Jun 23, 2022
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Iraqi Kurds and the Crisis in Baghdad

“Iraq and Kurdistan are important parts of US policy”

The protracted chaos in the federal government has given the authorities of the Kurdish autonomy an opportunity to re-emphasize the benefits that can be provided by the declaration of independence.

Against the background of the collapse of all branches of power in Baghdad, Kurdistan President Nechirvan Barzani at the end of February, by his decree, set the date for the next (sixth!) parliamentary elections in the region – October 1, 2022. Soon, preparations began, and the head of the UN mission, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschert (she is also the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq), held a meeting in Erbil on May 26 with representatives of the leading political forces in the Kurdish region. The meeting was closed, but a senior UN official could not contain her satisfaction: “This meeting provided a long-awaited and timely opportunity for a direct exchange of views.”

Head of UN mission holds closed meeting with Kurdish politicians

Head of UN mission holds closed meeting with Kurdish politicians

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos was attended by two delegations from Iraq – from Baghdad and Erbil, and completely independently. Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan Masrour Barzani, speaking at a special panel discussion on May 24, specifically touched on the current crisis in Baghdad. He noted that the elections to the country’s parliament were held “according to the canons of democracy” and without any special remarks, the citizens made their choice at the polling stations, after which alliances were made to form a new Iraqi government. What happened later, the head of the government of the autonomy explained as follows: “The winners, unfortunately, could not consolidate their success. Because this is the only example in the world that I know of that if you don’t have a two-thirds majority in parliament, you can’t form a government.”

As you can see, this is a direct reference to the peculiarities of the Constitution of the Republic of Iraq, which I have already written about. The prime minister of the Kurdish autonomy did not stop there and continued, not embarrassed in the wording. When asked about the oil disputes between Erbil and Baghdad and recent rulings by the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court against Kurdistan’s oil industry, he said that the Federal Court is being used to make political decisions, and the regional government has formally rejected the ruling.

And this is not just a loud statement. On June 5, the Minister of Natural Resources of the Kurdish autonomy filed a lawsuit against the Minister of Oil of Iraq, accusing the latter of interfering with treaty rights and intimidating international oil companies operating in Kurdistan, including such large ones as Bay cornerstone I WesternZagros. According to the Kurdish official, threatening e-mails were sent to the management of these companies, and on behalf of the oil minister. Therefore, the federal employee must “be held liable in accordance with the applicable provisions of civil law.”

And Erbil’s statement, which calls into question the legitimacy of the very existence of the highest judicial authority in Iraq, was the most powerful: “The so-called Federal Supreme Court issued a politically motivated decision on February 15, 2022, which was supposed to declare the Kurdistan Oil and Gas Law of 2007 null and void. On June 4, 2022, the Judicial Council, the highest judicial body in Kurdistan, noted that Article 92(2) of the Iraqi Constitution requires the Iraqi Parliament to pass a law establishing a Federal Supreme Court. Such a law has never been passed. Thus, there is no constitutionally established Federal Supreme Court in Iraq.”.

Thus, the authorities of the autonomy, which is de jure part of Iraq, not only called into question the legitimacy of federal bodies, but proclaimed the supremacy of local laws. This was stated directly and unambiguously: “The Baghdad Court, which ruled on February 15, 2022 to annul the 2007 Oil and Gas Law, does not have the constitutional authority to do so. Thus, legally, the Oil and Gas Law remains in full force.”.

Erbil emphasizes in every possible way that relations with Baghdad are interstate and this applies to all aspects, including the military-political one. At the same time, however, the Kurdish authorities are carefully coordinating their actions with the West and, above all, the United States. Rarely does a week go by without a visit to Erbil by a delegation from the State Department or the Pentagon – they firmly keep their finger on the pulse. Their NATO allies are not far behind: the US, UK, Germany and the Netherlands form the Multinational Advisory Group (MNAG), which oversees the Peshmerga force development project. Canada, Italy, France and a number of other NATO countries also play an active role in the program, which finance the training of personnel, as well as transfer consignments of weapons and equipment.

On June 16, Prime Minister Masrour Barzani received the new US ambassador to Iraq, Alina Romanovsky, who previously headed the US diplomatic mission in Kuwait and was the State Department’s first deputy counterterrorism coordinator. During the conversation, the head of the government of the autonomy emphasized that “the people of Kurdistan have national and constitutional rights, and the pending issues with Baghdad are not only about oil and the budget, but also that the region is a constitutionally recognized entity and should be treated accordingly”.

Ambassador Romanowski, in turn, reaffirmed Washington’s support for Kurdistan and noted that “Iraq and Kurdistan are important parts of US policy”.

The day before, Erbil announced that the new chief of staff of the ministry peshmerga became Lieutenant General Issa Aziz – he replaced Lieutenant General Jamal Mohamed. The official ceremony was attended by the minister peshmerga Shorish Ismail and other representatives of the Kurdish authorities, as well as senior officers of the International Coalition to Combat the “Islamic State” * (IS) banned in Russia, that is, curators from NATO. In Baghdad, they learned about the event from the newspapers.

Trying to save face, the federal authorities sent a delegation of security forces to Erbil on June 19: a group of generals of the Defense Ministry, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the border troops was headed by the head of the General Staff, Colonel-General Abdel Amir Yaralla. The guests were received by the prime minister and the president of the autonomy, during the meetings “Issues of strengthening security cooperation between the federal and regional governments, especially in disputed territories, as well as interaction with coalition forces were discussed”. Masrour Barzani emphasized that “Peshmerga forces should be seen as part of the Iraqi security system and supported because the size of the Peshmerga forces is beneficial to the stability of Iraq as a whole”. Thus, he once again reminded Baghdad that peshmerga today there are about 200 thousand trained fighters, and the Iraqi army, at the request of the United States, was completely withdrawn from Kurdistan in 1991. Since then, there has not been a single soldier of the federal forces on the territory of the Kurdish autonomy. But there are many foreign military personnel who have arrived from afar. They feel at ease here, sometimes even too much. For example, on May 10, during a night-time live-fire exercise, a US military unit from the Harir military base mistakenly attacked the center of the Baserma residential area. According to the head of the local administration, Jankavar Azkiyi, it was only a miracle that there were no casualties, but 11 residential buildings were damaged.

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