Rozh Nuri Shaweys [L], head of the Kurdistani delegation to Baghdad, meets with the Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki on August 16, 2017 in Baghdad. Photo: Rudaw TV
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The powerful Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, who maintains great influence among the ruling Shiite National Alliance, has told reporters that the Kurdish independence referendum needs to have a “constitutional framework” or else it will create problems for both Erbil and Baghdad.
He added that if the Kurdish referendum lacks such a framework, then the Iraqi constitution may have to be amended.
His remarks come after meeting with the Kurdistan referendum delegation who are in Baghdad to hold first official talks over the historic vote scheduled for September 25.
“The referendum, other issues or everything that our Kurdish brothers take in steps towards achieving it, needs a constitutional framework,” Maliki told reporters in Baghdad on Wednesday.
“If there is a constitutional framework, it will be an acceptable move. [But] it may create problems for them and for Iraq if it is outside the constitutional framework. We do not want to go back to the language of problems between us. We hope — if needs arise, to have a process to reconsider the constitution that will give [the right] to such a referendum or such a right to self-determination.”
Erbil says that the Iraqi constitution clearly stipulates that adherence to the constitution is the guarantor of the unity of Iraq and they claim that dozens of articles of the constitution have been violated by Iraq, including Article 140.
The preface of the Iraqi constitution reads: The adherence to this constitution preserves for Iraq its free union, its people, its land and its sovereignty.
Maliki, also a former prime minister under whose tenure relations between Erbil and Baghdad reached their lowest point since 2003, has been vocal in his opposition to the vote.
Yezidi member of the Iraqi parliament Vian Dakhil [L] shakes hands with Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad on August 16, 2017. Photo: Rudaw TV
The visit comes after the delegation has been meeting with other Iraqi and foreign officials in Baghdad since Monday, including Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi on Monday who is from the Maliki-led party of Dawa.
Abadi said in his weekly press conference on Tuesday that the current Iraqi “borders are not sacred,” but added that any changes should come through mutual agreement.
“You want to redraw the borders? Then let’s have an understanding about it. It cannot be done unilaterally,” he said.
He said the discussion between the two sides fell into the area of “how can we all live in one, united Iraq,” something the head of the Kurdistani delegation denied.
Shaweys said that the delegation did “not emphasize the territorial integrity of Iraq.”
Abadi reiterated that he respects Kurdish aspirations for statehood, but said that it is unfortunate that the calls for a referendum have come after the successful cooperation between Erbil and Baghdad in the war against ISIS in Mosul.
The delegation also met with the Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri. A member of the Erbil delegation told Rudaw that Jabouri has said they respect the demands of the people of Kurdistan and that the Iraqi parliament should stay neutral and should not take any steps against the Kurdistan Region.
A statement from Jabouri’s office on Wednesday said that any move regarding the referendum should have a “constitutional framework.”
“We respect the positions of every side when they are compatible with the constitution and in such a way that strengthens the national unity and protects the stability,” the statement continued.
Rasul Razi Abu Hassana, a member of the Iraqi parliament from Maliki’s State of Law coalition, earlier stated that it is unlikely they will agree to the Kurdish demands since they consider the referendum to be “unconstitutional.”
In 2014, then-PM Maliki decided to cut the budget of Kurdistan as Erbil planned to export oil produced in the Region independent of Baghdad. PM Abadi did not roll back the decision despite having friendlier relations with Erbil, including military co-operations that reached a peak when the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces launched a joint operation, backed by the US-led international coalition, resulting in the full liberation of Mosul in July.
Maliki has made his views clear that he is against the referendum, even hinting at using military force to stop the Kurdish plans.
The Kurdistani delegation has prepared a lengthy report chronicling about 50 articles of the Iraqi constitution that Erbil says have been violated by Baghdad, mainly Article 140 that concerns the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both governments, and the budget cut by Iraq since early 2014, with the latter masterminded by Maliki.
Also on Wednesday, they met with Hadi al-Amri, the head of the Badr Organization, a component of the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi who have forces in the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by Erbil and Baghdad and which the Kurdistan Region says will be included in the referendum.
He said they had “honest” discussions towards solutions to outstanding problems between them.
Asked about fears that a war may break out between the Hashd al-Shaabi and the Peshmerga, Amri said that such fears are not “serious” and “unreal.”
“It is impossible that we would take arms up against it,” Amri said of the Peshmerga force.
Abdullah Zaidi, from the ruling Shiite National Alliance, told Rudaw after a meeting between the delegation and the head of the Alliance, Ammar al-Hakim, that they do not ask Erbil to postpone the referendum, but to cancel it as it is “unconstitutional” in principle. He said they want to see open discussions on issues such as the Peshmerga budget, Article 140, and oil exports.