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Middle East and North Africa

Iraqi PM pays visit, mends bridges in Kurdistan

On June 9, Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki paid his first visit to Iraqi Kurdistan in nearly three years, according to Reuters.

Iraqi Kurdistan is autonomous from the central government of Iraq, with its own armed forces and administrative government, led by President Massoud Barzani, who had previously referred to Maliki as a “dictator.”

This accusation by Barzani is indicative of the fraught relationship between Kurdistan and greater Iraq that has been percolating for the better part of a century.

Since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I in 1918, the Kurds have had an uneasy relationship with the central governments in the four successor states dividing greater Kurdistan (in addition to Iraq, these countries are Turkey, Iran, and Syria). In Iraq, the ill will between Saddam Hussein’s regime and Iraqi Kurds culminated in the al-Anfal Campaign of 1988, where Hussein’s Ba’ath government used chemical weapons and concentration camps in a genocidal campaign against rural Kurds.

Since the fall of the Hussein regime in 2003, Kurdish military forces, or peshmerga, have been active in aiding United States-led coalition troops and rebuilding Kurdistan into the safest and most stable region of Iraq today.

Kurdistan’s relative strength and stability, as well as its strategic location, have meant that the relationship between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish autonomous government has been deemed crucial for the future peace of greater Iraq.

This relationship between the two governments has seen high points and low points in the past several years. In Maliki’s previous visit to the Kurdish capital of Erbil in 2010, he and Barzani attempted to hash out an agreement about a tract of land along the border between Kurdistan and greater Iraq, stretching from Syria on its west end to Iran on its east.

The 2010 Erbil agreement also attempted to resolve issues regarding oil pipelines and revenues. The Kurdish government has been the authority to sign lucrative deals with Exxon Mobil and Chevron in the north of Iraq, despite the Iraqi central government’s objections. Recent efforts by the Kurds to build an oil pipeline into Turkey have even led to threats of smuggling lawsuits from Baghdad.

Although the Erbil agreement attempted to lay down an amicable framework between the region and the nation, it was never fully implemented, and tensions between the Iraqi and Kurdish governments continued to simmer over the next few years.

While neither the oil dispute nor the territorial dispute were fully solved this weekend, the amicable talks between Maliki and Barzani did have a positive psychic effect on the relationship between the two governments. In a press conference, Barzani referred to the talks as “a start for removing all the problems.” Maliki added that they did “not have a magic wand to fix all these problems in one go, but it is necessary to have a willingness to solve them.”

In addition to revisiting points from the Erbil agreement, Maliki and Barzani attempted to deal with the presence of the peshmerga in disputed territory.

By Laura Gates

Source: New York Times, Al Jazeera

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