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new friendship between baghdad, erbil
forged in US interests?

Daoud al-Ali
The newly friendly relationship between the President of Iraqi Kurdistan and the Prime Minister of Iraq is causing speculation. Some suggest the US brought them together for the sake of regional politics and…
18.07.2013  |  Baghdad
The relationship has warmed: but will it change anything?
The relationship has warmed: but will it change anything?

Recent visits and mutual rapprochement indicate that the formerly cold relationship between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the President of the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, has warmed.

Both politicians say that the easing of tensions has been absolutely necessary in order for Iraq to present a united and stable front, given the crisis in the region being caused by events in Syria. They also say that they may be able to resolve some of the country’s long-standing issues, sources of conflict between the two powerful political groups, including controversial legislation to do with oil and gas laws in Iraq.

"The Arab region\'s challenges and the political and security unrest in neighbouring countries have forced political leaders in Baghdad and Erbil to resolve conflicts,” Iraqi Kurdish MP Shwan Mohammed Taha told NIQASH. “Both believe that continuing the current tension will only lead to disaster.”

In the corridors of power in Baghdad, rumour has it there was a third party involved in creating this more cordial relationship: the US. After Barzani visited al-Maliki in Baghdad early in July, the US Embassy in Baghdad released a statement welcoming Barzani to Baghdad and the positive new relationship between al-Maliki and Barzani. Dated July 7, 2013, the statement urged “all of Iraq\'s leaders to maintain a spirit of national reconciliation and unity to overcome the threat of terrorism, strengthen the country\'s democratic institutions, and promote prosperity for all Iraqis.”

But many suspect the US has done more than simply release a statement. A source close to al-Maliki’s office told NIQASH that “senior officials in the State Department have been making efforts for months to reconcile al-Maliki and Barzani. It looks like they finally succeeded.”

“The US has been stressing how important Iraq’s internal unity is and that’s played an important role in bringing Baghdad and Erbil together.”

It was also noted that Brett Macorg, a special advisor to the US Secretary of State, visited both Erbil and Baghdad in May 2013 and met with both politicians. Before leaving the country, Macorg said the US would support what happened in Iraqi politics as long as it was according to the Iraqi Constitution.

However MP Taha denied that the US had helped bring the two leaders together. “Their visits were not prompted by the US, or [important Shiite Muslim political group mostly allied with al-Maliki] the Sadrist movement. What has been achieved recently was a political response to challenges from outside Iraq and the result of good political will on both sides.”

“The Iraqi Kurdish have finally reached the conclusion that al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition wants to enter into a partnership that will allow them to rectify any previous mistakes,” Taha continued. “Erbil’s politicians are now convinced that al-Maliki is showing more flexibility when it comes to controversial issues and he’s ready to negotiate on them.”

A representative of al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition agreed: the reconciliation was a natural reaction to external events.

“The biggest achievement to come from these visits between the two leaders is that they have both agreed to abide by the Iraqi Constitution,” Mohammed al-Sahyoud, a leading member of al-Maliki\'s party, told NIQASH. “And the timing of that agreement is very important. The situation in the Arab region today doesn’t allow Iraqi politicians the luxury of continuing to postpone resolving their problems.”

“It is important to know that the Iraqi environment is on the way to a more peaceful state, because outside Iraq, things are exploding,” al-Sahyoud continued. “We need to fortify the country and that is what is happening.”

Besides newly found mutual admiration, some optimists have also suggested that long standing conflicts between Baghdad and Erbil could be resolved soon too.

Others are not so sure. “The time that’s left in the current session of Parliament won’t allow a lot of new legislation to be debated or passed,” Taha explains. “However it would be possible, for instance, to discuss the best timing for the oil and gas law to come into force. It’s a good opportunity to do that.”

The oil and gas law has been a cause of controversy between Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan for years. It outlines various rights and duties of each party when it comes to how much of the federal budget, which is mostly derived from oil sales, goes to each party as well as how and who can sign contracts for oil exploration.

It doesn’t seem as though other worrying issues will get much of a hearing during this session of Parliament though – topics like Article 140 of the Constitution, which deals with disputed territories in Iraq, and the provincial borders law, will most likely have to wait until Parliament’s next sitting.

And Iraqi locals can only hope that Barzani and al-Maliki will still be on friendly terms by then.