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article imagePolitical balance in Iraq changing in favor of the Kurds

By Ken Hanly     Sep 7, 2014 in Politics
Erbil - The advance of the Islamic State into several areas in northern and western Iraq has led to the strengthening of the Kurdish Regional Government in its conflicts with the Iraqi central government.
As the Islamic State mounted its offensive in Iraq in June and Iraqi forces fled, the Kurdish peshmerga occupied Kirkuk and the surrounding oil rich area claiming that the move was to defend Kirkuk from IS. However, as the video below shows, the Kurds are claiming the city and surrounding area as part of the Kurdish Regional government and not of the central government controlled areas as it was before the IS advance.
While western press reports concentrate on the threat of the Islamic State and the battle against it the continuing conflict between the Kurds and the central government has very much faded into the background. While there is some military cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State, the conflict between the Kurds and Baghdad continues. For example, Baghdad has withheld budget payments to the KRG needed to pay Kurdish government employees leaving a shortfall of billions.
Another factor that is tipping the political balance in favor of the Kurds is the flow of weapons from abroad to the Kurdish peshmerga. Ironically among the first to send weapons to the Kurds were the Iranians even though they have been a strong supporter of the Shia-dominated central government. Apparently, they did it through the central government but obviously made sure that the Kurds got them. The US has been reluctant to directly provide arms for the Kurds and have done so only to a limited extent. The Kurds are complaining that the US is not providing the heavy weapons they need.
Karwan Zebari, director of U.S. congressional affairs for the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), told Fox News:"To this point, we have only received light arms, nothing effective against ISIS militants. We need effective equipment to go on the offensive. We need to be going after them.” A US Defense Dept. official told Fox news: “The Department of Defense has not provided direct arms to the Kurds and has no plans to do so in the future."
Other countries have been less cautious about going through Baghdad. Germany is planning to directly provide the Kurds with advanced weapons, including anti-tank missiles. The UK announced that it has provided arms directly to the Kurds. The US Defense Secretary Hagel announced that seven countries have pledged to provide weapons and equipment to Kurdistan including Canada. No doubt many countries hope to curry favor with the Kurds so that they may have access to the rich oil resources of Iraqi Kurdistan should it become independent or gains more control over its natural resources.
Kurdish leaders have agreed to postpone plans for a proposed referendum on independence. This may have been a result of US pressure or perhaps it is simply a tactical move to concentrate on fighting the Islamic State and gaining control of more territory in the near future. Fuad Hussein chief of staff for Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said: “We now have a priority: to clean the area of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). ISIS must not remain our neighbour. When you have this priority, some other priorities will be delayed.”
The Kurds are anxious that a new central government be formed in Baghdad since otherwise Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would stay on. However they have four major demands including resolution of the status of Kirkuk and the surrounding area. They also want the moratorium on direct sales of Kurdish oil to be lifted for three months. Kurds would be allowed to export up to 140,000 barrels a day. Subsequently there would be negotiations for a permanent agreement on Kurdish exports of oil. Finally the Iraqi central government must pay the blocked salaries of KRG government employees. The Peshmerga forces would be recognized as part of Iraqi national defense forces entitled to modern equipment and weapons. The Kurds would be granted complete control of their own airspace. If these demands are not met no doubt the Kurds will seek complete independence for their region.
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