Talks between the federal and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have deadlocked over the last few weeks. After Baghdad moved its forces into Kirkuk and other disputed territories in October 2017, which led to several gun battles, the two sides moved onto negotiations mediated by the United States. No progress has been made however due to a number of issues with no breakthrough appearing on the horizon.
The Kurds continually say they want a new round of bargaining with Baghdad. Various Kurdish leaders such as KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and former President Massoud Barzani have all said that they welcome talks with the central government. The KRG also backed a recent ruling by the Federal Court that the September independence referendum was unconstitutional. Officials such as the premier have claimed that Baghdad is holding things up, because it has not responded to any of the offers made by Kurdistan. The Kurds are facing internal divisions that are complicating matter as well.
The ex-Kurdish president has been sniping in public, and being an impediment to progress. For example, on November 20 Barzani rejected the Federal Court’s decision on the referendum saying the will of the Kurds cannot be overturned. The next week, he stated he was open to negotiations, but then blamed Baghdad for the lack of progress, claimed it had been plotting against the Kurds before the referendum, and then accused the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of betraying the Kurdish cause. Some members of his party have repeated this line as well. This showed Barzani is not only unwilling to admit to his mistakes, but is bitter at his enemies and undermining the Kurds’ position. The referendum was a huge setback, and is the main point of contention. By saying that he stands by the vote means that he is not serious about resolving the problems with the central government.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Haidar Abadi appears to be dragging out the crisis as well. His main demand has been that the Kurds overturn the results of the referendum. The KRG claims that was done with the Federal Court decision. Abadi has not responded, and that is holding up all the other differences between the two such as the disputed territories, oil, the budget, etc. Abadi was under huge pressure from Arab members of parliament to retaliate and punish the Kurds for the referendum. He took a gamble by sending troops into the disputed areas and won a huge victory, and expanded his standing. There is every reason for him and other politicians to drag this dispute out with elections scheduled for May 2018. People like ex-President Barzani are hugely unpopular in the rest of the country, and leaving the outstanding issues up in the air allows them to be exploited for electoral gain in the campaigns which will begin in the coming months. Using the Kurds and the recent victories over the Islamic State will be much easier for Abadi to run on than other things he has brought up such as fighting corruption.
BBC, “Iraq Supreme Court rules Kurdish referendum unconstitutional,” 11/20/17
Coker, Margaret, “With Iraqi-Kurdish Talks Stalled, Phone Diplomacy Averts New Clashes,” New York Times, 11/12/17
eKurd, “Is Kurdistan’s Massoud Barzani stepping down or stepping up?” 11/11/17
Al Ghad Press, “Kurdish parliament confirms retention of the Kurdistan referendum results until the conditions of independence are available,” 11/26/17
Jalabi, Raya, “Iraq’s Kurdistan says to respect court decision banning secession,” Reuters, 11/14/17
Al Mada, “4 lawsuits on the referendum impede negotiations between Baghdad and Irbil,” 11/11/17
- “A breakthrough in the Baghdad-Irbil crisis: respect for the decision of the judiciary and then negotiations,” 11/15/17
Rudaw, “KRG PM: Erbil has nothing to cancel post-referendum, but Baghdad does,” 11/27/17
- “Masoud Barzani: No court can cancel 3 million votes for independence,” 11/20/17