Baghdad Row Pushing Kurds to Consider Independence, Official Warns

2014-01-18  – RUDAW – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government will be pushed to consider independence from Iraq unless Baghdad agrees to work out differences over the budget, the KRG deputy finance minister warned. “Action begets reaction; if Baghdad cuts the budget then KRG and the Kurdish leadership will make their own decision,” Rashid Tahir said.

He added that one of the main issues was funding for the Kurdish Peshmarga forces, reiterating complaints that Baghdad has refusing to grant the KRG its 17 percent constitutional share of the federal budget since 2007. “They never give us 17 percent. They only give us 10 percent,” Tahir noted in an interview with Rudaw. Asked what the KRG would do if Baghdad withheld this year’s share of the budget, which the central government has warned it would do if the Kurds go ahead with independent oil exports to Turkey, Rashid warned that only one choice would remain.

“If Baghdad took such a step then we would send the oil revenue (from exports) to Baghdad after subtracting the Peshmarga salary. If this solution did not satisfy Baghdad, then we have no choice but to separate,” he warned.

“It would be like a father who encourages his son to separate from the family. If they want us to separate, we thank them and we take our own path,” he said.He added that the KRG could finance itself through oil exports and internal revenues, and that revenues of approximately 10.5 trillion Iraqi dinars last year could be raised further.

A draft budget sent to parliament by the government in Baghdad, but which has yet to be debated, sets an oil export target for the Kurdistan Region at 400,000 barrels per day, well above present capacity. It also threatens to withhold funding from the budget if that target is unmet. A senior official from the dominant Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) said that the KRG has other options in case Baghdad refuses funding. “If they cut the KRG’s budget, they ask us to give them up. If we give them up, then Kurds have other alternatives,” he warned.