Is this about oil or about curbing Kurdish autonomy?
Every year at the moment of passing the annual Iraqi budget, disputes and fundamental difference between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad emerge. On many occasions, the US has taken it upon itself to calm things down and solve the problems peacefully. In past years, however, there was nothing on the ground about the Region's oil export via Turkey. Like other years, the issue of the Kurdistan Region’s 17% share of the national budget is a bone of contention, though Iraqi PM Nori Maliki seems to mean it this time when he says he won’t give the Region its money. He wants to penalize the Kurdistan Region and put pressure on its authorities from a public angered by delays in the payment of their monthly salaries. This has all been done on the pretext of Erbil’s supposed failure to send oil revenues to Bagdad—of course, officials in Turkey have stated that the Kurdistan Region’s oil has not yet been sold.
We should know that the 2003 Iraqi budget states that the Kurdistan Region has to export 250 000 barrels of oil, while this has been increased to 400 000 barrels in 2014’s budget. Bagdad says that if the Region does not export that amount of oil, the money should be taken off the Region’s 17% share of the federal budget. On other words, Maliki wants to penalize the people of Kurdistan.
The 2014 Iraqi budget bill is estimated at ID 170 trillion, which means an ID 30 trillion deficit. Some of the leaders in Maliki’s State of Law List have made threats to the effect that it is their national duty to penalize Kurdistan Region. However, they do not seem to have considered that Maliki’s policy is leading to the disintegration of Iraq; Maliki does not seem to care, however—he is relying on strikes and imposition because he wants to win votes by championing his own ‘war on terror’. Some members of his State of Law list say the Iraqi budget will have an additional ID 7 trillion deficit if the Kurdistan Region does not pump 400 000 bpd. In other words, they are seeking to turn the punishment of Kurdistan into a constitutional duty relating to peoples’ income. Meanwhile, in Iraq, huge sums of money and oil are lost every year or spent in the name of the war on terror on reinforcing the army and the police. If that money were spent on reconstructing Iraq, its citizens’ life and psychological state would be far better.
Over the two last months, the Kurdistan Region has witnessed issues relating to government employees’ payments and bank shortfalls. It’s true that the same issues arose previously in Slemany, but this time the entire Region was affected. Of course, it’s now clear to people as well as political parties that Nori Maliki wants to penalize Kurdistan. Many factors might be behind this, one of which is the possibility that Maliki wants the Kurds to join the sectarian war against the Sunnis, while he hasn’t provided a budget for the Peshmarga in several years. He also wants to limit the power of the Kurdistan Region and prevent it from progressing towards administrative and executive independence. He also wants to see relations deteriorate between the Region and Turkey. The Region’s participation in Davos and its international relations are against Bagdad’s will, for they will strengthen the political, economical and diplomatic position of the Kurdistan Region in relation to Baghdad. That’s why Baghdad wants to put an end to these crucial steps being taken by the Kurdistan Region and its political leadership.
It should not be forgotten that even prior to the oil export issue, Bagdad had problems with the Kurdistan Region. The budget is a problem every year, while Article 140 has still not been implemented to resolve the deep political and historical issues relating to the disputed areas. Then the Peshmarga issue came along, before finally being joined by the clash over oil and gas. The issues are basically related to a totalitarian ideology which relies on Iraqi radical nationalism. Nori Maliki may have proved himself incapable of controlling cities like Romadi or Faluja, of eliminating terrorists or stopping the constant terrorist attacks in Bagdad, but he still wants to tell the Kurds that they should return to rule by the central government: the Kurds should not take a step without consulting Baghdad first. So the problem is related to the policy of Arabization and penalization of the people of Kurdistan, through cutting off the budget and employee payments. The real issue here isn’t oil, it is the progress the Kurdistan Region is making towards constructing and developing Kurdistan economically, politically and diplomatically.
The matter relates, too, to the security improvements that have been achieved in the Kurdistan Region which contrast so starkly with the decline into sectarian violence, terror, instability and loss of control in those parts of the country under the authority of the Maliki government. It’s about the Kurdistan Region strengthening its ties and building trust with the outside world, while Baghdad grows weaker internationally after a string of government failures. So America and international society, faced with a Middle East in flames, have a moral duty not to sacrifice the stable, developed and democratic region of Kurdistan to their interests with the central government in Bagdad.