ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A trade mission led by the US Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday held a lengthy meeting on the future of the Kurdistan Region’s economy with Masrour Barzani, the Prime Minister-designate of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Barzani “detailed his plans to reduce dependence on oil and gas by investing in agriculture, industry, and tourism, among other sectors,” a statement from his office read. He is also the incumbent Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC).
Greater “transparency would help restore trust between locals and businesses and develop a stronger, reliable banking sector,” Barzani stressed.
The prime minister-designate is currently working to form his cabinet and outline his agenda for the next four years as prime minister of the autonomous Kurdistan Region.
The KRG’s reliance on oil imports to finance its annual budget, amid tanking oil prices, was one of the factors that led to a financial crisis in 2015. The lack of effective and reliable banking has also kept the region’s economy from modernizing.
Another factor that strained the region’s finances, along with funding an ongoing war with the Islamic State, was the central Iraqi government’s reduction of the KRG’s share of the national annual budget.
Relations between the two governments reached a near-breaking point in 2017 when Baghdad’s troops and the Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militias attacked Kirkuk and other disputed territories and forced the withdrawal of the Kurdish Peshmerga from said areas. Baghdad also imposed a set of sanctions that further contributed to the region’s financial difficulties.
Since then, relations have recovered, but differences have lingered on issues that pertain to the status of disputed areas as well as the KRG’s obligations of oil deliveries to the national Iraqi oil marketer in return for its share of the national budget, among others.
Barzani told the attendees of the Tuesday meeting that he “intends to lead new efforts to address the protracted disputes with the Iraqi Federal Government,” affirming that the Constitution “already outlines mutually beneficial mechanisms.”
The PM-designate added that he looks forward to engaging Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, who took office late last year and with whom Erbil-Baghdad ties saw improvements.
This meeting comes two days after a US business delegation led by Steve Lutes, Vice-President of Middle Eastern Affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with their Kurdistan Region counterparts.
On Monday, both President Nechirvan Barzani and Masrour Barzani met with a US delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, Andrew Peek, accompanied by US Ambassador to Iraq, Matthew Muller, Consul-General in Erbil, Steven Fagin, and other diplomats.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany