ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Now is the time for Kurdish political forces to make their voices heard in Iraqi government formation, British Ambassador Jon Wilks encouraged in a message after meeting with parties in the Kurdistan Region. Iraq's new parliament will reconvene its first session on Saturday to select a new speaker and two deputies.
"We want the Kurdish voice to be strong and united and in the debates and negotiations now as primary voice — not holding back as a secondary voice," said Wilks in a recorded message on Friday.
Shiite blocs appear to be in a deadlock and incumbent Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi — seen as the West's choice — is reeling after announcing he won't "cling to power" following a strong statement from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani that seemed to indicate the Marja would not support another term for him.
"We think this is going to be the best for Kurdish interests, we think this is going to be the best for Iraq as a whole because we want this government formation process to bring all Iraqis together," added Wilks, a day ahead of the new Iraqi parliament reconvening in a make-it-or-break-it session for democracy in Baghdad.
The comments followed British ambassadorial-level meetings with political forces across the Kurdistan Region.
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani met with Wilks on Thursday.
"Prime Minister Barzani stressed the importance of the unity among the Kurdistan political blocs which would strengthen the position of the Kurdistan Region in Baghdad," read a statement from Barzani's office.
As deputy head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Barzani's party has an alliance with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Combined they won 43 seats in the election. If they can bring other Kurdistani parties on board, that grows to 54, a bloc as large as winning Muqtada al-Sadr's.
"He [Barzani] said the participation and the positive role of the Kurdistan Region in the new Iraqi parliament and government are important for the settlement of the differences between the KRG and Baghdad," the statement added.
'No delay' for KRG elections
Wilks echoed the KDP stance that the Kurdistan Region's parliamentary election should be held at its scheduled date of September 30.
"We've been encouraging that and no delay. We've found in the history of Iraq in recent years that delays, boycotts, attempts to stop the political process moving forward have usually produced negative results," said Wilks, encouraging participation by parties and the electorate.
Opposition parties and the PUK have said the timing for Kurdistan's vote isn't right and they didn't have time to prepare. The United Kingdom reminded Kurdish political forces of the dangers of delaying democratic processes.
"Some people say that they have concerns about the integrity of the electoral process, whether it will be free or fair. The British Consulate General and British Embassy staff will be helping with other international missions to ensure that these elections are as free and as fair as they can be," explained Wilks.
Opposition party slogans hit hard on the KDP-PUK ruling government to change or reform, which Wilks acknowledged.
"And I know there's an atmosphere among all the political forces, as well as the public opinion, that things need to change. There is a call for reform and a willingness to look at ways of improving the situation both economically and politically in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq," he said.
Barzani expressed "his satisfaction" with the participation of most political parties.
"He pointed out that the electoral campaign is being conducted so far in a satisfactory way," his office stated.
Campaigning continues until September 28. Kurdistan's election body quickly cracked down on campaign violations, hoping to avoid the antics the plagued the lead-up to Iraq's May 12th election across the country.
Barham Salih's Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ) is not participating in KRG election. Salih, a longtime PUK member, is rumored to be given the Iraqi presidency if he returns to the party. Despite KDP's strong showing in the election, there are talks that they would go along with Salih's presidency if they get the post of Kirkuk governor.
Condemnation for Basra consulate attacks
Iran's consulate general was torched last week, following deadly protests. There were reported attacks on the US consulate general, as well.
Wilks reiterated his country condemning "these acts of violence against diplomatic missions wherever that may occur."
He said diplomacy is necessary "to avoid conflicts and to manage tensions."
"And to achieve that, diplomats have to have a safe space in which to operate," Wilks explained.
Unknown people also launched shells at the Green Zone in the Iraqi capital last week.
The United Kingdom has tried to play an intermediary role between Tehran and Washington.
"I'm fortunate that my embassy in recent days has used our contacts and diplomatic relationships with both Iran and the US to review what has happened, to stick to the facts away from propaganda and from conspiracy theory," explained Wilks.
US President Donald Trump frequently spouts anti-Iran rhetoric and his trade sanctions are bound to affect neighboring Iraq.
The UK wants to ensure "Iraq isn't sucked into regional and international tensions in a way that makes it more difficult to form a government and to start serving the Iraqi people," explained Wilks.
Iran used disproportionate force at Koya
Although Iranian Kurdish groups have targeted Iranian state forces off-and-on since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran's missile strikes in Koya on Saturday killed 17 people and injured 46.
"It seems to me that although there is a balance between the right of every state of self defence, but also the right of every state to have its sovereignty and independence respected, it's that this attack was both disproportionate and dangerous," said Wilks.
Iran used drones and reportedly seven surface-to-surface missiles in the attack targeting a joint coordination center for the Kurdish opposition parties. KDP-I officials have said the number of missiles was "unspecified" and women and children were in the proximity.
According to international law, "the use of force must be proportionate," he argued.
"This to me seems like an example of both the sovereignty and independence of Iraq, but also sending exactly the wrong message about the need for all sides to look at political solutions..." said Wilks.
Tehran has actively assassinated Kurdish opposition in Europe, even during supposed peace talks with the regime through intermediaries.
"I've learned that there were actually Kurdish groups in that meeting who believe in a political solution to achieve their goals," said Wilks of the Koya attack. "What sort of a message does that send when Iranian missiles achieve that level of death and destruction?"
Iraq, which began as a British mandate, is at a fragile point where majoritarianism threatens to unseat the current Iraqi system of governance, established in 2005 following the coalition invasion of the country.