Since the end of October, the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have been in talks over control of the borders, disputed areas, and Kurdish government workers among other things. Initially, it appeared that the two had come to a partial agreement over some of those issues, but then Baghdad accused the Kurds of stalling. Since then there have been more disagreements over the details.
Since October 28, Irbil and Baghdad have had several meetings mediated by the United States. The major issues are control of border crossings, the disputed areas, oil exports, the budget, and civil servants in the KRG. At first, it looked like the two sides had come to a deal on some of those issues such as joint control of the border and disputed territories. Then on November 1, the Joint Operations Command accused the Kurds of withdrawing and stalling for time. The KRG has since said that the federal authorities wanted sole control of the border and disputed areas, and to downsize its share of the budget and the Peshmerga, all of which the Kurds reject.
For example, the draft of the 2018 budget was recently introduced, which cut the KRG’s traditional portion. Since 2005, the region has gotten 17%, although it has always complained it has not gotten that full amount. In the draft budget that is cut to 12.67%. KRG Premier Nechirvan Barzani said that he would allow Baghdad to control oil and customs if Kurdistan received its traditional 17%. The budget has been a heated issue between the two sides since the Maliki administration cut off funds over the region’s independent oil policy. Any reduction would be seen as a punishment for the KRG.
Another issue is covering Kurdish employees. Prime Minister Haidar Abadi offered to pay the salaries of the Peshmerga and Kurdish civil servants. At the same time, he has claimed there are ghost Peshmerga and workers on the payrolls, which he wants audited. The Kurds have accused the premier of attempting to take over its security forces and downsize its public workers. Kurdistan has consistently called on Baghdad to pay its employees, but with no strings attached. That meant the KRG wanted a lump sum that it would then distribute how it saw fit. Abadi now wants Kurdistan to be treated like the rest of Iraq, although he is being hypocritical by complaining of ghost employees as there are plenty of those under Baghdad as well.
The central government continues to apply pressure upon Irbil as well to force it to give in. The Central Bank of Iraq recently issued orders to banks to stop cooperating with the KRG. If any did, they would not receive any more foreign currency. Kurdistan already lost roughly 45% of its revenues when the federal forces seized the Kirkuk oil fields in October. If the Central Bank follows through with this threat it would be another devastating blow to the region’s economy.
The Kurds have blamed Abadi for all the problems with the negotiations, but there are internal issues within the KRG as well. A recent report claimed that former President Massoud Barzani’s sons are refusing to give into any demands made by Baghdad. That likely means Masrour Barzani who was a major backer of the Kurdish independence referendum, and has lost power to his cousin Nechirvan Barzani. Whatever the case, it appears that the two sides are deadlocked for the time being.
The Kurds are claiming PM Abadi is being uncompromising. That may be true as Baghdad feels it has the upper hand after it forced the Kurds out of much of the disputed areas and took control over Kirkuk city. The KRG on other hand, may be split over negotiations itself. This may take some time to work out. Having talks is better than the alternative however, which is going back to fighting.
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Ali, Sangar, “KRG to handover oil, border revenues if Baghdad sends 17 percent budget share: Barzani,” Kurdistan 24, 11/6/17
Al Forat, “Peshmerga: Baghdad’s demands are impossible and we will not hesitate to protect the interests of our people,” 11/2/17
Iraq News Network, “Kurdistan Region proposes joint management of border crossings,” 11/2/17
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Mostafa, Nehal, “Iraqi, Kurdish delegations convene in Mosul on running disputed regions,” Iraqi News, 11/2/17
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- “Iraq Federal Court says constitution does not allow separation,” 11/6/17
- “Iraqi army says talks with Peshmerga failed,” 11/1/17
- “Iraqi Central Bank orders banks to halt operations in Kurdistan,” 11/8/17
- “Peshmerga push for truce with Iraq but resolute in defence: deputy minister,” 11/8/17
- “Talks hit a snag after Iraqis reject joint force deployment: Peshmerga,” 11/5/17
Shafaaq News, “Kurdish official: Baghdad seeks to abolish Ministry of Peshmerga and reduce the fighters,” 11/8/17