Complications of Negotiation between KRG and Iraq

2 years agoANALYSIS

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 them.

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 process.
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 internationally.
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 and budget.

Nationalism Ambition
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 export].
‘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 underestimated!
Multiple Agendas
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, 2017)
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.

1.            KRG official website, "President Barzani's press conference in Baghdad following government formation agreement", FRI 12 NOV 2010. Source: []
2.            Kurdistan24, "Official: Erbil, Baghdad make progress on agreements over outstanding issues", January 15, 2018. Source: []
3.            Deutsch, M., Coleman, P. T., & Marcus, E. C. (Eds.), (2011), "The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice", John Wiley & Sons. 133-138
4.            France24, "Iraqi army takes almost all disputed areas from Kurds", 18/10/2017. Source: []
5.            Kurdistan24, "Iraqi parliament votes on KRG’s share in 2017 budget bill", December 04, 2016. Source: []
6.            Rudaw, "Iranian-Kurdish ties will outlast Trump: Zarif", 15/1/2019. Source: []
7.            Volkan Özdemir and Slawomir Raszewski, "State and Substate Oil Trade: The Turkey-KRG Deal", Middle East Policy Council, 2017. Source: []
8.            Zartman, I. William., "Prenegotiation: phases and functions" International Journal 44, no. 2 (1989): 237-253.

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