Update: Kurdish MPs, including Iraq’s Foreign Minister, withdrew from Iraq’s government in response to Maliki’s remarks, the BBC reports. The Kurdish peshmerga also seized from the central government two oil fields capable of producing a combined 400,000 barrels per day.
* * *Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri Al Maliki, exacerbated the nation’s ethnic tensions with its Kurds this week. As the Financial Times reports:
In an incendiary speech broadcast live on television, Iraq’s Shia prime minister accused the leaders of the country’s Kurdish minority of supporting the extremist militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, and members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party in words sure to further fray relations between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in the north.In his weekly national address, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, the centre of operations for his enemies, including hostile international media.
It appears there is some truth to Maliki’s charges, in that some Sunni tribal leaders hostile to the central government, and not necessarily opposed to ISIS, have taken refuge in Erbil. But it’s a far cry from that to harboring ISIS and Baathists, who slaughtered the Kurds on a genocidal scale under Saddam Hussein. Maliki presented no evidence to back these claims.The Kurdish Regional Government responded online:
A response posted on the website for the KRG presidency said Mr Maliki was “hysterical and had lost his balance”, and, addressing him directly, called on him to apologise to the Iraqi people and step down.
More substantially, the Kurds also threatened to sue foreign oil companies for their fair share of Iraqi petroleum exports, which Maliki has been refusing to hand over to the regional government.As Adam Garfinkle wrote today (and if you haven’t read his essay yet, you really should), the exchange of words is the latest in a long line of “fulminations that foul the air but do little else” from Maliki. Iraq and Kurdistan are heading for a divorce. The Kurdish peshmerga has gained ground against both ISIS and the national government, while the national army has fled field after field ignominiously. The Kurds have the political organization, financial soundness, and international backing they’ll need to survive as an independent state. And now, confirming the inevitable, Massoud Barzani, the leader of Iraqi Kurdistan, has called on his Parliament to grant the legal authority to hold a referendum on independence.Speeches like this won’t persuade the Kurds to stay in Iraq. Rather, Maliki is indulging in one last, plate-throwing argument before the divorce is final—after which, Kurdistan is likely to walk away the only winner. American policy makers, take note. Soon, Kurdistan will be in the market for friends.