Kurdish stalemate: Baghdad preconditions, Erbil predicament

Alwaght – In past few days, and particularly after Iraqi Vice-President Nouri Al-Maliki’s interview with the Kurdish Rudaw news channel and the visits to Germany and France of the Kurdish region’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and the Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, the calls and even pressures for start of negotiations between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have begun to mount.

People have been recently protesting a huge wave of diversified problems In semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, sending the Erbil officials in desperate need to begin dialogue with Baghdad for an exit from the crippling morass. The Kurdish leaders’ trips to the European countries were also meant to drive the situation towards this course.

The Rudaw news channel, run by the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party, has reported on Monday that the Kurdish region’s PM has sent a letter to the Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi, calling for face-to-face negotiations between the Erbil and Baghdad officials.

“It is impossible to reply to each other through the press conferences,” Barzani said in the letter, adding “At the end of the road, the present problems should be solved by talks.”

The KRG’s PM demand for Erbil-Baghdad dialogue is came after Iraqi President Fuad Masum sent separate letters to Iraqi PM, KRG PM, and the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, asking them to push for immediate start of the Iraqi-Kurdish talks, although the current shape of the equations indicates that the negotiations will be too difficult. Now the dominant question is that whether or not the negotiations between the two parties will take place. Answering this question takes a focus on two issues: al-Abadi’s preconditions for beginning the talks and the regional government’s potentials in the confrontation of Baghdad.

Al-Abadi’s demands from KRG and his resistance to foreign pressures

Amid an increase in the calls for Baghdad-Erbil negotiations, the Iraqi PM’s office has told of a letter sent to Erbil. The letter, the office noted, contained stipulations of the central government to sit at the negotiating table with the Kurds. According to the emerging news reports, the Iraqi PM has outlined 13 preconditions for the negotiations to begin, with the central points of them being the Erbil commitment to the Iraqi unity, constitution, and the referendum result cancellation.

The New Arab news website, quoting informed sources, has reported that the Iraqi PM set conditions for negotiations with the Kurdish region under the supervision of the UN. Here are the most important of them:

– Canceling, and not suspending, the referendum result

– Handing over all of the regional airports and border crossings to the federal authorities

– Delivering all of the oil and non-oil exports and imports as well as the state taxes incomes in the Kurdistan region to the central government

– Handing over all of the judicially wanted individuals in the Kurdish region to the Iraqi judiciary.

– Returning to the administrative and borderlines of pre-2003 Kurdistan.

– Submitting the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to the Iraqi defense minister

– Avoiding harboring the judicially wanted individuals

– Receiving no foreign and international officials, unless through Baghdad channels.

Setting these preconditions make it obvious that the government of PM al-Abadi is still insisting on the Baghdad demands and has not yielded to the pressures coming from more than one Western capital, including Washington, Berlin, and Paris. They are laying bare the fact that the Iraqi PM is well aware that the Kurdish government is too strained to turn down the preconditions set by the central government. For al-Abadi, the demands are set to serve the vital and essential Iraqi interests and are the core proofs of the country’s national sovereignty with reference to the nation’s constitution. They are, in fact, far from being party, personal, chimerical, or subnational matters.

Tough times and limited choices for Kurds

The KRG in recent years has been bearing the brunt of the low price of oil as the main exported product and a source of income of the government. Another part of the regional administration’s financial suffering should be blamed on the huge subsidies paid to the public economy, the power struggle between the rival political parties, and the entrenched and organized corruption of the regional authorities. As many analysts put it, one of the crucial drives behind the insistence of the KRG and Masoud Barzani, the former president of Kurdistan, on holding the secession plebiscite despite resounding home, regional, and international objections was an intention to divert the public from the internal economic predicament and the government’s inefficiency.

Now the plan has backfired. The Kurdish cities are theaters of anti-KRG protests as the economic conditions grow worse as an outcome of Barzani’s strategic mistake. The region’s leaders have failed to find a short or mid-term solution. The opposition parties of Gorran (Change) Movement and the Kurdistan Islamic Union are joining the popular protests and demanding Erbil to negotiate with Baghdad.

At the very time, the KRG’s demands for unconditional negotiations go nowhere. The central government, particularly after the seizure of the oil-rich Kirkuk in a sweeping operation in mid-October, has stripped the Kurds of a hefty chunk of their confrontational capabilities. This means that the Kurdish leaders, at least, cannot reject the main parts of Baghdad demands. The primary demand was the cancellation of the vote outcome. Erbil leaders declined to bow to it, despite the fact that their separation referendum was unconstitutional, and the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq has declared its result “void.”

The regional government made a strategic mistake since the moment it decided to hold the referendum. KRG turned a deaf ear to warnings from internal, regional, and international sides. Even now, Erbil is pressing ahead with the mistake as it declines to accept the rule of the nation’s constitution. This insistence puts on them weakness and limitation in the negotiations and closes the door to an ultimate exit from the current stalemate. As the time goes by, the central government adds to its preconditions, all of which are constitutional. This is Baghdad’s strong point. The situation is hard and the choices are limited for the Kurds.