Baghdad-Erbil crisis subsiding

'There are too many cleavages in Iraq. We don’t need more roadblocks and certainly not more violence,' Jan Egeland, the director of the Norwegian Refugee Council

Better late than never. Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government Nechirvan Barzani speaks at a news conference in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, on November 6. (AFP)

2017/11/19 Issue: 132 Page: 8

London- Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Gov­ernment (KRG) appear to be ending their stand-off with Kurdish officials making con­cessions to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Members of the parliament from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which dominates the KRG, have returned to Baghdad. They had boycotted the parliament since it voted to declare the Kurdish in­dependence referendum, which received overwhelming support in a September 25 vote, unconstitu­tional.

The end of the boycott comes af­ter a KRG decision to accept a Fed­eral Supreme Court of Iraq ruling that Iraq must remain unified and that no province could secede.

“We believe that this decision must become a basis for start­ing an inclusive national dialogue between (Kurdish authorities in) Erbil and Baghdad to resolve all disputes,” the KRG said in a state­ment.

The concessions mark the Kurds’ latest attempt to revive negotia­tions with the central government, which imposed retaliatory meas­ures following the independence vote. They included an offensive by Iraqi government forces and the Iran-backed Popular Mobili­sation Forces (PMF) in October to wrest control from the KRG of the oil city of Kirkuk and other disputed territories.

The Kurds’ bid for independence angered Turkey and Iran, which have large Kurdish populations and condemned the referendum as destabilising the region. The Unit­ed States also called on Kurdistan to scrap the vote.

It was probably internal Kurdish divisions, however, that doomed any post-referendum independ­ence moves, local political sources said. Oil was at the heart of the dis­pute.

The Kirkuk fields were controlled by Iraq’s state oil firm SOMO before being taken over by Kurdish forces in 2014, when the Iraqi Army re­treated after attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS).

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party (PUK), based in Sulaimani­yah, accused the ruling KDP party of then President Masoud Barzani of not sharing the oil wealth.

“We tried to make Barzani accept joint management between Erbil and Sulaimaniyah over the fields but he strongly opposed it,” Sher­zad Yaba, a political adviser close to the PUK, told Reuters.

Ties between the KRG and Tur­key — former allies that fell out over the referendum — also appear to be improving. Turkey rushed to provide humanitarian aid to the Kurdish-majority Iraqi area of Hal­abja after a powerful earthquake hit Iraq and Iran on November 12.

Turkish aid agencies were report­edly the first to arrive, delivering thousands of tents, blankets and beds. Turkey has set up a telephone donation campaign asking Turks to help Iraqi Kurds. The Turkish ges­tures drew public praise from KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.

As ties between the Shia-led gov­ernment and KRG officials improve, concerns remain regarding the fate of the country’s Sunni-majority areas.

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), said the war against ISIS in Iraq may soon be over but provid­ing humanitarian aid to Iraqis is becoming more difficult as new political and cultural divides open.

The NRC runs one of the largest foreign aid operations in Iraq.

Egeland warned that the interna­tional coalition that helped Bagh­dad in its campaign against ISIS could drastically reduce humani­tarian budgets for Iraq following the militants’ defeat.

More than 3 million people dis­placed by ISIS-related violence in the last three years have not re­turned home.

“New political, cultural and sec­tarian divides seem to be popping up,” Egeland told Reuters during a visit to Iraq. “There are too many cleavages in Iraq. We don’t need more roadblocks and certainly not more violence.”

Nearly 1 million people fled Mo­sul since 2014 but only one-third of its residents have been able to return, aid groups said.

Iraqi government officials have estimated it will take at least five years and billions of dollars to re­build Mosul.

“There’s one thing we should have learned in Iraq — it is that we cannot spend countless billions of dollars on military campaigns and then not spend the smaller sums needed to make it safe for people in the future,” Egeland said.

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