Premier Barzani: Kurdistan Will ‘Not Back Down’ Over Constitutional Oil Rights

By RUDAW 4-3-2014 – SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – The autonomous Kurdistan Region’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said Tuesday that Erbil “will not back down” from its constitutional rights regarding Kurdistan’s oil resources, adding that threats by Baghdad would not deter the Kurds.

“We have heard direct threats from Baghdad before,” Barzani said in a speech at the Sulaimani Forum organized by the American University in Sulaimani, Kurdistan’s second-largest city.  “We still continue to talk about solving the issues. But I reiterate — and Baghdad must know — that we will not back down from preserving our constitutional rights,” he stressed.

Iraq’s Shiite-led government is locked in a serious quarrel with the Kurdistan Region, which backs its intention to begin large exports to Turkey by citing the constitution.  Baghdad insists that oil revenues from exports should be handled by its State Oil Marketing Organization; the Kurds want to handle export and revenues, with SOMO as an observer. In order to put pressure on the Kurds, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has cut the enclave from the national budget. Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani has called that tantamount to “a declaration of war.” Baghdad alleges that the budget has been halted because of the Kurdish enclave’s failure to export 400,000 barrels of oil per day, which Maliki claims has led to a budget deficit.  That allegation is rejected by Erbil. In his speech at the forum, titled Navigating Challenges in the Middle East, Barzani said that there is serious concern about Iraq breaching the Kurdistan Region’s constitutional rights. Speaking of Iraq’s insistence on keeping all authority in the capital, Barzani said: “The idea of central rule has ended for us.”

Without naming Maliki, Barzani said that the decision to cut the Kurds from the budget, which has affected the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG’s) ability to pay government salaries, “is the decision of just one person.”“We are concerned that Baghdad is using the livelihood of the Kurdistan Region as a trump card which is the decision of just one person. What we feared has in fact happened.”

Ali Adib, Iraq’s minister of higher education, who is also taking part in the forum, said that Erbil and Baghdad should try to contain their differences. “The disagreements cannot be solved overnight,” said Adib. “But if each party stamps its feet inflexibly, we will never reach a solution.” Speaking of the deadlock over the budget, Adib said: “Iraq has a large budget and everyone must benefit from it.” Among the number of high-level politicians gathered for the forum was Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. He praised his government’s efforts to make peace with the Kurds in Turkey, saying that Kurds and Turks are equal citizens of that country and that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has helped establish Kurdish radio and TV despite serious criticism from other Turkish parties.

Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) began a peace process last year, which the Kurds criticize for moving too slowly. Davutolgu said that trade and economic relations are important tools to build strong relations between the people of the region, and that Ankara insists on maintaining relations with Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.

He also spoke about the respect for ethnicities and regions: “We must accept that Muslims are Muslims, Christians are Christians and Jews are Jews.” He added that, “We must accept the different people as they are.” Davutoglu said that the multi-ethnic identities and differences are about to disappear in Syria, “because of the regime of Bashar Assad.” The Kurdish prime minister, meanwhile, also spoke about the delay in forming the KRG’s  new cabinet. He said that the time it has taken to reach an agreement – more than five months after the legislatives elections — was justified. “We wanted all the parties who ran in the elections to take part in the government and bring about four years of peace and calm for the Kurdistan Region,” he said. The forum was opened by Barham Salih, former KRG prime minister, who said that the Kurdistan Region and the Middle East as a whole are facing serious challenges. “We have many challenges, but we remain hopeful about solutions,” said Salih. – See more at: