Expectations Are High For Maliki-Barzani Summit in Erbil

Sunday's planned meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani seems to show the two governments' conflict is quieting down.

al-monitor Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani attend a meeting in Baghdad, Nov. 9, 2010. They are scheduled to meet again Sunday in Erbil. Photo by REUTERS.

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nouri al-maliki, massoud barzani, kurdish-iraqi tensions, erbil, baghdad government, baghdad

Jun 7, 2013

June 9 will be the official date for ending the long boycott between Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani and federal government President Nouri al-Maliki.

According to his media adviser Ali al-Mousawi, Maliki will visit Erbil after having accepted a Kurdish invitation that will hopefully end the long dispute over the distribution and management of resources in the country.

Both the federal and regional governments have to form seven official committees before the visit, and their work will be supervised by Maliki and KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. A source close to Maliki’s office said that the committees’ mission is to “reach technical suggestions to resolve the pending problems between both sides.”

The seven committees will begin their work simultaneously with Maliki’s visit to Erbil.

The committees include one for the conclusive revision of the federal budget, one for the revision of the oil and gas draft law, a joint security committee for disputed regions listed in Article 140, a joint committee to follow up on parliamentary work, a joint committee to follow up the work between Baghdad and Erbil and a committee to oversee the border crossings and airports.

An informed political source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “We have reached an agreement regarding the committees during President Barzani’s latest visit to Baghdad.”

The Kurdish politicians are clearly optimistic regarding Maliki’s visit this time. Shareef Suleiman, a Kurdish MP in the Iraqi parliament, told Al-Monitor, “The visit will pave the way for solving the accumulated problems between both sides. I believe that it is in the interest of both Iraq and the Kurdistan region, as well as in the interest of the whole political process.”

However, Suleiman emphasized the need to “take practical measures for the solution and begin immediately with the serious steps aimed at solving the problems between both sides.”

The disputing parties in Baghdad and Erbil agreed in May to “amend the current general budget law; settle the issue of the law on oil and gas and the Tigris and Jazeera operations commands; redraw the disputed administrative frontiers once again; compensate people affected by the chemical attacks on the Kurdish areas under former President Saddam Hussein; and appoint representatives of both parties for cooperation and information exchanges.”

The declaration of the formation of the seven committees came only a few hours after the Iraqi government announced Maliki’s visit to Erbil, in response to Barzani’s invitation. Moreover, a meeting for the federal cabinet will be held.

The Islamic Dawa Party believes that Maliki’s chairing of the cabinet session in Erbil is very important, especially because it could alter his supporters’ negative attitudes and belief that the Kurdistan region is outside Baghdad’s control.

On the other hand, the Kurds believe that the real problem between Baghdad and Erbil is not related to where the meeting will be held. In fact, they think that the crisis goes much deeper and touches on an intense dispute over the way to manage the country, especially because of Maliki’s  centralization policies. But the optimism of Baghdad and Erbil is not enough to move forward.

There are major deeply rooted and complicated problems related to an old dispute over power, interests and conflicting views in this regard.

Serious political crises have ended in the past with talks about agreements and terms for a solution. However, they have gone without implementation for several years, especially regarding the distribution of national resources, the settlement of the legal situation of Kirkuk and the demarcation of borders between the provinces.

However, this time, there is a difference in the political circumstances surrounding Maliki’s visit, thus making it special for several reasons. Perhaps the first reason is its timing, given that Maliki desperately needs to take practical measures that portray him as a president seeking a solution, in contrast to his opponents’ claims that he has been causing insoluble crises ever since he took power.

Another reason that seems important to some Shiite communities is related to the fact that the security and political crisis, which escalated in May and resulted in the killing and wounding of around 400 people, puts the governing Shiite parties in an unenviable situation.

They are seen as the only side involved in the failure. For this reason, it was necessary to take quick measures to prevent the critical situation affecting these political forces, including Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party, from worsening.

Moreover, the scheduled meeting is highly important since Maliki needs to protect the Shiite-Kurdish alliance now more than ever, especially after the deterioration of the situation with the Iraqi Sunnis with the outbreak of the protests in Ramadi at the end of 2012.

Ali Abel Sadah is a Baghdad-based writer for both Iraqi and Arab media. He has been a managing editor for local newspapers as well as a political and cultural reporter for more than 10 years.

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