Baghdad and Erbil: Necessity of Interaction and Cooperation under New Conditions

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ali Akbar Asadi
PhD Candidate, University of Allameh Tabatabaei & Expert on Middle East Issues

A recent trip by the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to the city of Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, took place three years after the establishment of his government. That trip in addition to holding of the country’s Cabinet session in the Kurdistan region, can be considered as the most important signs which herald the beginning of certain changes in the relations between Baghdad and Erbil subsequent to a period of escalating tension and sourness during the past years. The Kurdish and Shia groups, who had close relations under the country’s former dictator, Saddam Hussein, as they formed the opposition front; moved to form important collaboration and coalition for the promotion of the new political process in the country after the fall of Saddam. It was due to this form of collaboration which necessary grounds were provided for the establishment of Iraq’s new political system after Saddam was toppled. A coalition between Shias and Kurds led to the establishment of Nouri Al-Maliki’s first government and continuation of that coalition, in addition to cooperation from and participation by the country’s Sunni groups, led to the establishment of the second government which was headed by Maliki following Iraq’s parliamentary election in 2010. Nonetheless, in addition to such cooperation and interactions between Shias and Kurds, there existed significant differences between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad. Tensions and differences between officials in Baghdad and Erbil escalated to a serious level during the past few years. The intensification of tension between the two sides actually posed a serious threat to the political stability and internal security of Iraq. The differences between Kurdistan region and the central government are pivoted around various issues which cover a wide range from a disputed strip of land in north of Iraq to Kurdistan’s oil reserves. They also include certain military issues, the activities of Kurdish Peshmerga, foreign relations, as well as the annual budget. The differences reached their pinnacle when the Iraqi parliament was discussing the annual budget in 2013. At that time, the Kurdish ministers and members of the parliament walked out of the parliamentary session as a result of which the tension between the two sides grew to a new record high. Despite the aforesaid developments, the level of tension between Kurds and the Iraqi government gradually reduced as a result of some consultations and positive interactions between the two sides. Finally, following a trip by a Kurdish delegation led by Nechervan Idris Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, to the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad, all Kurdish ministers and members of the parliament went back to Baghdad. As the new interactive trend between Erbil and Baghdad continued, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and his cabinet took a trip to Erbil and held their meeting there. During the visit, Maliki also met with the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government Massoud Barzani. The meeting was of very high importance and was considered a major stride toward reduction of tensions and differences. As a result of such developments in the relations between Baghdad and Erbil, the question which now arises is “what factors have led the officials in Baghdad and Erbil to move toward reduction of differences and tensions and increasing interactions between the two sides?”

It seems that when trying to answer this question, the most basic point which should be born in mind is that after extensive tensions and differences in the past two years which have been accompanied with frequent rhetorical attacks, the officials and leaders in both Erbil and Baghdad, have reached the understanding that, at least, under current domestic and regional conditions in Iraq, the expediencies and common benefits of cooperation and continued collaboration between Shias and Kurds are much more valuable than possible concessions which they should give to the other side in their interactions. On the other hand, a period of tension and serious differences between the Kurdistan region and the central government in Iraq has shown to the both sides that the costs and negative consequences of this kind of relations can be much more extensive than what they originally thought and may also overshadow the existing achievements of both sides. A glance at the present conditions in Iraq will show that authorities in Baghdad and Erbil have no other choice, but to give in to the new realities, especially the perils which threaten their country. One of the realities in the Arab country is the ongoing serious domestic insecurity which is a result of the operations carried out by the Al-Qaeda terrorist group and remnants of the Baath Party. They have posed a serious threat to the security and stability of Iraq which can even lead to total failure of the new political process in the Arab country. This issue will also create a serious challenge for the safeguard of the minimal achievements of Kurds and Shias in Iraq and cause problems for the new political, economic and security frameworks in the country, thus, taking the control of Iraq out of the hands of its statesmen. On the other hand, widespread protests and dissent among Sunni groups in addition to dangerous regional plans which seek to exacerbate the ongoing crisis in Iraq can seriously endanger the interests and domestic stability of Iraq. Another important point is about the serious concerns which currently exist on regional and international levels about the escalation of divergence between Erbil and Baghdad and the spread of insecurity in Iraq. As a result, both sides have been advised to clearly redefine their present strategies and relations.

The challenges and differences between Erbil and Baghdad as well as approaches taken to various issues by both sides during the past years have clearly proven that such tense relations cannot lead to positive results for either side. On the contrary, they are sure to end in the intensification of the existing crises and challenges between Erbil and Baghdad which may easily spread to entire Iraq and entail very high costs for both involved parties. The new Iraq has adopted a federal and democratic framework which is an inevitable reference framework for all the Iraqi groups because it can meet the interests of all involved parties in a much better way. As a result, if the officials of the Iraqi Kurdistan region were thinking about achieving goals beyond the federalism within framework of an integrated Iraq, they might find their achievements in jeopardy as a result of the existing obstacles and serious challenges. The final result of that situation would be escalating tension and further waste of capabilities and resources of the country. In the meantime, the central government in Iraq will have at its disposal the best option for the peaceful solution of the existing problems in view of the new structure of the political power and various challenges inside Iraq. Part of this solution is that despite a large part of the powers given to Kurdistan Regional Government are unconventional and unusual -- as is the behavior of its officials -- they should not forget that this region is still part of Iraq and, therefore, they should opt for intermediate solutions. As a result, it seems that although many differences between Erbil and Baghdad may remain unsolved, geopolitical realities of Iraq will finally force the officials in both Erbil and the capital city, Baghdad, to move toward more cooperation, interaction and intermediate solutions instead of emphasizing on further difference and tension.

Key Words: Baghdad, Erbil, Interaction and Cooperation, Kurdistan Region, Nouri Al-Maliki, Nechervan Idris Barzani, Asadi

More By Ali Akbar Asadi:

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