Joey Hood: US 'working very hard' to resolve disputes between Baghdad and Erbil

Us Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood speaks with Kurdistan 24 in Washington. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Us Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood speaks with Kurdistan 24 in Washington. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - Joey Hood, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, explained that the US was working “very hard” to help resolve the differences between the federal Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on the budget and oil.

In an interview with Kurdistan 24 earlier this week, Hood explained that the resolution of those disputes was “very important” and that the US ambassador in Iraq, Matthew Tueller, was “working very hard” to facilitate an agreement, speaking with “officials in the federal government as well as in the regional government.”  

Hood lauded officials in both governments. “We have good partners to work with in Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the [Iraqi] Prime Minister, and with [KRG] Prime Minister Masrour al-Barzani, as well as Nechirvan Barzani,” he said.

In addition, “we have very good partners in the Ministry of Finance [and] Ministry of Energy,” Hook continued, “so I think this is entirely doable,” and we can help “both sides come together and find a solution as quickly as possible.”

As prime minister, Kadhimi is the friendliest to the Kurds in many years—since 2006, when Nouri al-Maliki became Prime Minister in the first Iraqi elections after the US-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Maliki proved to be a partisan Shi’ite, and his tenure contributed to the rise of ISIS, by alienating Iraq’s Sunnis.

Newroz Greetings

Hood also conveyed greetings for Nowruz, which will begin on Sunday. He lamented the fact that he was not in the Kurdistan Region to celebrate the holiday, as two and three years before, “I was celebrating Nowruz with you in the Kurdistan Region,” but COVID is preventing Hood from traveling now.

“But I hope that next year, we can all be together again,” he continued, “in Erbil, in Sulaimani, in Duhok and places in between to celebrate the good weather, and the beautiful surroundings and the beautiful culture of the region.”

Support for the KRG

Asked if the Biden administration will support the KRG in facing its many challenges, Hood responded without equivocation: “Absolutely.”

“This administration is made up of people who have long experience working on issues in the Middle East, specifically in Iraq and specifically with the Kurdistan Region,” he continued.

“These are officials who are well-known to you and to your officials, and, I think, have a long record of credibility and success in working on these very difficult issues with you.”

That begins at the top, with President Joe Biden, who, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, first visited Erbil in December 2002, along with Sen. Chuck Hagel, as the US prepared for the war that would overthrow Saddam Hussein and his regime. When he later returned, as Vice-President, Biden would, have been greatly impressed by the development, in fact, the transformation, of the Kurdistan Region. Indeed, in late 2017, when this reporter spoke with Biden at a chance encounter in a local grocery store, he affirmed, “Masoud Barzani is a good friend of mine.”

Read More: Joe Biden—‘Good Friend’ of Masoud Barzani—becomes America’s 46th President

US has Strong Interest in Good Relations between Erbil and Baghdad

It has always been US policy, ever since the issue arose, that the unity of Iraq (as well as Syria) is important. Washington is not prepared to reconsider whether the original agreement between Britain and France (Sykes-Picot) that established Iraq and Syria in their present form—in a secret treaty concluded during World War I—has really proven viable over the past century.

Thus, Hood stressed the advantages to the Kurdistan Region in being part of Iraq, and, related to that, the US interest in promoting good relations between Erbil and Baghdad.

The people of the Kurdistan Region have “the greatest chance of success in a strong, united, federal and democratic Iraq, and that’s what we’re working for,” Hood stated.

“When you’re part of a big, strong system like that,” he continued, “you have a better chance of succeeding and thriving, rather than going in by yourselves.”

“As long as we work together, and we have a common vision,” there are “a lot of opportunities in the country,” he said, citing tourism, as well as hydrocarbons.

“But we need good security,” Hood added, citing the success of the “Coalition and Iraqi forces, including the brave Peshmerga,” in fighting ISIS.

Yet, in apparent allusion to problems in northern Iraq, including the presence of the Popular Mobilization Forces, as well as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Sinjar, Hood also affirmed the need “to bring the authority of the legitimate government in Baghdad and the regional government in Erbil to all parts of Iraq,” so “people can live and make their business in peace.”

Editing by John J. Catherine