of a deadly sectarian war.

The sharp escalation of tensions between Kurds and Baghdad may jeopardise Kurdish support against ISIS – why battle insurgents and risk lives for a premier that is essentially accusing you of collaborating with them anyway?

Ironically, it was the Kurdistan Region that once protected a Maliki on the run from Saddam Hussein. Shiites at the time fought Saddam against centrist Sunni repression and many sought to establish an Islamic state at the time akin to Tehran. In 2014, the tables have merely turned with Sunnis on the attack.

In the midst of tension between Kurds and a raging sectarian war, the Iraq political chambers are getting increasingly empty. August 12th is the new date set to reconvene parliament, why such a laboured political process if there is real intent to heal national rifts and at a time of national emergency?

Unless Maliki steps down and a reconciliatory stance is adopted in Baghdad, the Kurds will assume the next gear in their independence drive.

Baghdad authorities may be furious with the Kurds but then what repercussion is left to hit the Kurds? Oil exports were already halted, share of national budget withheld, no government exists, Kurds stripped of ministries, and cargo flights are suspended.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

After two Maliki terms and broken promises, wary Kurds keep “all options on the table”

With the much anticipated Iraqi election results yet to announced, it is certain that the next government formation will be as fraught as 2010 and that Iraq will struggle to stitch together its falling pieces.

For the Kurds, for all their criticism of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Baghdad, they played a crucial hand in creating the Maliki monster. Complaint of Maliki’s centralist tendencies and lack of real intent to resolve key issues between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region goes back to Maliki’s first tenure at the helm.

After much hesitation and months of negotiations, the Kurds played a crucial role in the eventual breakthrough that saw Maliki secure a second term. The basis of the Kurdish partnership on both occasions was several firm demands and countless promises from Maliki.

Yet not only were most of these promises not kept in the first term but Maliki with growing power and dominance decided that the majority of the promises that underpinned the second term went openly unfulfilled as well.

Now as State of Law Coalition looks certain to secure most seats in the elections, Maliki is already attempting to piece together votes for a third term in power.

Kurdish support amidst failed promises the first time is unfortunate, for a second time unacceptable and now for a third time it would be unforgivable.

11 years since the fall of Saddam is hardly a small window of opportunity for progress and implementation of key steps. However, much of the key demands of the Kurds have failed to be implemented. Disputed territories remain unresolved, national budget continues to undermine Kurds, a national census continues to be postponed, a national hydrocarbon law does not exist and Baghdad continues to try and maintain the umbilical cord to Kurdistan.

This week Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani was unambiguous on his view of Maliki and the downward spiral in Iraq, labeling governance under Maliki as “totalitarianism” and with “no partnership”. “He is the number one responsible for it. He was capable of not allowing the whole process to go in that direction,” Barzani added.

Barzani warned that “all options are on the table,” for the Kurds, threatening to boycott the whole process.

The Kurdish patience is wearing thin and Barzani is clearly does not want entertain further waiting games for several more years but instead emphasised the time for “final decisions”.

Barzani’s statements come as Maliki attempted to reach out to the Kurds, ironically as debates over oil exports threaten to escalate and as the Kurdish share of the budget has been frequently withheld to pressure the Kurds.

After months of delays and lack of progress with Baghdad, Kurdistan has decided to sell oil independently with Baghdad promising strong retaliation of their own. However, Barzani is not about to back down from this game changing and historical decision for Kurdistan.

For the Kurds, tangible and guaranteed actions are needed as opposed to the usual rhetoric and promises if they are to join the next government. If it takes several months to achieve these practical steps to convince the Kurds and delay government formation then so be it. It is better to waste months rather than more years.

The Kurds cannot be held accountable for the deepening disintegration of Iraq, Maliki’s centralist policies and failure to curb sectarianism and insurgency have already done plenty to ensure that.

Back home, the Kurds must quickly form a much delayed unity government. As Kurdish parties continue negotiations and consultations, Barzani stated “all Kurdish political parties now have a common stance on how to deal with Baghdad and the next steps in the Iraqi political process.”

A Kurdish position that is not endorsed by all regional parties will simply be exploited by Maliki and his backers in Tehran and greatly weaken the Kurdish hand.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Maliki’s economic siege of Kurdistan shows that the only true friend of the region is the Kurds himself

As the Erbil-Baghdad crisis reached new lows, Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani warned that the actions of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki amounted to “a declaration of war against the people of Kurdistan.”

With an increasingly independent oil infrastructure, all that remains between practical independence is control of oil revenues. Baghdad knows this very well and has displayed this leverage it still possess by refusing to pay share of Kurdistan national budget and even refusing to let two small airlines operate from Kurdistan, until Kurdistan agrees to Baghdad control of revenues.

This shows that while the rise of Kurdistan, particularly since 2003 has been phenomenal, until the Kurds can truly control their own destiny and become self-sufficient, they will always be at the mercy of Iraqi and regional rulers.

The famous Kurdish saying once reverberated that “Kurds have no friends but the mountains”. While this saying doesn’t hold true as before, after all there are dozens of consulates, hundreds of foreign companies and several oil majors operating in a booming area with Kurdistan enjoying growing strategic importance, it does remind the Kurds to keep their guard up, not take anything for granted and hold the view that the first friend and guardian is the Kurd himself.

This is certainly true of ties with the US, who under Barrack Obama has not only taken a step back but has hastily retreated from Iraq and the region. As events in 1975 and 1991 have shown the Kurds, US foreign policy (and indeed foreign policy in general) can be fickle and cruel.

Kurds sought strong ties with Washington and the US was all for working with the Kurds but with their focus on Iraqi sovereignty and not alienating or upsetting Baghdad. The US is no stranger to resolving many crises since 2003, many with the help of the Kurds, but has stayed out of recent disputes between Erbil and Baghdad even as the Maliki’s economic siege on Kurdistan threatens the livelihood of Kurdish families and the region.

The Kurds believed that the strategic relationship with the US was there to stay but ironically Washington hasn’t even removed the KDP and PUK from their terror list. With an obsession of keeping a united Iraq, the US has grown uneasy at the new closeness between Erbil and Ankara – yet they initially encouraged stronger ties after years of tension and mistrust between the two sides.

As for Baghdad, the Kurds regrettably endorsed a second term for Maliki in 2010 in spite of numerous failed promises. The fact that many of the 19 points of the Erbil Agreement that allowed Maliki to come to power remain unresolved tells its own story.

With the Iraqi elections just months away, Maliki wants new leverage among defiant Sunnis and disenchanted Shiites and the show of strength against the Kurds is one tactic. But let it be no doubt that sooner or later, Maliki will need the Kurds and once he has finished his sabre-rattling, he has to reconcile with the Kurds and seek a resolution for the current crisis.

In return, Maliki is attempted to politically blackmail the Kurds into a third term. But the Kurds have to wisely avoid repeating the mistake of trusting Maliki or any other power in Baghdad.

The Kurds must show that they are not at the mercy of Baghdad, if Maliki wants to play hardball and hold the region to ransom, then the Kurds must have and play their own card and leverage.

Kurdistan can ill-afford to have their future tied to the goodwill of Baghdad but even that of Ankara and Tehran.  The Kurds have had their rights and a freedom abused and withheld and 2014 is not the time, with the Kurdish national renaissance and newfound prominence, to be revisiting days of hold.

This is all the more reason for Kurdish leaders to finally form an elusive new cabinet, work in unity and put aside individual interest for the sake of the greater nation – after all, if the Kurds won’t help themselves, then certainly external forces cannot be trusted to come to their rescue.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Kurdish oil rift with Baghdad – not just a case of economy but political leverage and autonomy

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi federal government after months of negotiations failed to find a breakthrough over the issues of oil exports from Kurdistan, revenue sharing and the national budget.

The KRG was quick to refute claims by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister for energy Hussain al-Shahristani that Kurdistan had agreed to exports via SOMO, the federal government marketing vehicle. KRG spokesman Safeen Dizayee quickly downplayed such claims, “absolutely we have not reached any agreement to export oil via SOMO. The dialogue and discussions are still underway”.

Ahead of the all-important Iraqi national elections this year, Baghdad has politicised the issue of oil exports and withheld the Kurdish share of the federal budget as a show of strength.

Ultimately, it doesn’t come down to money and economics but down to control, autonomy and lack of trust. One must not forget that under the Iraqi constitution Kurdistan is only entitled to receive 17% of the budget. If 300,000 bdp or so has caused so much tension then imagine when it rises to 400,000 bpd and then the more ambitious targets set by Kurdistan of 1 million bdp by 2015 and 2 million by 2019.

Iraq reaps the benefit of over two-thirds of Kurdish output. Ironically, this is the same oil that Baghdad never really knew Kurdistan even had and is a lucrative bonus for Baghdad. The vast majority of the reserves discovered in Kurdistan have come in the period after 2003.

Does Baghdad rejoice that the national reserves have been boosted to such a large extent by Kurdish discoveries? Quite the opposite. Such discoveries have been met with doubt, lack of trust, threats and rifts. Why? Because such discoveries are literally the fuel for Kurdish independence and Baghdad loses one of the remaining nooses over the region.

What control would Baghdad have remaining on the region if they could export their own oil and receive funds in a non-Baghdad controlled bank account and actually receive much more than they ever could painstakingly get from Baghdad?

Hence, the new independent Kurdish pipeline to Turkey and the fact that 400,000 bpd is merely waiting to be sold at Ceyhan sent Baghdad’s anxiety into overdrive.

In reality, Baghdad would agree too many Kurdish terms. As already mentioned, they serve to receive the greater benefit anyway – just as long as Baghdad’s control is not compromised.

As we have seen with the failure to pay salaries and provide the regions share of the budget, Baghdad wants to be controlling the political shots. As long as Baghdad retains the upper-hand then Kurdistan will be under the mercy of Baghdad.

It came as no surprise that the Iraqi Finance Ministry has warned that it could not pay Kurdish salaries unless the region resumed oil exports. Of course, Baghdad will not have a “face a liquidity crisis” as they claim if they paid from such huge funds under their control. This is just for political leverage.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, wants to force the KRG into a deal. Withholding salaries or creating crisis in Kurdistan is a form of political blackmail to put the heat on the Kurds.

This is where the ironic twist only intensifies. There is literally millions of dollar worth of Kurdish oil ready to be sold and yet the Kurds do not have funds to pay their own salaries?

Turkey recently reaffirmed its commitment to the symbolic energy deals with the Kurds. The Kurds cannot continue to be bullied over what is their national treasure.

What Iraqi oil funds did Saddam use to build Kurdistan and boost its infrastructure? Actually, it used the oil funds to destroy Kurdistan and kill Kurds. Now, in the Iraqi democratic age, the Kurds are expected to handover Kurdish oil to boost Iraq.

This is a defining moment in Kurdish history. The Kurds dare not succumb to the wills of Baghdad again. The Kurds have played a role in the creation of the Maliki hand. After dozens of failed promises, they must think twice before any post-election agreement or future concessions in Baghdad.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Will yet another electoral term in 2014 lead to any real change on Kirkuk and article 140?

The Kirkuk has been at the historic forefront of the Kurdish nationalist struggle. It has been an area of contention for decades and formed a red-line for Kurdish negotiations with Baathist regime long before the liberation of Iraq in 2003.

Resolution of Kirkuk and disputed territories was a firm Kurdish condition since 2003, enshrined even in the Transitive Administrative Law (TAL), before the onset of the official constitution in 2005.

It has then served as the basis for negotiations with coalition partners in Baghdad in 2003, 2006, 2010 and more than likely in 2014.

Approaching six years since the passing of the deadline for Article 140, is Kirkuk any closer today to formal resolution and a return to Kurdistan than it was in 2003 (or indeed under the Saddam regime)?

The lack of progress in article 140, including the all-important national census is hardly an accident. The intentional foot-dragging is clear to see. Ahead of negotiations to form a coalition government in 2014, Kirkuk will once again be a key Kurdish stipulation. But will the new parliamentary term in 2014 witness anything different with regards to this issue?

The reality is that Baghdad will not give up Kirkuk or any additional territory that easily.

It is no coincidence that as soon as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced oil pipelines to Turkey much to the ire of Baghdad, Iraqi Oil Minister Abdelkarim al-Luaybi was roaming the Kirkuk province with BP CEO Bob Dudley as part of a recent deal between Baghdad and the oil giant to revive Kirkuk’s declining oil fields.

KRG reiterated their objection to the deal which it deemed against the principles of the unconstitutional and illegal.

Yet, in what has become a tit-for-tat, Baghdad also deemed Kurdish deal with foreign oil firms as illegal and had raised warnings over the new oil pipelines which increased the notches in the Kurdish autonomous drive.

Kirkuk sits atop of billions of barrels of oil reserves which have only added to the intensity of the fight over the province.

Baghdad’s move with BP, which had bypassed the KRG, is designed to show authority over disputed territories. This is similar to the onset of the Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command by Iraqi Prime Ministry Nouri al-Maliki in 2012 designed to mark Baghdad’s sphere of influence, leading to dangerous escalations between Erbil and Baghdad.

The resolution of disputed territories is one of many unresolved and hotly-contested articles. Many other items such as the status of Peshmerga forces and a national hydrocarbon law linger much in the same shape as 2007.

Baghdad has sought to address the power balance in Kirkuk with electoral law whilst provincial elections have not been held since 2005.

But Kirkuk does not need short-term fixes or a council representation done on a special basis. The solution is already there – article 140. After that proper elections can be held like any other city.

The more that Kirkuk is treated as a special case – the more excuses that argue against article 140.

Mosul is also a mixed city, but where are special laws and equitable distribution of seats? The elections do the talking, as should be the case anywhere else in Iraq or as in any democratic country.

The same round-robin scenario promises to play out in the aftermath of the elections in 2014. Kurds play a hard-bargain, make clear conditions for their support and the Shiite powers agree. Yet soon after, a game of cat and mouse plays out for yet another 4 years.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Kurdistan oil pipeline cuts the remaining umbilical cord of Baghdad

A consistent bone of contention between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad has been oil resources. The heated debates around exploration rights, revenue sharing and interpretation of constitutional clauses have seen the issue go round in circles for several years.

The jostle for control of oil has only grown as oil majors have flocked to Kurdistan, ignoring threats from Baghdad, and as Kurdistan has added continual billions to its oil reserve figures. Companies continue to make discoveries in the Region with Total and Marathon only recently announcing a fresh discovery.

The reasons for Baghdad’s unease with growing Kurdish economic independence are hardly a secret. Control of oil revenues and oil infrastructure is like an umbilical cord that Baghdad has over the Kurds. With the exception of control of oil revenues and resolution of disputed territories, Kurdistan would be all but independent.

In this light, Baghdad foot-dragging over the resolution of national hydrocarbon oil laws and Article 140 is clear to see.

The national budget and share of oil revenues is currently a tap which Baghdad can use to influence and pressure the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Oil production to date in Kurdistan has been stop-start at best owing to disputes.

Such is the ambition of Kurdistan that little before completion of the first historic oil pipeline to pump crude from Kurdish oil fields, a second pipeline was already actively planned for completion in 18-24 months that would drastically improve production capacity and bring the Kurds closer to their ultimate target of 3 million bpd.

With oil exports and revenues set to rise in greater Iraq, in theory so should 17% of the budget allocated to Kurdistan. If oil is equitably shared on an 83-17 split then both Erbil and Baghdad benefit. In other words, most of the Kurdish oil revenues would actually go to Baghdad.

But distribution of the national budget has been anything but clear-cut with the Kurds arguing that they receive closer to 11%, not to mention the billions of dollars in unpaid bills to foreign companies in the Region that the Kurds demand.

Independent control of oil exports puts the gloves firmly in the hands of the Kurds. While they can now achieve the 400,000 bpd or so demanded by Baghdad for share of the budget, Kurds will not be at the mercy of Baghdad – if it boiled down to it, Kurdistan could keep specific portion of its oil revenue (and any debt that it deems to have been unpaid) and only then pay Baghdad.

Baghdad has used the recent thawing of its difficult ties with Ankara to warn against any export of Kurdish crude through the new pipeline without its consent.

Ironically, as the Baghdad-Ankara ties nose-dived, the Erbil-Ankara relations were hitting new heights, underpinned by billions of dollars of trade and Kurdish strategic relevance in the changing Middle Eastern picture.

Recently, Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani visited Ankara and met with Turkish officials, where the topics were likely to be expanding economic ties, oil exports and the Syrian conflict.

For now, Ankara will aim to keep Baghdad sweet by promising no to import Kurdish oil without their consent. But in reality, Turkey is already arm deep in Kurdish oil and its booming economy. It has already supported the constitutional rights of the Kurds with regards to oil exploration and the 17-83 revenue split.

Ankara may not want to alienate Baghdad, as it has recently looked to kick-start relations with Baghdad and Tehran that it strongly needs for any favourable resolution to the Syrian conflict and to avoid any regional isolation at a critical juncture.

As for the Kurds, its new oil export infrastructure literally adds the fuel for independence. However, the real game-changer would be additional pipelines independent of the Iraqi Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline and exclusively on Kurdistan soil and once exports reach 1 million bpd, let alone the 3 million bpd that Kurds hope for.

It’s no secret that the billions of dollars that Kurds could then acquire would far outweigh any of the 17% (or less) that Baghdad would offer. This is not to mention any potential gas exports to Europe, which would further placate Kurdistan on the world energy map (and perhaps on the map as a new found independent state)


First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Kurdistan to Maliki – your last (last) chance?

As Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki landed in Erbil to chair a rare but symbolic meeting of the Iraqi cabinet in the Kurdish capital and discuss a number of issues with the Kurdish leadership, expectations appeared high.

However, Maliki has shown political shrewdness when backed against a corner in the past, making concessions, striking agreements, renewing promises and proposing committees when the heat has been on, only to prove that rhetoric prevailed over real action and practical steps.

A delegation to Baghdad led by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in May culminated in a decision to form seven committees all geared towards addressing specific issues between Kurdistan and Baghdad which also ended the boycott of Kurdish MPs in Baghdad.

The committees, to be directly by Maliki and Barzani, include ones to oversee reviews of the federal budget, draft oil and gas law, article 140 and overseeing of parliamentary work and Baghdad and Erbil relations.

Kurdistan Massaud Barzani emphasized that the latest round of negotiations are a final chance and that Kurdistan will be forced to seek a “new form of relations” with the central government in Baghdad if negotiations fail to resolve key disputes.

The issues between the KRG and Baghdad have become so deep-rooted, cyclic and predictable that it is hard to see why this time around will be any different.

The Kurdistan leadership has played a role in reaching the current predicament and the lack of progress on historic issues such as disputed terrotories. KRG has rubber-stamped two terms of power for Maliki in return for strategic partnerships.

Yet several years since the first Iraqi elections and over 10 years since the liberation of Iraq, the strategic agreements have not been fully implemented and if anything disputes have become more protracted, entrenched and distant from resolution. Kurdistan should have given a “last chance” to Maliki and Baghdad many years ago.

Maliki was accused of centralist tendencies, inciting sectarian tensions and foot-dragging on constitutional implementation in his first term of power, never mind the second term (or even in a third term if he gets his way).

The relations between Erbil and Baghdad have been shrouded by formation of committees, agreements and political road-maps. But how many more meetings and committees do the Kurd want to participate in?

Kirkuk and disputed territories is a prime example. It is understandable if there are technical delays to implementing complex constitutional articles. But should there be a delay of several months or 6 years? And since there were delays, any sincere government would adopt a plan to meet its legal obligations in the quickest possible time.

This is the same for hydrocarbon law which has gathered dust since 2007, status of Peshermrga forces, national budget etc. In the case of Kirkuk, even a national census, delayed on so many occasions, would have at least marked one achievement. Even that has been sidelined as Baghdad knows it would serve as a de-facto referendum on disputed territories.

Now is the time for practical steps and firm timelines for implementation of issues by the Kurdistan leadership. Until Baghdad resolves disputed territories, KRG and Peshmerga forces have the right to jointly govern and control these regions.

The bitter Sunni protests and the latest cycle of sectarian violence has redrawn sharp lines between Shiites and Sunni and coupled with sectarian polarisation in the wider region, may prove to be even greater than peaks reached in 2007.

Maliki can ill-afford to carry on antagonising ever corner of Iraq (including his own Shiite alliance) and for Iraqi Kurds the time is ripe to seek real concessions. If Baghdad refused to succumb to Kurdish demands when it is at its knees, it will never implement agreements at its peak.

The recent provincial elections only served to highlight the deepening polarisation of the county and weak political picture. Forming a new government and choosing a Prime Minister after elections in 2014 will prove as daunting as ever.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Kurdish oil exports, one remaining Baghdad noose that Kurds must break

The latest action by the Iraqi parliament to pass the national 2013 budget despite a boycott by Kurdish MPs is just the tip of the ice-berg in Iraq.

Tensions have been brewing to dangerous levels between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad for some time and the lack of real intent to mend bridges and cool tensions is testament to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s reluctance to enact a government of partnership and to pursue national reconciliation.

Fast approaching a decade since the liberation of Iraq and the fragmented Iraqi horizon, continuously poisoned by common distrust, lack of unity and lack of true compromise, continues to blight Iraqi society in 2013 much in the same way as it did in 2003.

Maliki’s growing authoritarian policies and the latest decision to pass the budget without Kurdish involvement and approval may have severely irked the Kurds, but it’s wrong to focus merely on the Erbil-Baghdad divide as the source of Iraqi troubles.

The majority of MPs from al-Iraqiya had also boycotted the budget vote and the coalition and power sharing agreement in Baghdad has all but evaporated. Tensions with long-time disaffected Sunnis, greatly encouraged by the Syrian Sunni ascendancy to power, is steadily gathering pace and Sunni demonstrations since the back-end of 2012 still run rife in Sunni strongholds with protestor deaths at the hands of predominantly Shiite forces adding fuel to the fire. Even Shiites within the State of Law, including influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, have expressed concern.

Finance minister Rafa al-Essawi and agriculture minister Izzeddin al-Dolah are two high-profile Sunni resignations in recent weeks over the current protests.

Kurdish ire

The strong Kurdish reaction to the passing of budget in Baghdad was understandable.

With only 168 out of 325 MPs present due to the boycott, the bill may have been passed due to a “technicality” with a thin majority obtained but not involving the Kurds who are such vital components of the coalition and in the union with Iraq is a dangerous development.

Oil sharing and foreign oil contracts are not new bones of contention between the Kurds and Baghdad. Oil exports in Kurdistan have been very much stop-start for a number of years. The source of discontent in the 2013 budget was the amount set aside to pay oil companies in Kurdistan, with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) insisting it is owed $3.5 billion for costs accumulated by foreign oil companies over the past 3 years whilst Baghdad has allotted only $644.33 million in the latest budget.

This issue was one of the main reasons the 2013 budget was not ratified although the Iraqi cabinet approved the budget in October.

The frequent theme from Baghdad over the past several years is that oil contracts signed by KRG are illegal, in spite of the stipulations afforded in the national constitution. Therefore it is hardly surprising that Baghdad continues a hard-handed approach in dealing with the oil sharing issue. Ironically, passing a national hydrocarbon law gathering dust since 2007 that would end all disputes is not even seen as an immediate priority.

The State of Law had argued that Kurds were not entitled to compensation as they had not contributed their fair share to national exports.

As Kurds have insisted for years, any revenue from oil exports in Kurdistan will go to a central pot where Kurds will take their allotted share. Narrow-minded political goals in Baghdad, has failed to realise that a strong oil industry in Kurdistan is a bonus for all Iraqis. Baghdad may have costs of foreign oil companies to cover but what about the billions of surplus revenue that follows? Anyone would think Baghdad is taking a financial loss in dealing with Kurdish oil.

Budget imbalance

Baghdad has continuously refused to pay Peshmerga costs which are stipulated in the constitution. Yet it has been paying salaries of Sahwa Council Sunni militia for a number of years to appease Sunnis and has even increased their salaries in this year’s budget to try and dampen Sunni demonstrations.

Furthermore, whilst Kurdistan develops at a rapid pace but fails to receive fair share of revenues it needs, the province of Nineveh failed to spend around $6 billion of its $10 billion share in the 2012 budget. There is a similar pattern in other provinces.

Next steps for the Kurds

Undoubtedly, the budget issue will make prospects of reconciliation worse between Erbil and Baghdad. The continued halt of oil exports by Kurdistan may seem logical, but it’s counter-productive as Kurdistan needs to press-ahead with its oil industry and economic growth.

The KRG oil ministry confirmed it will not send any agreed quantities of oil unless Baghdad pays the relevant costs to foreign companies.

Control of oil exports is one remaining noose that Baghdad has around the Kurds. If the Kurds have an independent oil infrastructure and an oil pipeline purely on Kurdish soil, it greatly diminishes Baghdad’s bargaining power.

Kurdistan has greatly flourished in recent years whilst the south continues to lag behind, do the Kurds continue with ties in Baghdad or take unilateral measures in deciding national interests?

It begs the question of whether Baghdad sees the Kurds as true partners and looks to Kurdish achievements as an achievement for all of Iraq or does it want to see Kurdistan undermined, regress and stagnate? The Kurds would say recent disputes over Dijla Operations Command, halting of oil exports and now the national budget answers that question.

Baghdad has been intent on scaring oil companies from working in Kurdistan for a while. Giving the option to oil companies of either “us or them” is anything but the tone of partnership.

Kurdistan needs to break that noose, develop an independent oil pipeline and accumulate revenues directly and pay foreign companies from their own budget.

This stance was also suggested by Iraqi Kurdish MP Muhsin al-Saadoun as a measure against the federal government for side-lining the Kurds.

Naturally, Maliki led coalition hit back by threatening to deduct Kurdistan Region’s share of the federal budget.

Either way, something has to give and inaction by the Kurdish leadership is a non-starter. Kurdistan must ensure the destiny of Kurdish affairs is determined by Kurdish hands.

What real benefit have the Kurds ever received from Iraq’s immense oil wealth since Iraq’s creation? Now Kurdish oil must be the source of Kurdistan’s prosperity and to give back to its long-time suffering people and should not be viewed as somewhat of a curse.

Other issues

The Shiite-government announcement of the formation of a new military force under the name of the “al-Jazeera and Badiya Force” situated in the disputed city of Sinjar, which borders Syria is yet another confrontational step by Maliki. A pro-Assad Baghdad is vying for control of its Syrian borders, possibly due to pressure from Iran, with signs this week that the violence is spilling across the border. Kurds have a far different view of Assad and are unlikely to relinquish border control in their own territories to propel Baghdad’s goals in Syria.

Baghdad decision not to pay foreign companies could well be a punishment for Kurdistan’s growing partnership with Turkey and its anti-Assad stance.

Since Maliki assumed a second term in office, Iraq has been in decline. With Sunni’s growing boldness in standing-up to Shiite dominance, who will be around to broker the next government or mediate between Sunnis and Shiites? It certainly won’t be the Kurds.

A previous statement by Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani summed up current sentiments, “Iraq’s citizens are simply tired of Baghdad’s … language of threat and intimidation, which in the cynical pursuit of narrow political agendas only serves to create division and strife.”

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Just how disputed are “disputed territories” in Iraq? Time to let a full nationwide census doing the talking

There is no doubt that the already tenuous relations between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region reached new heights in recent weeks. As the Peshmerga and Iraqi army forces became deeply entrenched, respective positions hardened and the drums of war beat more loudly, the fear of a brutal war became a real possibility with the firing of a single bullet.

Frantic mediation in recent weeks by Iraqi political figures and the U.S. governmental have somewhat calmed the situation. Both sides have seemingly agreed to eventually withdraw troops, with local security forces to assume responsibility under committees that are intended to reflect the ethnic balance on the ground.

With any real sigh of relief quickly dampened by deep mistrust and lack of a long-term solution, short-term political arrangements merely buy more time.

The issue of disputed territories will not go away or become any easier to resolve the longer that constitutional articles gather dust on the Iraqi political shelf. On the contrary, it is becoming deeper and tenser with each delay.

The agreement to hand security over to local forces simply passes the problem on. Who should comprise of the local security forces? How do you determine ethnic quotas for such forces? Which group should have more influence over the “disputed areas” based on their assumed numbers?

The bottom line is that the problem once again becomes a numbers game. The makeup of local forces and arriving at this elusive ethnic balance is continuously based on assumptions and assertions, not actual facts.

The very foundation of resolving disputed territories lies in the conducting of a nationwide census. As the English proverb goes “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. A new census in Iraq, which is a key constitutional provision, was delayed in 2007, 2009 and twice alone in 2010.

It is time to move away from claims, counter claims and assumptions and let the facts speak for themselves. Facts are just that, they are based on a reality and not on conjecture and help paint a true picture of the matter at hand.

In most democratic societies a census is a natural and fundamental exercise that helps governments to better understand their citizens, improve planning and to deliver better services to their local populace. Yet Iraq has shied away from a first full national census since 1987 with the pretext that it would inflame security conditions and ethnic and sectarian passions and would lead to the polarisation of Iraq. Any census will only confirm the extent of the polarization of Iraq, Iraq has been polarized from the moment it was artificially stitched together.

The truth is that much like the rest of article 140 where the census forms a key part, Baghdad has failed to implement legal obligations for fear of the reality that it unravels. There is no “technical” reason why a census cannot be held, the Iraqi Ministry of Planning has long trained thousands of enumerators and laid the basis for such a task.

When in a true democracy can someone pick and choose what it decides to implement to divert a decision away from a destined outcome? The real reason for a lack of implementation of a census is that a true picture of numbers in Iraq would tip the political and national landscape in Iraq upside down. In Iraq, the numbers game is everything. It means power, it means leverage and above all it ends “dispute”.

The very nature of the word “dispute” is underpinned by uncertainty and a lack of an official reality. The outcome is not clear so thus no side can make true assertions. In reality, a census in Iraq would mean a de-facto conclusion to all of article 140. If a census showed a clear Kurdish majority as most Kurds staunchly believe and that most Arabs fear, then what will the results of a referendum reveal? A certainty that such disputed territories would opt to be annexed to the Kurdistan Region.

This takes the argument a full circle to just how disputed the “disputed territories” really are and also to Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani’s decree this week to no longer refer to such territories as disputed but instead as “Kurdish areas outside of the Region”. Ironically, almost five years since the deadline for article 140 passed, it is still Baghdad that accuses the Kurd of constitutional violations over their claim to such territories. If Baghdad really wants to abide by the constitution, it should have the courage to hold a comprehensive census and show both Iraq and the international community the clear results.

A census with a true demographic picture of Iraq would also end annual disputes over the proportion of the Iraqi budget that the Kurds are entitled to. The uncertainty in actual figures of the Kurdish population has played to Baghdad’s hand by exerting pressure on the Kurds and diluting Kurdish demands.

The Iraqi national assembly itself is simply a gauge of the makeup of the Iraqi mosaic. Not only does the number of seats won by each group a reflection of the breakdown of the population, the number of seats allocated to each province is merely based on population estimates. Such estimates are further flawed and the result of guesswork as they are primarily based on food ration cards.

Such a basis for power sharing seriously handicaps true implementation of democracy. For example, Kurds in general are not as reliant on ration cards as the rest of Iraq or have not registered their children under such a system, whereas the food ration card have been manipulated and at times abused in the rest of Iraq.

The conducting of a census was a key Kurdish perquisite for joining Maliki’s coalition and was supposedly due to be done within a year. Kurds should strongly reject entering yet another general election without the fulfillment of this key condition.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.