Kurdistan: Baghdad 'has not shown any willingness' to resolve disputes
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – On Wednesday, the Kurdistan Region's cabinet held a session by video conference, headed by Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, to discuss the current financial crisis in the region and the results of ongoing Erbil-Baghdad dialogue.
During the meeting, ministers praised the efforts of a high-level Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) delegation to negotiate with the federal government in Baghdad on multiple longstanding disputes between them.
The delegation first traveled to the capital after oil disputes led to the decision by the previous Iraqi government, headed by former Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, to suspend payments of the Kurdistan Region's share of the national budget in April.
“Unfortunately, for more than three months, the federal government has not shown any willingness to send the region’s salary entitlement. This prevents the region from disbursing financial salaries of its employees, negatively impacting the lived of public employees amid the health crisis facing the region,” a statement from KRG website read.
Cabinet members stressed that the region, in accordance to Iraqi law, has the right to receive its allotment of the budget earmarked for of its employees' salaries, arguing that there must be no distinction between citizens of the Kurdistan Region and the rest of Iraq.
In the meeting, the Council of Ministers expressed its dissatisfaction and grave concern regarding the negative position of the federal government, calling for a proper response to the KRG’s serious efforts to resolve the outstanding issues “in a manner that ensures its respect for the constitutional rights and entitlements and the fulfilment of its constitutional obligations towards the region.”
“The Council urged the negotiating delegation to continue its discussions with the federal government to reach an agreement, as the region had previously expressed its readiness to fulfil its constitutional obligations in the oil and financial file, and the federal government must assume its constitutional responsibilities towards the region’s rights and financial dues,” the statement added.
Following the KRG public statements, the federal government posted a series of tweets in response which began, “Iraq’s Federal Ministry of Finance expresses its surprise at the statement issued today Wednesday 12/08/2020 by the Council of Ministers of the Kurdistan Regional Government on the outcome of these discussions.”
Another read, “The statement by Kurdistan Regional Government lacked precision in identifying the basis of the problem. The Federal Ministry of Finance has shown great flexibility in order to reach an agreement that serves the interests of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan Region.”
Erbil-Baghdad relations have always been fraught with disputes, nearing a total breakdown after the Kurdistan Region's 2017 independence referendum, followed by Iraqi forces and Iran-backed militias of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) attacking disputed areas such as Kirkuk to push Kurdish Peshmerga forces from them.
The two governments eventually converged to some extent on a range of issues, especially after Abdul Mahdi came into office in late 2018.
Still, oil and budget have remained a significant source of dispute between the central government and KRG, first starting when the autonomous region began to export its oil independently. A 2019 deal with the Abdul Mahdi administration stipulated that the KRG must deliver Baghdad 250,000 barrels per day (bpd) in return for, among other things, securing the region's allocation in the Iraqi federal budget.
The Kurdistan Region did not implement the oil handover, but then in late 2019, Erbil again renewed the agreement amid new negotiations. But, Abdul Mahdi explained during a press conference in mid-2019, the federal government has deducted the KRG's share of the national budget by the amount equivalent to the oil barrels owed.
Editing by John J. Catherine