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What are KRG’s Options With Baghdad?

By Yerevan Saeed 24/2/2014

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) faces tough choices. Baghdad has been mounting pressure on the Kurdish enclave to concede the oil export authorization to the central government by employing a budget war to subjugate the Kurdish Region.

Baghdad's economic war with Kurdistan is neither new nor surprising: It is only an extension of that same policy employed by former dictator Saddam Hussein in the 1990s to undermine the KRG.

When Saddam could not use military force against the Kurds due to the no-fly zone, he imposed an economic blockade on the entire Kurdistan in the hope that its government, and probably the rest of the survivors of his genocidal campaigns, would perish too.

Obviously, he failed and brought an end not just to his rule, but to himself as well.

However, this time, the KRG's status and situation are different.

Kurdistan's citizens have enjoyed a higher standard of living. People used to be more revolutionary and more forgiving to the misdeeds of their own government. Most importantly, Kurdistan was not a rentier state to a very good extent and millions of its population was not on the government's payroll.

During government hardships, teachers, and other employees continued to teach and work without being paid. In short, a big level of patriotism and nationalism kept the KRG intact, despite internal conflict and a limited budget.

Now, people are complaining for not being paid and consider the KRG's policies and plans shortsighted for not administering its revenues well and for not saving enough money to cushion such shocks from Baghdad.

As senior Kurdish officials have said, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Malik's goal through cutting the budget is to make the people rise up against the KRG. This ultimately is to make Kurdistan capitulate its authority and repudiate its right to export and sell its only survival weapon and hope: oil.

When it comes to oil, for me it’s a matter of survival or death. It’s about whether KRG has to give the sharpest ever sword to Baghdad to slaughter us or keep it and leverage it to ensure its political and economic survival.

Indeed, it’s just unthinkable that the KRG should grant Baghdad authority over its oil to fund the central government’s multi-billion dollar arm deals. These could potentially be used against Kurdistan once more, even as Baghdad refuses to compensate thousands of Kurdish victims due from the genocidal campaigns in Kurdistan.

How can the KRG trust Baghdad? What guarantee that, if KRG gives up its right to export oil, Iraq will not come up with more excuses? Oil is the biggest card KRG currently holds. If it loses, the next thing to expect could be the dispatching of the Iraqi army to Kurdistan under different pretexts.

In this case, if KRG refuses to let the army in or refuses any directives from Baghdad, just like now the Iraqi government once more can use the budget as a more effective weapon against the KRG to ensure its authority on the Kurdish enclave.

Probably, if pressed, people in Texas would not mind conceding control of their natural resources to Washington DC, because of the way the US government has been founded and functions.

But for Kurdistan, with its bitter past with Iraq, it is different. The Kurds have only known constant threats by federal officials, consolidation of power by one man, violation of the constitution on a daily basis, the purchase of vast weapons and the refusal to pay the KRG.

Indeed, the stakes are bigger than Mount Everest, if the KRG loses control over its oil and gas.

The real question is: What are the KRG's options?

Conceding oil authority as mentioned is self-destruction. Some suggested shutting down the rivers that irrigate Iraq’s central and southern farms. This only fuels nationalism and turns the whole population against the Kurds, while it presents a bad image of the KRG internationally.

In the same way, shutting down Kirkuk fields may not be tolerated by Turkey and the Western powers. Of course, Peshmarga forces will not and cannot invade Baghdad.

Indeed, the options come down to withdrawal from Baghdad and declaring independence. The first step can be withdrawal from Baghdad. This threat has been made several times before, but did not materialize because negotiations bore fruit at the last minute under outside pressure and convinced the Kurds to stay in Baghdad.

Then KRG can return to people by reviving the referendum movement. Parliament has to take up an active role in supporting the government with this move by having the MPs engage with the public and set up a deadline for holding a vote in Kurdistan, on whether it wants independence or to remain in Iraq. In the meantime, hundreds of Kurdish civil society organizations can assist by staging rallies in support of the move.

For this, the KRG has to also hire international lawyers, invoke various articles and sections of the UN and other human rights agencies to make its compelling case for independence. In the meantime, it has to undertake heavy-duty multilateral and extensive diplomacy in the world capitals to pursue support for its independence.

Will this be opposed? Of course, it will be strongly rejected by most, but at the end it should be the Kurds who determine their own fate, not others. No independence of any people has been granted. It has always been earned. So the Kurdish case would not be exceptional.

Many ask, how about Kirkuk and the disputed areas? Such areas are in de facto control of KRG and thousands of Peshmarga forces are already there to protect these areas.

Most entities that have declared independence, whether two years ago or two centuries ago, still have border demarcation issues disputed territories. Thus, like many other countries, the newly independent Kurdistan and its neighbor Iraq can tackle such issues when the dust of the new state has settled.

Others ask, how about hundreds of thousands of Kurds who live in Baghdad and other Iraqi provinces? This can be settled through population exchanges between Kurdistan and Iraq, in the same way it was done in South Sudan and North Sudan, and between Turkey and Greece after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Certainly, borders could be loose and problematic for years to come. But eventually, it will be these borders that allow the future Kurdish generations to live in peace and prosperity without begging Baghdad!


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FAUthman | 24/2/2014
Great column, no one could have said it better. Kurds, stay in Iraq but not as slaves of Baghdad and never relinquish control of your oil. It is your only hope for self rule. You give that up and you are left with nothing. The oil dispute may not be o between Baghdad and the Kurds only but Turkey and the oil Majors who have signed contracts with the KRG are involved, probably they do not find acceptable what Baghdad has to offer. KOMO should market Kurdish oil, the revenue should be placed in an external account Baghdad does not control. After payments to oil companies are made the profit can then be divided with Baghdad by the 83/17% formula. I am with PM Barzani, if no agreement is reached soon, Kurds should export their own oil, the world will be sympathetic and Turkey will go along. One more pipeline, when completed, and Kurds can say good bye to Baghdad if they wish to.
Qaraman | 24/2/2014
No need to worry about "the Arab population becoming anti Kurd" in case of shutting down the rivers, that train left 90 years ago, how many times do they have to prove it by words and deeds?. So we know that Malaki has declared laud and clear that he's going to hold back KRG's salaries until unrest and civil war erupts, well then while perusing independence like the article suggests we can also play a few cards. First we should definitely return the favor and cut Iraq's water supply, Baghdad has not even managed to deliver basic services the past decade imagine if the Iraqi population loose their water on top of all that. I also think it's time for Turkey and the big oil companies that are making big money at our expense to step up and contribute. Turkey can allow KRG to export oil independently to cover all expenses as long as Baghdad refuses to abide by the constitution. Big oil can certainly lobby their governments to put pressure on Baghdad, have they considered what will happen if Baghdad gets it's will? they will all loose their investments and be left begging for scraps, knowing Sharistani they will not get a dime. We also haven't pursued strategic deal with Iran seriously, Iran can make Baghdad do anything including resolving all outstanding issues such as Kerkuk, if Turkey is not willing to step up Iran might and most probably will.
Bakir Lashkari
Bakir Lashkari | 25/2/2014
There are a couple of issues which needed to be adressed: 1. The key issue is that the majority of the Kurdish people are recruiteed and working for the. Kurdistan Regional Government which is a heavy financial task on the Government.the Solution is that the private sector needs to be activated very soon with a master plan to create more private jobs rather than the public jobs. 2. The Kurds needs to learn how to negotiate with Baghdad by clearly and exactly adressing the Kurdish rights and it's establishing it's own the State of. Kurdistan, we have learned throughout of our history that our allies today who are very much interested in our natural resources which might tomorrow be our enemies / competitors. The Kurds leaders should learn to be united and talk with Voice when it's about the Kurdish identity and preserving the Kurdish rights. Any MP in the Iraqi Parliament who is talking on behalf of his identity, he or she should be calls upon and even to replace him or him by his or her Kurdish political party. On the Kurdish unity can fight and bouncing back the Al Maliki to agree upon the Kurdish rights as well as the Kurdish budget, paying the salaries, accepting the article 140 and let the KRG to sell the Kurdish Oil to the International markets without any pre conditional matters. This time the whole conflict is about the leadership, who is a strong leader, who is leading who, who is the boss about the Oil in Kurdistan and rest if Iraq, who is putting pressure on who?????????????? It is the leadership fighting between Baghdad and Arbil! It is about who is the leader in Iraq, the Shiites or the Sunnis?
Artin83 | 25/2/2014
Great piece and I totally concur. After a century, we have learned how to fish! We simply cant reverse this process and wait to Baghdad to feed us any decayed leftovers fish on its plate.
Yad Koye | 25/2/2014
Well thought out insight of the situation. However, I do not believe that abrupt independence will be a stabilising factor for our region post-independence as it, with the way it is going on now, will not transform it into a state where the nation is directly engaged and where there is a sense of belonging as the ruling families and parties will intensify their efforts to expand and consolidate their power over as much aspects as possible. This could lead a large number of the community prone to being used by our neighbours to undermine the government; which in the worst case could lead to a civil war. The most rosily strategy in which this can be prevented is to make sure that all our neighbours, including the superpowers, will get their respective part of the stake; but this would mean that we would become a frail state, in which we are only nominally independent and accommodating so many people from the remaining proceedings would prove difficult. This would mean that sooner or later the economic hardship, as one reason (but a crucial reason), would give rise to leftists and Islamists; and this is exactly why, I believe, the West will never allow this region to go independent as it then would not be so easy to mobilise the capital (which is Baghdad in this case) against us in order to viciously crush us. The Kurdish mountains and the location of Kurds are just a too grandiose risk to allow this to manifest. I believe that Mam Jalal really meant it when he said that independence was just wishful thinking..
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