The Kurdish delegation met with President Masoud Barzani in Erbil on Saturday, August 12, 2017 before their visit to Baghdad. Photo: Kurdish presidency
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Kurdish delegation tasked with holding the first official discussion with Baghdad regarding the independence referendum is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, a member of the delegation told Rudaw.
Romio Hakari, head of the Christian Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party, and one of the delegates said that in addition to Abadi and Maliki, they will meet with foreign missions in Baghdad.
The high level delegation is expected to arrive in Baghdad on Monday, with plans to stay there for several days.
An Iraqi MP from the ruling Shiite National Alliance told Rudaw that they refuse to confine the talks to the referendum, saying that "all outstanding issues" should be on the table.
The delegation includes members of Kurdish and minority parties, including the two main ruling parties in Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and chief of staff to the Kurdish presidency Fuad Hussein.
Maliki and Abadi are from the ruling Dawa Party.
Maliki is the head of the party and also the head of the Shiite State of Law parliamentary coalition. He has made his views clear that he is against the referendum, and even at one stage hinted at using military force to stop the Kurdish plans
The delegation has prepared a lengthy report chronicling about 50 articles of the Iraqi constitution that Erbil says have been violated by Baghdad, mainly Article 140 that concerns the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both governments, and the budget cut by Iraq since early 2014, with the latter masterminded by Maliki.
Rasul Razi Abu Hassana, a State of Law MP with close ties to Maliki, stated the VP is ready to welcome the Kurdish delegation, if informed beforehand.
He added that it is unlikely that they will agree to the Kurdish demands since they consider the referendum to be “unconstitutional.”
Abadi has called the Kurdish vote unilateral, unconstitutional, and one that Iraq does not engage with its outcome. He had said that he would welcome the Kurdish delegation.
In 2014, then-PM Maliki decided to cut the budget of Kurdistan as Erbil planned to export oil produced in the Region independent of Baghdad. PM Abadi did not roll back the decision despite having friendlier relations with Erbil, including military co-operations that reached a peak when the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces launched a joint operation, backed by the United States, resulting in the full liberation of Mosul in July.
Vian Dakhil, a delegate and the only Yezidi member of the Iraqi parliament, had earlier told Rudaw that the referendum is at the top of their agenda.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson commended the decision to send the Kurdistan delegation to Baghdad when he spoke with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani by phone on Thursday.
The delegation met with Barzani, and a statement from the Kurdish Presidency following the Saturday meeting said that they will negotiate “political issues, future relations between the [Kurdistan] Region and Baghdad” during their visit to Iraq’s capital.
One item that is not up for discussion is the timing of the vote, Dakhil had said.
In his phone call with Barzani, Tillerson asked Erbil to postpone the vote. The Kurdish president declined, saying the US administration has failed to provide guarantees or an “alternative” that would secure the future of Kurdistan.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) tasked the Kurdish ministries in late July to prepare a dossier that may request the Iraqi government to pay hundreds of billions of dollars to Erbil as compensation when the two sides sit down to negotiate Kurdistan’s bid for independence.
Abdullah Zaidi, an Iraqi MP from the Shiite National Alliance, which also includes Abadi’s party, told Rudaw from Baghdad on Monday that they would welcome the delegation, but refuse to limit the talks to referendum alone.
He said if they stick only to the Kurdish vote in their negotiations, it would mean they consider the referendum as “legitimate” and one that Baghdad “approves of.”
He questioned the structure of the delegation saying that it does not represent all parties of Kurdistan, a reference that Kurdistan’s second and fifth biggest parties, Gorran or Change Movement and the Islamic Group (Komal), have not yet approved the referendum.
Gorran and Komal say they support a referendum that eventually leads to an independent Kurdistan, but they say the September referendum should first obtain a mandate from the suspended Kurdistan parliament that has not convened since October 2015.
These two parties are expected to hold talks with the KDP in the near future regarding the referendum and the reactivation of the parliament.
Zaidi, who is also a member of the Kurdistani relations of the alliance, added that “all outstanding issues” between the two sides should be on the table, including the Kurdish oil exports to the international market.
Zaidi described the nature of the talks as “step for step,” that Erbil should take a step in return for every step taken by Baghdad, such as bringing Kurdish oil exports under Iraqi control in return for releasing Kurdistan’s budget from Iraq.