Rep. McCaul urges administration to support KRG in disputes with Baghdad—3rd Congressional letter in a week!

So far, the State Department has offered little response to the repeated expressions of Congressional concern.
Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas and the GOP member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas and the GOP member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urging the administration to provide more support to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in its disputes with Baghdad, particularly over energy resources.

McCaul’s letter represents the third Congressional letter in a week addressed to Blinken and making much the same point: the Biden administration needs to do more to support the KRG.

So far, the State Department has offered little response to the repeated expressions of Congressional concern. Rather, it seems fixed, instead, on renewing the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which former president Donald Trump left in 2018.

McCaul: Need to Provide More Support for KRG

“I write to you with concern that ongoing disputes between the Government of Iraq (GOI) and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) across a range of issues are undermining Iraq’s stability and economic development,” and “I urge the Administration to engage with counterparts in Baghdad and Erbil to identify a way forward.”

McCaul noted the disagreement between Erbil and Baghdad over KRG oil sales, an issue compounded by “Iraq’s stalled government formation process”—as ten months after the October 2021 elections, there is still no government in Baghdad.

In February, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court ruled that the KRG had to turn over proceedings from its oil sales to the government in Baghdad. This was so, although Iraq’s post-2003 constitution provides for a federal system—contrary to the centralization of Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime.

As Brendan O’Leary, the Lauder Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, whose expertise includes federalism and power-sharing, explained, Iraq’s so-called Supreme Court is, itself, unconstitutional, because it was not established in accord with the post-2003 constitution!

Moreover, that constitution “gives supremacy to regional laws, where they clash with federal laws,” O’Leary explained. Article 110 of that constitution includes “a list of exclusive federal powers,” he said, and “oil and gas are not among these exclusive powers.”

Read More: KRG should resist Iraqi court's ruling on its oil and gas sector: Prof. Brendan O'Leary

McCaul: Iran ‘Continues to Threaten Iraq,’ including Kurdistan Region

McCaul also described the dangers to Iraq’s independence and sovereignty, including to the Kurdistan Region, which comes from Tehran.

“Iran continues to threaten Iraq,” McCaul stated, “including through the recent spate of missile and rocket attacks carried out by Iran and Iran-backed militias in the KRI [Kurdistan Region of Iraq.]

The Administration must respond robustly to these blatant violations of Iraqi sovereignty,” McCaul wrote. “This must include supporting our Iraqi partners who seek to protect their country from Iran’s malign influence.”

Michael Knights, a scholar at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explained in a report earlier this month how Iran had succeeded in suborning Iraq’s top court.

That began in January, at the direction of the head of the Qods Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC.) Initially, Tehran’s motive was to secure ministries for the pro-Iranian political parties in Iraq, following the October elections, even though Muqtada al Sadr had won more votes than they had.

However, Iran’s original aim soon expanded to punishing the Kurds, and, specifically, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest of the Kurdish parties, for supporting Sadr against the pro-Iranian parties.

Hence the federal court’s ruling against KRG oil production (as well as against Hoshyar Zebari, the KDP’s nominee for president.)

Other Congressional Letters

Last Monday, the senior Democratic and Republic senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez (D, New Jersey) and Sen. James Risch (R, Idaho), sent Blinken a letter in which they called on the administration to provide support to the KRG in its disputes with the federal government, including over energy.

They also denounced Iranian and Iranian-sponsored attacks on energy infrastructure in the Kurdistan Region.

The senators’ letter was followed on Thursday by a second letter from three members of the House of Representatives: Rep. Michael Waltz (R, Florida), Rep. Dina Titus (D, Nevada), and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R, Colorado.)

Read More: Senior Democratic, Republican Senators call on Biden administration to support Kurdistan Region in disputes with Baghdad

Waltz, a decorated Green Beret, and Lamborn sit on the House Armed Services Committee, while Titus is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Their letter closely resembled the senators’ letter. It called on the Biden administration to support the KRG against pressures to reduce energy production that are coming from Iran and its proxies in Iraq.

Read More: Congressmen call on Biden administration to support Erbil in energy disputes with Baghdad

Minimal Administration Response

So far, there has been little response from the Biden administration to the three letters from Congress. Rather, its abiding passion regarding the Middle East remains the effort to revive the JCPOA.

Thus, the State Department’s reaction has been largely pro forma. Asked last Tuesday about the senators’ letter, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price responded with what were pleasant, but largely empty, words.

“We encourage the parties to determine a way forward that supports existing and future investment and advances the interests of the Iraqi people, including those of the Kurdistan Region” Price said. “We have been engaging with the central government in Baghdad. We have been engaging with our partners in the Kurdistan Region as well.”

Asked a similar question, again, on Monday, as the third Congressional letter was released, Price gave essentially the same reply—in fact alluding to what he had already stated.

“We made a point of this last week,” he said. “We’ve been in regular touch with our partners in Baghdad, with our partners in Erbil. We want to see a de-escalation of tensions between our partners.”

“We of course have good relations both with the central government and with the KRG,” he continued. “It’s our goal to do everything we can to support the improvement of relations between Iraqi and Kurdish authorities.”

No particular action appeared to accompany those words—which did not even include mention of a key element in the three letters: Iran’s malign influence in Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region.

Indeed, the fact that Congressmen continue to send such letters suggests they are not much impressed with the State Department’s response and feel that it is not addressing their concerns.