WASHINGTON — Haider Al-Abadi, chairman of the Iraqi parliament's treasury committee, warned that “if not handled properly” the dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq over oil revenues “can lead to the disintegration of the country.” The impasse can affect other regions of Iraq, Al Abadi said, and “it looks very bad when it is perceived by other areas, by Basra, which is producing 85%” of the Iraqi budget.
Al-Abadi, a senior leader in Iraq’s Dawa Party and one of Iraq’s most influential parliamentarians, said Iraqi Kurdistan is illegally exporting oil to Iran and Turkey and selling it at 45% of market price. While he blamed the Iraqi Kurdish leadership for “not seeing beyond their nose” and “not seeing the big picture,” Al Abadi emphasized “we are very keen to solve” the problem. Otherwise, he added: “The next step is not to give Kurdistan their share of the budget revenues because they are not giving their shares of the oil production.”
Al-Abadi, who spoke with Al-Monitor Editor/CEO Andrew Parasiliti in Washington, said the spike in bombings in Iraq is related to the war in Syria, including attempts by terrorists to scare away Iraqis from participating in the provincial elections, which took place on April 20. It is now well known, he said, that terrorist groups operating in Syria have made Iraq a target as well. Last month, Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and al-Qaeda in Iraq announced their alliance. Arms are regularly smuggled from Syria into Iraq.
Al-Abadi said that “we are very hard at work on a political solution” to the war in Syria and have reached out to the Syrian opposition, including “clandestine contacts” with both Islamist and nationalist factions. But Al-Abadi lamented: “The whole thing is dragging into sectarianism, there is no accommodation.”
Al-Abadi said Iraq opposes sanctions on Syria and takes the position that arms shipments to both the Syrian government and the opposition should stop. He recalled that more than a decade of international sanctions did not dislodge Saddam Hussein and only weakened and demoralized Iraqi society.
Al-Abadi made clear that, despite Iraq’s commitment to a political solution, “there is no love lost between us and the Syrian regime.” He said that even though Syria hosted members of the opposition to Saddam Hussein (including current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki), Syria’s later support for suicide bombers and al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in Iraq “helped to kill a lot of our people.” Al-Abadi added: “We have paid by our blood because of that regime ... we have told the Iranians the Syrian regime is your ally, it is not our ally.”
Iraq maintains “friendly” relations with Iran, Al-Abadi observed, and that there is “a very, very harsh competition between Iran and Turkey” in Iraq and the region, especially as a result of Syria.
Al-Abadi predicted a strong showing for Maliki’s State of Law coalition in the provincial elections April 20, noting that “according to our own calculations and opinion polls ... no local government can be formed without us in these governorates.”
The moves to try to unseat Maliki by Iraqiya (the primarily Sunni opposition bloc), the Iraqi Kurdish parties, and cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr are unlikely to succeed because all thet can agree on are there difficulties with Maliki. Their consensus breaks down as soon as another issue is raised, including “who will replace him and what else do they want.” Al-Abadi said that “some would say that Muqtda Al-Sadr is playing hard and trying to create problems for a simple reason that the only way he can preserve his status is by creating problems.” Al-Abadi gave Maliki credit for amendment of the de-Baathification, despite criticism from all sides.
Al-Abadi, who was in Washington last week for meetings with US officials, business leaders, and experts, commented on the “good framework” for the US-Iraq relationship and the need for the United States to stay engaged on security. “It would be a shame that we should allow al-Qaeda to regroup,” he said.
Despite the spike in recent terrorist bombings, Al-Abadi said that Iraq is overall “very safe,” including no incidents of foreigners being kidnapped. He hoped that the US State Department would reconsider the travel advisory on Iraq, which hinders travel and business, and called for “credit guarantees and credit facilities” to facilitate US investment. Iraq would like to see US companies claim a larger share of the opportunities in Iraq. “We don’t want to fall into the trap of relying on China only or Turkey,” Al-Abadi said.
He also hoped that there could soon be a direct flight between Iraq and the United States.
Andrew Parasiliti is Editor & CEO of Al-Monitor.