Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks to reporters in Baghdad on December 6, 2017. Photo: Screenshot
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Baghdad is ready to enter talks with the KRG if it takes certain steps, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday, adding that Iraq has taken initial steps to pay state employees of the Kurdistan Region.
Abadi said his government welcomes dialogue between the two governments, but such talks have to be based on “sound pillars.”
“I am ready for dialogue on a governmental level – a government delegation from here, and a government delegation from their side,” Abadi said in his weekly press conference.
His government is under international pressure to begin dialogue with the KRG to resolve tensions after the Kurdistan independence vote in September and Iraq’s military incursion into the disputed areas in October.
Referring to his recent phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on the subject, Abadi said he reiterated that Baghdad believes in dialogue, as he had stated when in Paris on October 5.
He described Kurds as “our nation” and therefore they don’t need someone else to “put pressure” on Baghdad to provide services to the Kurdish population.
He said that his government must have its own “means” to reach the Kurdistan Region. Baghdad wants to exert federal authority throughout the disputed areas and international entry points, including the airports.
France has taken a lead role to try to bring the two parties to the table.
President Macron hosted a Kurdish delegation headed by KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani last week where he set terms for dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad, largely focusing on the implementation of all articles of the Iraqi constitution, including Article 140 that concerns the fate of the disputed areas such as oil-rich Kirkuk, and the imposition of Baghdad’s authority over international borders.
PM Barzani repeated on Tuesday that his government is ready for dialogue if Baghdad agrees to it. He had earlier said that Erbil refuses to meet any demand from Iraq before negotiations begin.
Macron spoke by phone with US President Donald Trump on Monday and both stressed the need for dialogue to resolve outstanding issues between Erbil and Baghdad.
With regard to the KRG’s share of the federal budget that has been cut since early 2014 and the issue of public servant salaries, Abadi said Baghdad has already procedures towards paying the KRG’s employees.
He said the Iraqi government has taken steps to audit the KRG’s employee list.
He claimed that citizens from inside the Kurdistan Region have informed him that Baghdad should not pay the salaries without first auditing the KRG’s workforce.
“Auditing does not take too long a time. We have begun initial auditing,” Abadi said, adding that the Iraqi financial auditing department is tasked with this process and he has assigned a special committee from his office to coordinate with KRG authorities in this regard.
The KRG has previously accused Baghdad of not taking practical steps to audit the payroll, saying that the central government refused to receive the KRG’s biometric record completed earlier this year. According to that record, the KRG has 1.2 million employees.
Iraq’s 2018 budget bill is currently before the Iraqi parliament. Kurdish factions in the legislature refused to attend two sessions over the weekend when lawmakers concluded that the KRG’s population should be used as a metric to decide Erbil’s share.
The KRG is demanding 17 percent of the budget, as has been the case since the formation of the new Iraq in 2003. Baghdad has pushed to reduce that to 12.6 percent.