Iraqi-Kurdish Negotiations Getting Started on a Positive Note

After months of increasing vitriol between the government in Baghdad and the regional Kurdish government in Erbil, major negotiations between the two kicked off this week. Omar Sattar reports on the positive atmosphere surrounding the talks, in spite of the many policy differences between Iraq and its Kurdish region.

al-monitor Barham Saleh talks to the media at the international conference for Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, May 3, 2007. Photo by REUTERS/Tara Todras-Whitehill.

Topics covered

supreme council for dialogue, reform paper, reform, us, kurds, kurdistan regional government, kurdistan, krg, iraq, erbil, baghdad

Aug 14, 2012

Barham Saleh, deputy secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), began talks in Baghdad yesterday [Aug. 13] aimed at settling disputes between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal government. The talks will mainly discuss oil contracts, the areas [close to the oil town of Kirkuk] disputed by the KRG and the central government, and the political reform paper.

Leader of the Kurdistan Alliance bloc Hassan Jihad told Al-Hayat: “Barham Saleh arrived yesterday to Baghdad to begin talks with the central government, and will meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujayfi, and other political leaders.” He said that “the visit aims to create an appropriate and favorable atmosphere and examine the issue of reform.”

Jihad added: “The delegation will discuss the outstanding issues between Baghdad and Erbil, namely those related to oil contracts, the oil and gas law, and the disputed areas. It will also generally discuss the current political crisis between blocs, and examine the political reform paper proposed by the National Iraqi Alliance (NIA).”

He said that “the delegation will wait until the return of [Iraqi] President Jalal Talabani to meet with the other political blocs.”

The Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament endorsed two days ago [Aug. 12] the formation of a supreme council to hold dialogue on behalf of the Kurdistan region with the federal government. The endorsement was made in the presence of Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ruz Nuri Shaways, President of the Kurdistan Parliament Arslan Baez, representative of the Kurdistan government in Baghdad Mohammed Ihsan, and heads of Kurdish political blocs in parliament.

Sources have said that United States mediation, aimed at achieving rapprochement between the governments of Baghdad and Erbil, preceded the talks. The mediation was launched by US Vice President Joseph Biden, who contacted Maliki and [Kurdish] President Massoud Barzani. Biden later sent his national security adviser Tony Blinken, who met with the two sides. US Ambassador to Iraq James F. Jeffrey explicitly announced his intention to intervene [and] open channels of dialogue between the parties.

Ali al-Shallah, spokesman for the State of Law Coalition, said that “the Kurdish delegation only comprises members of the president’s party (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), and does not include representatives of other parties or the Kurdish government. But we expect the talks to yield positive results, which may be an introduction to solving [Iraqi-Kurdish] crisis completely.”

Shallah told Al-Hayat that “Barham Saleh is widely respected in Baghdad because he has good relations with all parties in the federal government and with political blocs. He has also just ended government meetings in Kurdistan, and we expect him to carry an initiative or Kurdish vision to resolve the crisis.” He added that the NIA will ask that “the delegation provide feedback on the reform paper,” noting that “negotiations with the other blocks will start immediately after Eid al-Fitr [the religious holiday marking the end of Ramadan].”

Shallah said that the arrival of the Kurdish delegation to Baghdad and the formation of a supreme council for dialogue in Kurdistan “proves that the parties to the Erbil meeting have reached a conviction that problems can only be resolved through dialogue, and that escalation or issuing threats to question or remove the prime minister from office is not realistic or useful, and has damaged the political process and the interests of the Iraqi people.”

For his part, Mohammad Toufic Raheem, leader of the Kurdish opposition Movement for Change Coalition, told Al-Hayat that “[our movement] did not send a representative along with the Kurdish delegation headed by Barham Saleh, because the delegation does not represent the [Kurdistan] region. A partisan delegation may represent one of the two main parties, or both.”

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Omar Sattar