Kurds ask higher au­thor­ity to end cri­sis with Bagh­dad

Tehran Times - - INTERNATIONAL - By Mustafa Saadoun

With seem­ingly nowhere else to turn, be­lea­guered Iraqi Kurds are seek­ing sal­va­tion through Shi­ite re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties. The cri­sis be­tween Iraq’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad and the Kur­dish head­quar­ters in Er­bil ap­pears to have laid waste to all other in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal at­tempts to re­solve the reper­cus­sions of the Sept. 25 Kur­dish in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum.

Bagh­dad’s lat­est salt in Er­bil’s wounds came March 4, when it cut the Kurds’ share of the 2018 gen­eral bud­get to 12.6% from 17%. The Kurds then threat­ened to with­draw from the po­lit­i­cal process, as Mas­soud Barzani, the for­mer pres­i­dent of the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Gov­ern­ment (KRG), said this re­duc­tion was “un­der­min­ing the rights of the Kurds.”

Ma­soud Haidar, a par­lia­ment mem­ber for the Kur­dis­tan Al­liance, on March 3 called on Grand Ay­a­tol­lah Ali al-Sis­tani to help the Kurds in their plight. Sis­tani is well-known among Shi­ite par­ties, so the Kurds hope he will pres­sure Bagh­dad and re­solve the sit­u­a­tion.

On Feb. 28, a Kur­dish del­e­ga­tion con­sist­ing of 20 mem­bers from sev­eral Kur­dish po­lit­i­cal par­ties vis­ited Na­jaf with the in­ten­tion of meet­ing with Sis­tani, to no avail. How­ever, Sis­tani’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives and cler­ics close to him did meet with the del­e­ga­tion in a closed ses­sion that day at Rafidain Cen­ter for Di­a­logue in Na­jaf prov­ince. Ac­cord­ing to a source from the del­e­ga­tion who spoke with Al-Mon­i­tor on con­di­tion of anonymity, the del­e­ga­tion stressed that the strate­gic al­liance be­tween Kurds and Shi­ites still stands: Both co-wrote the con­sti­tu­tion and fought to­gether against the regime of Sad­dam Hus­sein as well as the Is­lamic State (ISIL).

“Kur­dish par­ties, specif­i­cally the Kur­dis­tan Demo­cratic Party [led by Barzani], sent more than one let­ter to Sis­tani ask­ing to meet with him or re­quest­ing in­ter­ven­tion to re­solve the cri­sis with Bagh­dad,” the source said.

An­other Kur­dis­tan Al­liance mem­ber, Rizan Sheikh, told Al-Mon­i­tor the Kurds haven’t re­ceived an of­fi­cial re­sponse from Sis­tani.

How­ever, there ap­pear to be pos­i­tive, al­beit in­di­rect, signs from Sis­tani in this re­gard. Alaa al-Mous­sawi, the head of the Shi­ite Waqf (En­dow­ment Fund) and a close as­so­ciate of Sis­tani’s of­fice, at­tended the meet­ing with the Kur­dish del­e­ga­tion in Na­jaf. Some Kur­dish politi­cians said Mous­sawi con­veyed their mes­sage to the supreme Shi­ite au­thor­ity.

“Sis­tani’s of­fice is work­ing on re­duc­ing ten­sion and de­fus­ing any cri­sis be­tween Iraqis ac­cord­ing to con­sti­tu­tional frame­works,” Zeid Talaqani, the head of the Rafidain Cen­ter for Di­a­logue, told Al-Mon­i­tor.

A source from Sis­tani’s of­fice told Al-Mon­i­tor on con­di­tion of anonymity that the Kurds’ mes­sages to Sis­tani fo­cused largely on the pay­roll is­sue, es­pe­cially that of the Iraqi Kur­dis­tan pesh­merga, which fought against ISIL.

Sis­tani has played a ma­jor role in end­ing some of the po­lit­i­cal crises that have plagued Iraq through the years. How­ever, in 2011, Sis­tani be­gan re­fus­ing to meet with politi­cians be­cause of their never-end­ing dis­putes. The Kur­dish pub­lic may have bet­ter luck. On Feb. 20, a del­e­ga­tion of farm­ers from the KRG met with Sis­tani per­son­ally and asked him to help pres­sure the fed­eral gov­ern­ment into re­leas­ing their fi­nan­cial dues — and he promised he would.

Us­ing an­other ap­proach, “Some fig­ures from Barzani’s of­fice ap­proached Sis­tani’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Kar­bala, Ab­dul Mahdi al-Kar­balai. Deputy Prime Min­is­ter of Iraq Barham Salih also at­tempted to in­ter­vene, given his good ties with those close to Sis­tani,” in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Ahmed al-Abyad told Al-Mon­i­tor.

Abyad added, “The pres­sure even­tu­ally re­sulted in a phone call be­tween Sis­tani’s of­fice and [Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter] Haider al-Abadi dur­ing which they dis­cussed the Kur­dish cri­sis.”

Sis­tani, who is con­sid­ered the high­est Shi­ite au­thor­ity, has yet to ex­press a di­rect po­si­tion or take any pub­lic mea­sures. He does, how­ever, have unique chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and spe­cial means to con­vey mes­sages and rec­om­men­da­tions to Abadi’s gov­ern­ment, or any other party.

Sis­tani has played a ma­jor role in end­ing some of the po­lit­i­cal crises that have plagued Iraq through the years.

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