The tension between Iraqi Kurdistan and the leadership in Baghdad doesn’t seem to have diminished lately. NIQASH asked the Iraqi Kurdish why the Russians and Exxon Mobil are making things worse and why the
Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev (L), and Nouri Al-Maliki in Moscow this month. Image: Getty
For some time now, the important Kurdish bloc in the Iraqi Parliament has been at loggerheads with the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s bloc.
Al-Maliki has been accused of consolidating power at the expense of other parties and not sticking to promises made when he formed his government in 2010. In fact, because of this, various political groups, including the Iraqi Kurds, came together earlier this year to make plans to oust him. These failed however and the most recent aim was to hold a conference for national reconciliation that would unite all political groups and get the country moving forward.
Over the course of the past year, Kurdish politicians have gone from demanding that the PM be removed from power to being the prime movers behind conciliation.
NIQASH talked to Muayad al-Tayeb, Baghdad-based spokesperson for the Kurdish voting bloc in Iraq\'s federal parliament, about recent events that appear to have worsened the relationship between Iraq’s Kurds and the current Prime Minister recently.
Al-Tayeb explained the reasons why the Kurdish are scared of the billion dollar Russian arms deals with Iraq as well as their thoughts on multi-national oil company Exxon Mobil leaving oil fields in southern Iraq to focus on new oil deals made with Iraqi Kurdistan.
NIQASH: It’s hardly the best relationship anyway. But a recent US$5 billion arms deal between the Iraqi government and Russia seems to have made things worse. This makes Russia Iraq\'s biggest supplier of weapons after the US. Could you explain why the Iraqi Kurdish are so worried about this?
Al-Tayeb: Our fears around these arms deals are based on several things. We are concerned that the Iraqi government may resort to military power and violence to resolve internal issues between Kurdish and Arabs in this country. We became more concerned about this when the Iraqi army was deployed around Kirkuk and Zamar recently – and without anybody informing the Kurdish government.
[Editor’s note: Mosul, Kirkuk and other parts of the state of Ninawa are what are best described as Iraq’s disputed territories. That is, there is land there that Iraqi Kurdistan says belongs to Iraqi Kurdistan but which Baghdad says belongs to Iraq.]
NIQASH: Even more recently, on Oct 13, one of the leading members of the State of Law bloc, Yassin Majid, an MP and a former media adviser to the Prime Minister, said that Kurdish politician, Massoud al-Barzani – also the President of Iraqi Kurdistan – was a “a real danger to Iraq’s economy and national security”. Majid also said that al-Barzani “wants Erbil to hold a political role at the expense of Baghdad. Some Iraqi political forces, especially the Iraqiya list, are supporting him.” Your thoughts on these incendiary comments, which another leading Kurdish politician, Jalal al-Talabani, has described as a “call to war”?
Al-Tayeb: We believe Majid’s statements reflect the views of many Arabists who still dream that they can restore their vision of the old Iraq, where the Kurdish were excluded from power. I believe that Majid is making these statements in order to stir up resentment among the Arab people.
NIQASH: Can you tell us more about what underlies all this ongoing enmity between authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan and the federal authorities in Baghdad?
Al-Tayeb: We disagree with the Arab politicians who are Shiite Muslims because they want to establish an Islamic state similar to that which exists in Iran. And we disagree with the Arab politicians who are Sunni Muslims because they still dream of Arabism and of creating a nationalist state such as that which existed before [in Saddam Hussein’s time; his Baath party was staunchly Arabist, which means their ideology was all about uniting Arab nations – this necessarily excluded the Kurdish]. We don’t agree with either of those visions. We want a democratic, federal Iraq. And that’s the main reason for this conflict.
NIQASH: Recently there have been attempts made to bring all of these parties, including your own bloc, to a conference table. What are your thoughts on this?
Al-Tayeb: We do believe that dialogue is the best solution. And we do support the idea of the national conference, mainly because there have been many breaches of the Erbil Agreement [formulated to end a nine month dispute over who should run the government following 2010 elections] upon which this current government was founded.
That agreement didn’t just specify who should be running which ministries, it defined the role of government and stressed that, when it came to important laws, that there should be a consensus reached in order to pass them. But a lot of the Erbil Agreement has not been enacted.
NIQASH: So do you think that this reconciliation conference will be held soon?
Al-Tayeb: The probability is low. And even if it is held soon, then the results probably won’t satisfy anyone. And this is because it seems that the State of Law bloc [led by current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] is trying to consolidate its own power. For example, the Erbil Agreement says that the Ministry of Defence should be overseen by the opposition Iraqiya bloc and that the intelligence services should be run by the Kurdish. But that isn’t happening and it seems clear that the ruling party doesn’t want to implement those provisions of the Erbil Agreement.
NIQASH: What will happen if the conference does happen – what sort of arguments will the Kurdish present there?
Al-Tayeb: Our position is clear. We want the Iraqi Constitution applied and we want the Erbil Agreement, upon which this government was founded, to be implemented. However that would require a serious commitment from all parties. I am not sure that the conference would bring any such positive commitment.
NIQASH: Let’s talk about one of the other issues that Erbil and Baghdad have argued over – oil rights in Iraqi Kurdistan. Multinational oil company, Exxon Mobil, got in trouble with Baghdad for signing a deal with the Kurdish without getting permission from them first. And now Exxon are talking about selling their oil drilling rights in southern Iraq in order to, according to some sources, focus on oil exploration in Iraqi Kurdistan. Your thoughts?
Al-Tayeb: Exxon Mobil has legally binding contracts and, according to the Iraqi constitution, it also has the right to work in Iraqi Kurdistan because that says that Iraq’s oil wealth should be distributed among all Iraqis.
We don’t have a problem with sharing oil revenues. However the Deputy Prime Minister for Energy, Hussein al-Shahrastani, wants to be in charge of everything.
As Kurds, we believe that this kind of attitude and this kind of centralism belongs in the past. We’re now living in a federal nation and we have a relatively stable state in Iraqi Kurdistan, unlike some of the other Iraqi states. That’s why companies like Exxon Mobil prefer to work up here, especially with a potential 44 billion barrels of oil under this region.
NIQASH: How will you feel if Nouri al-Maliki runs for a third term as Iraq’s Prime Minister?
Al-Tayeb: We would respect the result of any election. And there is no Constitutional reason why al-Maliki shouldn’t run for a third term. Having said that, the Sadrist bloc has actually submitted a draft law to Parliament that would prevent leaders from running for a third term but that law has not been approved by Parliament yet.