WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Former US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, called on the US to become “very actively engaged” in negotiating the dispute between Erbil and Baghdad that has followed the independence referendum.
Speaking to Kurdistan 24, Khalilzad suggested the US could “play the role of a mediator.”
Given Baghdad’s unwillingness now to negotiate with Erbil, the US could “carry out secret shuttle diplomacy” until “the Iraqi government is ready to engage directly.”
Quiet US efforts could facilitate “the negotiations that ultimately need to occur.”
Khalilzad also advised that the US “needs to discourage punitive measures against Kurdistan or any other step that would destabilize Kurdistan.”
“The Kurds and the United States have been good friends for a long time,” said the former ambassador, who served in Iraq from 2005 to 2007, and oversaw the ratification of Iraq’s constitution, as well as the Iraqi elections that followed.
“We have done big things together,” Khalilzad observed about the relationship between the US and the Kurds.
“I know that Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi is a good man,” Khalilzad affirmed. Abadi “recognizes the right of Kurds for self-determination.”
“He has said that publicly. ‘I respect their desire for self-determination.’”
“When I talked with [Abadi] a few months ago about this issue,” Khalilzad continued, “he took a very reasonable stand.”
Khalilzad noted that although Abadi was “not directly engaging with Kurdistan,” other Iraqi politicians were: namely, two of Iraq’s three vice-presidents who recently visited Erbil.
He suggested that one reason for the vituperation being hurled at the Kurds from Baghdad is the upcoming elections, and he warned about “politicians inside Iraq, who may want to use anti-Kurdish propaganda to make a political career for themselves.”
But, as Khalilzad suggested, Abadi “needs the Kurds in the coming elections,” adding, “I urge the Kurds to participate.”
Both parties “need to talk about what happens during and after the elections,” Khalilzad said, as he observed that the elections could be a good subject with which to begin discussions.
Khalilzad also noted the shortcomings of many Iraqi politicians in the post-Saddam Hussein era. “Some of the parties are changing their names, introducing new agendas because they know that people are not happy with what has happened.”
He stressed that it was important for the US “to be proactive” in discouraging “hostile action” against the Kurdistan Region from neighboring states.
We have “a lot at stake” in Iraq, he affirmed.
Khalilzad, thus, joins other senior figures in the national security field who have said that the US needs to be more actively engaged in Iraq.
Earlier this month, in testimony before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, Ryan Crocker, who succeeded Khalilzad as US ambassador to Iraq, explained that the Trump administration needs, first of all, to “decide that Iraq is a national security priority.”
The Secretary of State then needs to become involved, with the “full backing of the President,” he testified.
John Hannah, National Security Adviser to former Vice-President Dick Cheney, writing recently in Foreign Policy magazine, called on the administration to stop sitting on the sidelines, become engaged with Erbil and Baghdad, and “go on the offensive diplomatically.”
And former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, wrote on Monday, “Unfortunately, but entirely predictably, our State Department opposed even holding the referendum and firmly rejects Kurdish independence.”
“This policy needs to be reversed immediately,” Bolton continued, “turning US obstructionism into leadership.”
Editing by G.H. Renaud