By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
The following questions were sent to the Kurdistan Regional Government in February. Falah Mustafa Bakir is the head of Department of Foreign Relations for Kurdistan Regional Government and he sent responses which are posted below in full. Some developments have happened since the questions were sent and responded to. For instance, Baghdad announced that it would re-open the Erbil and Sulaymaniyah airport to international flights, a major demand of the KRG.
Can you describe the Iraq elections and the position of the Kurdish political parties? Are they running together, separate?
1. Now that the decision has been made to hold the Iraqi elections on time, I hope that it will determine a new path for the country, especially after the recent events. In principle, it is in the best interest of the Kurdish parties to run in the elections under one common list and in a coalition, as it will give us more political weight and leverage in the context of the political dynamics of the country and it will also enhance our stand in entering alliances and reaching understandings with other blocs in the Iraqi Parliament. As the election date has been set, it is important for Kurdistan to prepare itself in advance to safeguard the rights of the region and its people.
Can you describe the economic situation in KRG? Has it been harmed by the Kirkuk oil issue?
2. After the unfortunate events in Kirkuk, Kurdistan not only lost control over territory but also over the oil resources. At this stage, if Baghdad claims Kurdistan to be part of Iraq then we need to be treated in a fair manner. Erbil has realistically been cooperative in terms of oil productions and revenue sharing agreements in Kirkuk. Such delay of agreements has been harmful to the KRG and caused a delay in salary payments. Oil products and revenues need to be provided to Kurdistan Region the same way it is distributed to other parts of Iraq. If there’s a political bridge to reach an understanding on the oil issue, it will better serve both sides.
Having been engaged in the costly war against ISIS, we have suffered a great deal and need an income to recover our economy, taking into account the burden of displaced communities in the Region. We hope that the ongoing dialogue process will help in sorting out these differences and deliver some results.
Can you describe Davos and KRG's participation, and what happened there?
3. Davos as an international gathering of world leaders in all aspects brings together stakeholders to tackle issues of a fractured world. The participation of KRG delegation was important on a number of levels.
After the referendum, Baghdad made attempts to isolate the region by imposing sanctions of various forms and to dismantle the KRG as an entity. However, the initiatives of world leaders such as the French President, German Chancellor, and most recently Pope Francis to reengage with the Region as well as the global gathering in Davos served the purpose of reintegrating Kurdistan Region into the International Community well.
It was overall a good opportunity to share the KRG perspective on domestic, regional and international matters; we were also pleased with the level of support and quality of the meetings and opportunities provided. We received positive feedback on Prime Minister Barzani’s approach and KRG’s readiness to dialogue.
What are the main goals and challenges of the KRG this year?
4. Politically, the KRG tries to prepare for upcoming elections in Iraq and Kurdistan, and to tackle the aftermath of the political challenges in the past recent years.
Economically, we are attempting to safeguard our fair share of budget from Baghdad. PM continues to adopt reform mechanisms and have benefitted from the review and auditing process of our oil and gas sector through Deloitte. PM wants wantsto make the best out of the resources and opportunities available to us. On the reform agenda we have worked on the reduction of bureaucracy, encouragement and empowerment of the civil society, especially of the women and youth, in addition to reforms on the political and economic levels.
What other issues does the region face with Baghdad, including the airports [On March 13 Baghdad announced it will re-open the international airports in the Kurdistan region]
5. According to the constitution, all Iraqis are of equal status and value; however, extraordinary measures were taken against the people of Kurdistan in the post-referendum era, who are to be viewed as Iraqi citizens despite political differences between the Federal and Regional Governments.
Erbil and Baghdad now more than ever before, need to sort out their differences in order to maintain peace and stability in the country. The KRG has continuously called for serious and constructive dialogue to sort out political differences, peacefully through negotiations in addition to demonstrating readiness to a mutually beneficial partnership.
The measures which were taken by Baghdad after the referendum need to be reversed and dialogue needs to address the sanctions, and flight ban needs to be lifted. All federal laws and regulations have been met in regards to the airport functionalities, and the only remaining part is the political decision. It is important for our budget to be in place, if we are wanted to stay in Iraq we need to feel welcomed. The dialogue process needs to continue and to lead to constructive and satisfactory outcomes.
Can you describe current discussions with Baghdad and how they are going?
6. The dialogue as a process has started; this is a positive step in the right direction which provides an open channel of communication. We welcome the dialogue but we need to proceed and the negotiations need to be productive, for this reason and for the sake of the people of Kurdistan and Iraq, for the sake of peace and stability, we hope that both sides are seriously engaged and are equally committed.
There was recently a high level meeting with Iran, do you think that after the Kirkuk crises that relations with Iran and KDP, PUK can work together?
7. We have to acknowledge that we live in this area and we cannot change our geography. If we continue to go back to and live in the past, we won’t make much progress; therefore it’s important for us to go forward and find solutions that are based on partnership, wealth and power sharing with our allies. Our neighbors Iran and Turkey similar to our partners in Baghdad are crucial players for us to establish a common ground with.
Would you describe relations with the US and UK as back on track after the crises last year?
8. In regards to the UK and US relations with KRG, there was a certain degree of disappointment; nevertheless, our relations have not ended with any country as a result of the referendum. Diplomatic visits into and out of the Region continue. We believe that our relations have resumed albeit slowly with the outside world.