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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

UN urges dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil on the basis of constitution 

Baghdad and Erbil have quarrelled over territory and oil revenue sharing since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Their relationship reached a boiling point after the Kurdish region decided to hold a vote on independence in late September.

Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, speaks during a press conference in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, on November 6, 2017. Safin Hamed/ AFP.
Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, speaks during a press conference in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, on November 6, 2017. Safin Hamed/ AFP.

The United Nations has appealed to Erbil and Baghdad to resolve their long standing disputes on the basis of the constitution.

Baghdad and Erbil have quarrelled over territory and oil revenue sharing since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Their relationship reached boiling point after the Kurdish region decided to hold a vote on independence in late September. The referendum followed the launch of a military operation by the central government that recaptured the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

On Tuesday, the United Nations Assistant Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) reconfirmed its readiness "to play a facilitating role in the dialogue and negotiations between the two sides if requested by both the federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), or indeed any other role agreed upon by both parties based on and in full conformity of its mandate," UNAMI said in a statement.

The statement follows talks between the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, and the United Nations Secretary General for Iraq, Ján Kubiš,

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Iraq's cabinet proposed to slash the Kurdish share of the country's revenue in the 2018 federal budget, a move that Kurdish officials said was aimed at further punishing them for pressing ahead with their independence referendum on September 25. The result was a resounding "yes" in favour of breaking away from Iraqi but Baghdad deems the vote to be illegal.

If approved by the Iraqi parliament, the budget will further damage the relationship between Baghdad and Erbil.

In a press conference on Monday, Mr Barzani reiterated the call for dialogue with Baghdad.

"We are even ready to talk to Iraqi political parties that genuinely want to understand the situation and find a solution for it," he said.

Mr Barzani said Baghdad had violated the Iraqi constitution by drafting a budget that does not recognise Kurdish entitlements.

Mr Barzani, the nephew of Masoud Barzani who stepped down last week as president of Iraqi Kurdistan in the wake of the referendum crisis, said the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was "prepared to give them the oil revenue." Effectively, this means the KRG is offering to negotiate over its own sales of oil — if the central government is prepared to give the Kurds their customary 17 per cent share of the national revenue.

"We are ready to handover oil, airports, and all border revenues to Baghdad if the federal government of Iraq sends the salaries of KRG employees, the Kurdistan region’s 17 per cent constitutional budget share, and other financial dues," Mr Barzani said.

For the past three years, Baghdad has stopped sending funds while the Kurds held nearly all of northern Iraq's oil infrastructure and sold enough crude to fund themselves.

But the Iraqi government offensive that recaptured oil-producing territory from the Kurds last month means the autonomous region is once again financially dependent on Baghdad.

Meanwhile, UNAMI urged Erbil to acknowledge, endorse and respect this ruling of the federal court and reiterate its full commitment to the Iraqi constitution.