By Sarkhel Ahmad
Following ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ in 2003, the Kurds have
participated in formation of all Iraqi government’s cabinet and political
process, in order to rebuild Iraq as a ‘federal-democratic state’. Since then,
the political relationship between Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Iraq
has gone through many stages of an up and downtrend. Sometimes, the
relationship has moved along with a friendly condition. In contrast with, they
occasionally went through hostility attitude, even Iraq waged war to overcome
(KRG) in October 2017 and the war lasted for two months. In all stages, they go
back to the negotiation table in order to settle the conflicts peacefully.
Nevertheless, the negotiations could not find a fundamental solution to the
outstanding issues; also, they could not build a suitable atmosphere that
ensures both sides to live together trustfully. Can we ask? What are the
complications of negotiations between (KRG) and Iraq that have limited the
outcomes? Why do they reach an agreement, but the crises revive in the same
layout? What are the constraints, which restrict building coexistence and peace
between them? In this contribution, I am going to point out some
‘complications’ that influence pre-negotiation and negotiation process between
One Package of Crises
There have many crises between (KRG) and Iraq. Some of them
have historic root and regional aspect, which require durable effort and
profound solution to settle them. We can say the others are contemporary
conflicts, which their solutions do not require hard effort to resolve them.
One of the crises is struggling over ‘Disputed Area’, which
stretches from ‘Sinjar’ to "Khanaqin" through "Kirkuk".
However, the 2005 Iraqi Constitution dedicated article 140 to solve the
contradiction and in what way determining ownership of the land. It should have
implemented until December 31, 2007, although the Iraqi government put on hold
it until now.
Natural resources [Oil and Gas] is another crisis. (KRG)
believes that it has authority over entire activity concerning oil and gas
fields. In spite of, Iraq believes that all concerning process is its
competence. Due to the contradiction, Iraq blocked to send revenue for (KRG)
for five years [2014-2018] and it generated economic depression for (KRG)
during ‘The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)’ fighting.
The other crises include: Kurdistan share revenue in Iraqi
budget, ‘Peshmerga’ sharing in military budget and equipment, the ratio of
Kurds in Iraqi government positions, the authority and role of (KRG) in its
external relations, the authority over customs, border crossings and
international flights, also the role of Kurds in the Iraqi decision-making
It is the complication when the negotiators go to the
negotiation table, they bring the whole crises in one package, and they would
like to settle all of them in one agreement or contract! In November 2010,
Iraqi leaders [include ‘Noori al-Maliki’ the candidate to Iraqi prime minister
(for his second round) and the President of the Kurdistan Region ‘Masoud
Barzani’] reached an agreement. The agreement composed of 19 articles, which
covered all issues between them (KRG, 2010). After the events of the
referendum, (KRG) and Iraqi leaders go back to negotiation, once again, they
put all issues on the table (Kurdistan24, 2018), while it was very complex and
challengeable to resolve all issues in one package! The best strategy to
response the crises is making them apart. However, some of them are associated;
nevertheless, it had better start with the easiest than others had. Each round
of negotiation should solve one of them and then start with another.
Asymmetric Power Relations
As we know, (KRG) is a sub-state government that affiliated
to the Iraqi government in a federal system; however, it sometimes behaves as a
non-state actor in international plane. The power and capability of (KRG) are
unbalanced with Iraq. Iraq has an international legitimacy over its territory
and peoples. The neighbor states as (Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia)
politically support Iraq to stay powerful and united toward Kurds. When ISIS
attacked Iraq, an international coalition led by the USA was found to help and
survive it. It is self-evident that Iraq has important geopolitics and adequate
natural resources for the international community, while ISIS [before Iraq]
occupied part of Southeast of Syria without took place any step to stop them
From a military perspective, Iraq has a trained and
internationally suppliable army; However, ISIS broke down some of its units,
but ‘The Popular Mobilization Forces’ as a sectarian armed group was found to
support the army. In contrast with, (KRG) does not have an integrated army with
big firearms; it has "Peshmerga" who divided into two contrastive
part without qualified training and equipment.
This unequal and uneven power relation between (KRG) and
Iraq illustrates the asymmetric nature of the negotiations. According to most
of conflict resolution theorists, if the relationship between antagonists is
unbalanced and the nature of conflict is asymmetric, the negotiation process
and conflict management will not succeed. In order to the successfulness of the
negotiations, the relationship should have to be balanced (Deutsch, M. et al,
2011). For instance, if the USA supports (KRG) politically, without doubt, the
outcome of the negotiations will be hopefully positive. As we have seen in
solving of salary crisis of (KRG) when the USA and the World Bank encouraged
the Iraqi government to send money until they will reach an agreement on oil
Iraq divides into some nation, ethnic and sects. The modern
history of this ‘unhomogenized’ state was witnessing the superiority of
‘Sunni-Arab’ ethnic authority. The other nations [include Kurds] suffered from
totalitarian regimes during the last century. Most of the Kurdish political
movements believed to self-determination right and independent authority, in
order to realize this dream, they exercised counter-revolution against the
central state. Indeed (KRG) is “extended successor” of UN, Security Council
Resolution 688, which imposed a no-fly zone on northern Iraq [the current
location of (KRG) territory], during that period the Kurds were exercising
semi-independent ruling outside of central government. This experience has more
grown the nationalism ambition of Kurd’s leaders and grassroots. The current
leaders and negotiators of (KRG) are the same leaders of Kurd’s struggling
stage and the same no-fly zone rulers. They could not [effortlessly] accept any
option in the negotiation process that reduces their power; they support a
federal system that gives them more authority than restriction! Until now, they
have not accepted to give authority of ‘Peshmerga’ forces to the Iraqi army;
even they do not give them the number and sort of the armed groups, while one
of the crises is the sharing of ‘Peshmerga’ in the Iraqi military budget!
Nevertheless, the current central government has manipulated by Shia sectarian
leaders that neither Kurds nor Sunni-Arabs would not like to put all their eggs
in the government’s basket!
The Kurdistan independence referendum on September 25, 2017,
was the peak of Kurdish nationalism ambition. They wanted to secede from Iraq
in light of the potential changes that may have occurred during and after ISIS.
This referendum was clear evidence that the negotiations could not settle the
disputes! (KRG) would like to build a new state in the Middle East, while Iraqi
state struggled for more sovereignty over its territory from north to south.
Unfortunately, the referendum [as peaceful mechanism] ended with the war. If
the international community did not interfere, it might have waged a civil war
that collapses social security for a while.
Accumulation of Distrust
Since 2003, the Kurds have participated in rebuilding Iraq
actively. They collaborated in writing the constitution’s draft and voted to
accept it in 2005. However, most of the Kurdish leaders suspiciously look at
the application of the constitution. Their prediction was proofed; article 140 has
not accomplished yet.
Since then, throughout the formation of any Iraqi
government’s cabinet, the negotiations between (KRG) and Iraq revive again.
When “Noori al-Maliki” was a candidate for Iraqi prime minister, he showed his
willingness to resolve most of the crises. Then, he attained support from (KRG)
leaders to establish his ministerial cabinet. Gradually, he has regretted from
his pledges. Even he cut the (KRG) share revenue from the Iraqi budget in early
2014, in excuse of (KRG) autonomous oil policy [contracts, production and
‘Haider al-Abadi’ [at the beginning] showed his good faith
toward Kurdish issues. When he achieved internal and external support for his
position [due to ISIS fighting], he adopted an aggressive attitude [specifically
after the referendum] and implemented punitive response by waging war against
(KRG). "Central authority must be imposed everywhere in Iraq,"
al-Abadi said on 17 October 2017(France24, 2017).
On the opposite side, the Iraqi leaders often say that (KRG)
would like to benefit from the privileges of agreements without undertaking its
responsibility. They also accused (KRG) by retreating from its commitment to
the negotiation bounding. In the Iraqi budget law for 2017, which discussed and
enacted by the presence of Kurdish Iraqi parliament members, (KRG) was bound to
pay off (250,000) barrels of oil per day (bpd) from the Region’s oil fields as
well as handing over (300,000) (bpd) to the Iraqi government from Kirkuk oil
fields(Kurdistan24, 2016). So, Iraq announced that (KRG) did not commit to the
law and did not submit the portion of oil.
This unbinding stance and agreement-abolishing atmosphere
generated a profound feeling of distrust between them. Without doubt, any
failed experience of the negotiations affects the confidence and commitments of
the potential process. Accumulation of distrust overcomes good faith!
Therefore, the antagonists do not trust each other and the process seemed
Presence of multiple domestic and foreign agendas in the
Iraqi political sphere complicate most of the negotiations progress.
Externally, globalization, complex interdependence and war against terror
generate a status that several states [overtly or secretly] interfere in the
Iraqi political arena. The USA as a superpower directly plays a big role to
impose its hegemony on Iraq, in order to rebuild it as a liberal democratic
state in the Middle East, to ensure the source of natural resources for the
international market, and containment of Iran’s agenda in the region. In
opposite of, Iran through Shiite politicians manipulates Iraqi politics.
Iran tries to link Kurdistan with ‘Shiite Crescent’,
particularly the “Disputed Area” wealthy with oil. Iran’s foreign minister
“Javad Zarif” in [Erbil] announced that: “The ties between Iran and Kurdistan
are rooted in history and will outlast Trump’s administration, he said when
asked about Trump’s recent comment he was unhappy about Kurds selling oil to
Iran” (Rudaw, 2019). On the other side, Turkey looks at the ‘Kirkuk’ as a
successor of the ‘Mosul Dispute’ and continually draw up its policy toward
Kirkuk’s oil greedily. (KRG) and Turkey signed a multibillion-dollar energy
package to export oil and gas via Turkish pipelines without acceptance and
permission of the Iraqi government! (Volkan Özdemir and Slawomir Raszewski,
Internally, the Kurdish party leaders have divided on some
poles. On the one hand, some are prone to Iran’s agenda, or other politicians
would like to build a strong relationship with Turkey at the expense of Iraq.
On the other hand, those leaders have obtained a good position in the Iraq
attempt to normalize the relationship. In other side, some of the Iraqi leaders
known with ‘moderate’ stance toward (KRG) issues look like current prime
minister. In opposite to, Shiite military leaders think that (KRG) should make
a concession for the central government. The [after referendum] attack to
‘Kirkuk’ and ‘Ibrahim Khalil’ cross-border checkpoint was clear evidence to
their extreme attitude toward (KRG).
One of the prerequisites for successfulness of
pre-negotiation and negotiation stages are adjustment of domestic politics and
management of international coalition building. This process does not involve
merely altering the public image of the antagonists, but it produces an
environment of interests to terminate gradually the conflicts domestically and
internationally (Zartman, 1989).
The negotiations between (KRG) and Iraq illustrated by up
and downtrends. Sometimes they negotiate in the cooperative framework and
problem-solving strategy. In other word, they negotiate in competitive stance
and adversarial strategy, to some extent, each party attempt to underestimate
the options of other and consider merely its bargaining goals (zero-sum
strategy). These complications and revived negotiations [with failure outcomes]
have been continuing because of enduring circumstances of the conflict (One
Package of Crises, Asymmetric Power Relations, Nationalism Ambition,
Accumulation of Distrust, and Multiple Agendas), without adaption the
pre-negotiation condition and environments, the conflict will stay peril and
the negotiations could not interrupt the circle of animosity.
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