Budget conflict and Kurdistan pipeline
Despite the fact that Iraq’s Cabinet approved the $118.6 billion budget in October last year, infighting among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions this week scuttled attempts by lawmakers to pass the draft legislation in parliament. A dispute between Baghdad and the autonomous region of Kurdistan over oil rights is the main cause of delaying this year’s national budget.
The Iraqis have accustomed to yearly argument over the budget and this year without exception the issue has again come to the fore, as the Iraqi parliament cannot decide on what proportion to give to each of Iraq’s regions. At the core of the matter however is the political dispute amongst the divided ethnic and religious constituencies of Iraq. The most hotly debated aspect of the budged at the parliament is about the share of Kurdistan region. Postponement of the ratification of the budget 2013 is mostly due to the dispute regarding the share of the Kurdistan. The State of Law Coalition, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is trying to slash this share from 17% to 12%, which has led to vehement Kurdish objections.
The discussion and dispute over the budget may be seen a purely technical issue that due to the lack of proper census in Iraq result in allocation of budget to provinces that which province to get what proportion. However it is not simply a technical issue but used by the Al-Maliki government as a way of punishment of Kurdistan region. More than that allocation of Iraqi budget to Kurdistan used by Maliki as a blackmail to force the Kurdish authorities to give up on territorial and oil dispute with Bagh- dad. A Kurdish MP, Rawaz Khoshnaw, rightly argued that “Maliki is trying to use the budget to twist our arm. It’s just a political tool that they are using against the Kurdistan regional government.”
It is the Iraqi central government that for a very long time have repeatedly postponed the carrying out census in Iraq. Baghdad fears the census may release the proportion of ethnic combination of disputed territories and strengthen the hands of Erbil against Baghdad on territorial issues.
Delaying of budged have negative effect on Iraqi and particularly on Kurdistan economy. It is true that unending budget infighting each year is jeopardizing investment in almost in everything from transport to rebuilding the economy, and implementing muchneeded infrastructure projects that millions of Iraqis are urgently needing it is the Kurdistan region that suffers a lot. Kurdistan economy due to stability and security attracted billions of dollars local and foreign investments in various fields and economic boom have become a norm rather than exception. Life standards of the people of Kurdistan since 2003 have considerably increased. A growing middle class now appears in the region.
Budget problems that Baghdad artificially creates is an attempt to impede growing Kurdish economy and the growing differences between Kurdistan region and the rest of Iraq. Indeed in a short period of time successful economic policies of Erbil made a huge differences between Kurdistan and rest of Iraq from infrastructure to public services. Access to electricity and clean water is much better in Kurdistan than other parts of Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition is not the only bloc in Baghdad that tries to reduce the Kurdistan share. Sunni-backed Iraqiya Bloc and some other political blocs have also called last week for Kurds to get no more than 12 percent of the budget based on their population. Kurdistan share of budget since the formation of new government following the demise of Baath regime in 2003 have been 17 percent.
Kurdistan region government is right to develop an independent economic policy particularly on energy sector to rebuke Baghdad's attempt to diminish Kurdish economy. To do so it is essential that Kurdistan to have its own pipeline in order to export its energy sources to global market to have its own independent budget should Baghdad ever tries to stop Kurdish 17 percent.
An oil worker tending to a supply pipeline in Iraqi Kurdistan.