The Iraqi parliament in session. The legislature has wrapped up discussions on the budget, but passing it will still be a challenged, say Kurdish MPs. Photo: Rudaw
BAGHDAD – Kurdish lawmakers in Baghdad have succeeded in enshrining the payment of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) employees and Peshmerga in the 2019 budget bill. These payments will be protected, even if the Kurdistan Region fails to hand over oil to the Iraqi government.
"We focused on guaranteeing [KRG] employees' payments, and installed in the budget that [salaries] are given to the Kurdistan Region monthly even if there is no political agreement between both sides," Bashir Haddad, deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, told Rudaw.
The budget bill obliges the Iraqi government to pay the salaries of KRG employees, some 521 billion dinar ($437.8 million) monthly, the same way it pays state employees in other parts of Iraq, Haddad added. These payments are not to be a bargaining tool during political disagreements.
Under the bill, the KRG will have to hand over 250,000 barrels of oil daily to Baghdad.
The parliament wrapped up its discussion on the 2019 draft budget on Thursday. It will convene on Saturday, but the budget is not on the agenda.
While KRG and Peshmerga salaries have been enshrined in the bill, “passing it will not be easy,” Hoshyar Abdullah, a member of the financial committee, wrote on Facebook.
The KRG’s failure to hand over oil to Iraq’s state marketing company SOMO has caused upset some lawmakers, he explained.
Erbil’s independent oil sales are a major sore point in Baghdad, which stopped sending money to the regional government in 2014 over the issue.
Relations between the two governments have improved with the new administration in Baghdad and there is hope that they can resolve some of their longstanding problems, like the disputed areas claimed by both and defined under Article 140 of the constitution.
The budget bill dedicates 50 billion Iraqi dinar ($42 million) for reopening Article 140 offices in Kirkuk and Nineveh and an additional 800 billion dinar ($672 million) for implementation of the article.
The section of the constitution dictates that the disputed areas must be resolved via a referendum to determine whether they will remain part of federal Iraq or be absorbed by the Kurdistan Region. It was supposed to have been enacted more than a decade ago, but successive governments have failed to do so.
The parliament's finance committee is expected to send a delegation to the Kurdistan Region in the near future to discuss these matters and ensure the Region will hand over oil to SOMO.
Kurdish lawmakers are hopeful this is a good sign.
"Revitalization of Article 140 and dedication of the budget signifies a positive policy by the federal government to work on the issue and not let it die,” MP Muthana Amin told Rudaw.
But he warned not to be complacent, pointing to reported ongoing Arabization in Kirkuk.
With reporting in Baghdad by Halkawt Aziz.