ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The KRG has not taken any action on the independence referendum, contrary to the Iraqi government that has closed the Region’s airports and deployed forces, said Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. His government, therefore, has nothing to cancel or back off from, while Baghdad does, he argued.
Commenting on the Federal Court decision cancelling the referendum, Barzani said his government respects the court verdicts and called on Baghdad to follow suit by cancelling all punitive measures taken against the Kurdistan Region.
"We said it before, too. We respected the decision of the Federal Court," Barzani said in his weekly press conference in Erbil on Monday.
"But the decision taken last time by the Federal Court stipulates 'cancelling the consequences after the referendum.' Now I ask, what has happened after the referendum?” he continued, noting that his government did nothing after the vote.
“But what are the things that Iraq did?” he asked.
The Iraqi parliament passed a series of measures against the people of Kurdistan and the Council of Ministers did the same, he elaborated.
“They did whatever they could. These are the things, the consequences that have to be cancelled per the decision of the Federal Court. These things must be annulled," Barzani said.
The KRG has repeatedly called on the Iraqi government to begin unconditional dialogue in light of the Iraqi constitution. Baghdad has asked Erbil to meet several pre-conditions, however, including handing over international borders and oil exports.
PM Barzani said the KRG is not ready to meet Iraq’s demands before negotiation begins.
"The current situation as we see it, whereby [the Iraqi government] says 'hand over the borders, hand over the oil, and do this and that, and then we will start negotiation,' does not make sense,” said Barzani. “We should first talk. And then we have a constitution that should judge between us and them, to decide what are our duties, rights, and demands, and what their rights and duties are."
He added that it is not clear what Baghdad means by "handover." If it means changing Kurdish-speaking staff at the borders for Arabic-speaking ones, he said the important question is whether the Iraqi authorities will regard Kurds as citizens or not. He added that they would welcome and "cooperate" if Iraqi officials want to visit the borders to see and assess the situation for themselves.
The current situation, where the two sides are talking to each other through the media, is not helping to improve matters, Barzani said, and it is now up to Baghdad to initiate talks.
KRG state salaries
The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said on more than one occasion that it is ready to pay the salaries of state employees in the Kurdistan Region, but only after an audit of the payroll is carried out and oil exports are handed over to Baghdad.
PM Barzani accused the Iraqi government of making statements but not following them up with action, saying this indicates Baghdad does not care about the interests of the Kurdish people.
After the loss of Kirkuk on October 16, the KRG lost about half of its oil exports, its main source of revenue, and this has added to the financial difficulties of his government, Barzani explained. He said that Baghdad is not exporting Kirkuk’s oil and at the same time is preventing the KRG from doing so – creating a situation where both sides lose.
Baghdad could help Erbil pay its salaries by allowing the KRG to export Kirkuk’s oil, he said.
His government is still capable of paying state employees and will do so as long as they are able. "Whenever we come to realize that we are no longer able to pay the salaries, we will declare it to the people on the same day," Barzani said.
The KRG, claiming financial straits, has had to reduce or delay salary payments of its employees for the past couple of years.
KRG working on relations with neighbours
Kurdistan Region’s relations with Iran and Turkey have suffered as a result of the referendum. Both Tehran and Ankara strongly opposed the vote.
PM Barzani said their relations with Iran, an important country for the KRG, have continued to this date and that Erbil wants to have good relations with its eastern neighbour.
As for the Turkey, with whom the KRG has vital security and economic ties including oil exports, PM Barzani said that Salahadin Bahadin, head of an Islamic party, will visit to Turkey to play a role in normalizing relations.
"He has done everything in his power as the Secretary General of the Kurdistan Islamic Union to normalize the current situation. We see his visit to Turkey within this framework. It will definitely be helpful for the situation of the Kurdistan Region," Barzani said.
The KIU, a moderate Kurdish party whose origin comes from the global Muslim Brotherhood movement, has friendly ties with Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Parliament and presidential elections
The KRG has begun a series of talks with all parties to consult on several issues, including the now-delayed general election that had been planned for November 1.
Barzani said the KRG will set a date once the inter-party talks are concluded. He did not rule out a meeting between the five major parties.