Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks at his weekly press conference in Baghdad on January 2, 2018. Photo: screenshot
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he will refuse to allow the Iraqi parliament change the KRG’s share of the 2018 budget. He insisted Erbil’s demand for 17 percent belongs in the past, but assured his commitment to paying the salaries of KRG employees despite “big problems” with the payroll lists.
“We have now set the share of the [Region] to one based on the population ratio.
There is justice in it,” Abadi said on Tuesday.
The 17 percent share was based on an outdated political agreement that his government will not remain committed to, he asserted.
“The parliament wants to change it. I do not accept it,” Abadi said of reported attempts by the Iraqi parliament to bring the KRG’s back to 17 percent, up from the 12.6 percent Kurdish officials have claimed has been allocated in the draft 2018 budget law.
Abadi said efforts to raise the Kurdish budget share are just attempts to win the hearts of Kurdish parties ahead of Iraqi elections scheduled for May 12.
He went so far as to claim that Iraqi officials who have advocated postponing talks over the budget in the Iraqi parliament are doing so in order to secure the 17 percent and accused the persons of having a “share” in the KRG’s budget.
KRG spokesperson Safeen Dizayee said on Tuesday that they have witnessed some positive indicators from Baghdad over the past week towards resolving their outstanding issues, including Baghdad’s promise to pay state salaries.
Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said last week that there are mixed messages coming out of Baghdad
. People like Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki are sending positive messages, but Abadi continues his punitive measures against Erbil, like the international flight ban.
Maliki, who is also a former prime minister, and Abadi are both from the ruling Dawa Party. Ahead of Iraq’s elections, Maliki appears to have departed from his harsh stance against Erbil, arguing that now is the time for a new chapter between the Iraqi and Kurdish governments.
While relations between Abadi and Erbil publicly remain strained, progress has been made on the issue of paying KRG’s public salary. The Iraqi prime minister confirmed they have sent technical delegations to the Kurdistan Region to audit the KRG’s state employee lists.
KRG's education and health officials have prepared lists of their employees to be sent to the federal government for audit. A delegation will travel to Baghdad on Wednesday with these payroll lists. They are expected to meet with Iraqi officials on Thursday.
“We are committed to paying the salaries of the Region. We are committed. This is not a false promise,” Abadi said.
The KRG has expressed doubt that Abadi will follow through on promises made during his press conferences.
Though there are “big problems” with the KRG’s huge work force, “the problem did not stop us from paying the salaries,” Abadi said.
Both Baghdad and Erbil have confirmed that Iraq paid the salaries of a number of employees of the KRG’s Ministry of Water Resources, about 420 according to Barzani.
The two prime ministers have also disputed each other’s statements about the KRG’s oil exports.
Barzani said last week that Abadi released false information on this, and promised to soon release full details, including an audit of the KRG’s oil and gas sector completed by Deloitte, one of the world’s largest financial institutions.
He claimed that Abadi wanted to confuse the Kurdish people about the KRG’s inability to pay salaries on time by intentionally omitting oil production expenses from his figures.
The Iraqi prime minister said on Tuesday that the KRG exported 2 trillion Iraqi dinars ($1.6 billion) of oil over the last three months of 2017. He claimed that production expenses amounted to about 313 billion Iraqi dinars ($261 million), leaving Erbil with an income of 544 billion Iraqi dinars ($458 million) monthly.
Erbil maintains that their revenues have been slashed by half since the loss of Kirkuk oil fields to the Iraqi government in mid-October, leaving the government with a net $337.4 million to spend on salaries after deducting for essential expenses and payments to international oil companies.
Baghdad is yet to agree to talks with Erbil over outstanding issues that worsened following an Iraqi military incursion into the disputed areas after the September vote for independence, despite many calls from the international community for the two sides to sit down and talk.