Iraqi Prime minister Haider al-Abadi gives a press conference following his meeting with French president at the Elysee palace in Paris, on October 5, 2017. France offered to mediate between Iraq and Kurdistan Region, but Baghdad has since refused any international call for mediation. Photo: AFP /POOL /ludovic Marin
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has very clearly rejected any calls for negotiation, mediation, or initiative with Erbil that includes discussing the Kurdistan referendum without rejection of the independence vote and confirmed coordination with Turkey and Iran as the central government seeks to exert control over the Kurdistan Region.
Addressing the Iraqi nation during his weekly press conference, Abadi said any talks with the Kurdistan Region must respect three conditions that are not up for negotiation: “the unity of Iraq, the Iraqi constitution, and rejecting the result of the referendum.”
“We will not discuss the referendum or its results,” Abadi stated as he refused Kurdish claims that they are open for dialogue as long as there are no pre-conditions. The Kurdistan Region has set a condition by refusing to cancel the effect of the vote, Abadi challenged.
He said Erbil requested a visit to Baghdad immediately after the referendum, but his government has refused to get involved in any discussions coming out of the referendum that saw 92.7 percent support for leaving Iraq.
He said any referendum on independence must allow all the people of Iraq to have a say, not just one part of the country.
Abadi added that Kurdish leaders wrongly “gambled” with the fate of the people when they thought the international community would change its position on the referendum after the vote.
On the weekend, Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani told the visiting Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri that Erbil is ready for a dialogue with an open agenda without any preconditions, according to a statement from his office. His senior assistant Hemin Hawrami, however, said Barzani told Jabouri that nobody should even think about cancelling the results of the referendum
Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi, who met with President Barzani on Sunday in Sulaimani, claimed the Kurdish president had agreed to freeze the outcome of the vote in return for the lifting of punitive measures taken by Baghdad against Erbil, including a ban on international flights.
“Mr. Barzani has expressed his consent to freeze the referendum and enter dialogue, but he at the same time requested lifting the punishments,” Nujaifi told Al Arabiya TV in an interview broadcast on Monday. He added that if the situation deteriorates and results in confrontation, there is the “danger that the Kurds will declare independence.”
Iraq started talking with Turkey and Iran months before referendum
PM Abadi said neighbouring countries are “fearful of establishing a state on their borders” and because of that they want to coordinate with Iraq, repeating that Iran and Turkey will work with Baghdad to “impose federal authority” over the Kurdistan Region’s land borders with these two countries.
He said they began regular meetings with Iran and Turkey two months before the referendum. He said some countries, without naming them, informed Iraq that if the Kurdistan Region decided to disregard the Iraqi constitution and its sovereignty, then they are entitled to do as they like without respecting the drawn borders with the Kurdistan Region.
As a solution, Abadi said they proposed these countries engage exclusively with the federal authorities in Baghdad.
Both Tehran and Ankara have said on multiple occasions that they will seriously consider any request made by Baghdad with regard to the Kurdistan’s air and land borders, or a request to stop the flow of the Kurdish oil exports to international markets.
Turkey has allowed the Kurdistan Region to continue exporting oil through its Ceyhan pipeline, but Ankara has indicated they could close the pipeline or let Baghdad take control. Turkey has facilitated the Kurdistan Region’s oil exports independent of Baghdad since mid-2014.
Abadi said that, in the wake of the referendum, some countries have now realized that “it was wrong to act outside the federal authority,” without providing details.
Abadi issued a reassurance to the people of Kurdistan that they will never impose a blockade or any measures that would cause the Kurds, “first class citizens,” to suffer.
“We have sent entire teams to hold the federal borders between the neighbouring counties and the Region, north of Iraq,” Abadi said, adding that “We do not cooperate with neighbouring countries against our citizens.”
Controlling the borders is to ensure customs revenues collected at checkpoints with Iran and Turkey will be used for services in those areas, through the government in Baghdad.
“We have no intention to put in place a blockade," he said.
The Iraqi parliament has voted to deploy federal security forces to Peshmerga-controlled disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad.
Abadi warned the Peshmerga against any “confrontation” with Iraqi security forces, including the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, in those areas, while calling on the Kurdish fighters to act on orders from the Iraqi government, as there should be “one leadership, not two.”
Under laws passed by the Kurdistan parliament, the Kurdistan president is commander-in-chief of all the armed forces, including the Peshmerga, of the Kurdistan Region, a recognized entity under the Iraqi constitution.
Asked by Rudaw’s reporter Bahman Hasan whether there is a possibility for confederation between an independent Kurdistan and Iraq, Abadi said it could be discussed, but explained that the current constitution does not allow it. To go ahead, therefore, the Iraqi constitution would have to be amended, in which case all the people of Iraq should have a say.
Speaking to Rudaw, Fazil Mirani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), said they consider the idea of confederation a good option but only if Baghdad does not consider Kurds a “fool” to accept presenting this question to the whole nation and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi parliament that will reject the notion outright.