Former US Ambassador underlines need for Kurdish consensus in Baghdad

“A consensus among Kurdish parties will be healthier in the long run, both for the Iraqi Kurdistan region and for the government in Baghdad.”
Douglas Silliman, former US ambassador to Iraq. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Douglas Silliman, former US ambassador to Iraq. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Former US Ambassador to Baghdad, Ambassador Douglas A. Silliman told Kurdistan 24 on Thursday that “a consensus among Kurdish parties will be healthier in the long run.”

“I am certain that the new US Ambassador Alina L. Romanowski is visiting Erbil and Sulaimani and probably elsewhere in the Kurdistan Region very frequently, as I did,” he said.

He underlined that this will make sure “that she understands the opinions of the different political parties and political leaders and to help convince them that a consensus among Kurdish parties will be healthier in the long run, both for the Iraqi Kurdistan region and for the government in Baghdad.”

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He also added that "this consensus does not have to be on every issue about how Kurdistan is governed, but rather, what should the relationship between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad be and when there is greater current Kurdish unity it makes it easier for Baghdad to deal with the Kurdistan Region.”

Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani on Wednesday met with Kurdish parties in Erbil, which was also attended by Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq, in an attempt to bring more Kurdish unity.

Read More: Kurdistan President Nechirvan Barzani warns against delaying Kurdistan Region’s parliamentary election

Nechirvan Barzani also underlined that postponing the Kurdistan regional parliamentary elections planned for October will “harm the image and standing of the Kurdistan Region.”

Moreover, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have still not agreed on a single candidate for the Iraqi presidency.

The KDP's candidate is Reber Ahmed, the current Kurdistan Region's Interior Minister, while the PUK's candidate is incumbent Iraqi President Barham Salih.

Ambassador Silliman also said the proposal by President Nechirvan Barzani to have a “national dialogue in Erbil is a good first step but for that to be really productive the different communities of Iraq need to have positions of coordination within the community.”

Read More: President Nechirvan Barzani invites Iraqi political parties for ‘open dialogue’ in Erbil

So far, the Sadrists and the Iran-aligned Shiite Coordination Framework have remained divided over the Iraqi government formation process and plan rival protests in Baghdad for next Friday.

Sadr has opposed the Coordination Framework’s nominee for the Iraqi premiership and organized protests for the last 10 days against the attempts by the Coordination Framework to form a new government.

Read More: If judiciary does not side with people's will, Sadrists to respond accordingly: Representative

Ambassador Silliman added that Kurdistan should come up with two or three principles in dealing with Iraq, including on an Iraqi presidential nominee, how Kurdistan will approach a new oil law, and the ruling of the federal court in February against the Kurdistan Region’s oil exports.

Read More: Iraqi Federal Supreme Court's actions against oil companies are illegal: KRG Ministry of Natural Resources

“Consensus will make it much easier to achieve the goals in Kurdistan and protect the rights of Kurdistan. I'll also note that the United States continues to provide training and support to the Peshmerga as it does to the Iraqi army,” he said.

“I think that it will continue to support the Peshmerga and the autonomy of the Kurdistan Region into the future."

However, he said that Kurdish leaders in general tend "to want to wait until the Shia political parties, which generally formed the majority of the parliament, had come up with their decisions about government formation.”

According to him this took away the ability of Kurdish leaders to more directly influence the outcome of elections and the formation of a government.

“If there is a solid Kurdish block from the Kurdistan Region, it can influence and be a major supporter of one or more factions in Baghdad to help form a government.”

“If Kurdistan waits until the Shia community is unified, that could be a problem and we saw that in this government formation process. There is no unity in the Shia community. It is split largely into two groups one led by Sadr and one led by the Iranian influenced militia collected in the Coalition Framework.”

He said because the Kurds had no “unified position to elect the president and move the process forward, the process has fallen apart because of the lack of Shia unity and the lack of Kurdish unity.”

However, he said he is certain “that the United States is talking to the leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan to try to get them to agree on how they can move forward together while protecting the rights of Kurds in Iraq.”

On August 4, Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), met with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) President, Bafel Talabani, in Pirmam, Erbil province. During the meeting, both sides agreed to work towards greater Kurdish unity.

The former US ambassador also said that a future Iraqi government needs to take "the interests of Iraqis into account and tries to reduce corruption, tries to tie the Iraqi economy to the larger economies of the world, not just to Iran and tries to give Iraqis a voice in the way that they are governed."

"The system in the Constitution can produce that kind of a government, a parliamentary system with significant autonomy for the Kurdistan Region and for the provinces of the rest of Iraq. 

But he said "the politicians and political forces in Iraq have focused much more on their own regional and local demands than they have on an effective government in Baghdad."

Nevertheless, he said obviously Iran is very supportive of parties allied to the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces), the Shia nationalist parties, (...) and those parties in Iraq that support the Iranian system of governance."

Moreover, he says Iran provides material support, advice and military training to the Hashd and to other non-Hashd armed groups.

"The United States is engaged far less seriously mostly through discussion because we want to see Iraq turnout to be stable and prosperous and the first results of this election and the lack of closure on government formation."