Iraqi PM says Erbil-Baghdad ties much improved, praises French support

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi on Friday said Baghdad’s relations with the Kurdistan Region are “in the best shape,” affirmed the Islamic State’s ongoing efforts for a resurgence, and praised French support for Iraqi reconstruction.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi on Friday said Baghdad’s relations with the Kurdistan Region are “in the best shape,” affirmed the Islamic State’s ongoing efforts for a resurgence, and praised France's support for Iraqi reconstruction. 

He made the comments during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. 

Erbil-Baghdad relations

Despite lingering differences between Erbil and Baghdad, he said, relations between the two have been steadily improving and “are contained in important frameworks of dialogue and discussion.”

“We can solve many problems in Sinjar and Nineveh, in oil issues, and in border crossings,” he added. 

In February, the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) agreed to implement a new system put forward by the KRG to help standardize the movement of goods between border crossings and internal customs points. 

Abdul-Mahdi said, “We have a single unified tariff customs all over Iraq because of the consensus that has been achieved among all the political forces [of the country].” 

Following the Kurdistan Region's independence referendum in late 2017, relations with Baghdad derailed as former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered multiple punitive measures against the region.

In November, top Kurdish statesman and head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Masoud Barzani visited the Iraqi capital to discuss Erbil-Baghdad disputes and express support for the newly-formed government headed by Abdul-Mahdi. It was the first such trip since Barzani played a central role in the independence referendum during his tenure as regional resident. His two-day trip included meeting with leaders across the spectrum of Iraqi politics. 

In the months that have followed, a number of developments highlight growing cooperation between the two administrations. 

Among these steps include the newly passed 2019 federal budget – which was backed by Kurdish lawmakers after amendments were made to the bill based on their suggestions – and the removal of domestic customs points – one of the measures imposed by Baghdad following the events of late 2017.

The ongoing threat from the Islamic State

Over a year and a half since the territorial collapse of the Islamic State in Iraq, the group remains a menace throughout the country, especially in areas it once controlled and where a security gap exists between Kurdish and national forces.

“Da’esh has been defeated on earth…However, [it] still exists and attempts to return by any means available and Baghdadi’s latest speech points to this reality,” Abdul-Mahdi stated.

Read More: Islamic State leader Al-Baghdadi appears in propaganda video

He said that the liberation of Islamic State territory in Iraq would not have been possible without the combined efforts of “the armed forces, the Peshmerga, the Hashd al-Shaabi, the Hashd al-Ashayari, the international coalition, and all friends,” and claimed that security in various parts of the country was improving.

He also stated that the terrorist organization’s scope of operations had been limited since it lost all the cities and towns it once controlled in Iraq, but noted the group still maintains strong networks of sleeper cells that Iraqi forces continue to pursue. 

French support 

The premier called for further international cooperation to prevent the jihadist group’s resurgence in both Iraq and Syria, commending the support from and the active role of France as a key member of the US-led coalition to defeat it.

“France has always stood by our side,” said Abdul-Mahdi, who lived in the European country for years as a political refuge during the former authoritarian regime led by Saddam Hussein. 

Among the large number of Iraqi and Kurdish refugees now in Europe, unofficial data estimates thousands to be living in France.

Abdul-Mahdi concluded his speech by saying that, since the military victory against the Islamic State was announced in late 2017, French support has been crucial to the painstaking and costly process of reconstruction. 

Editing by John J. Catherine