22 March 2012
Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) leader Masoud Barzani hinted March 20 at a possible break with Iraq’s unity government, complaining the prime minister was monopolizing power and building an army loyal only to him. However, he stopped short of directly saying he would declare independence for the Kurdish region.
Barzani has steadily ratcheted up his criticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government in recent weeks amid disputes over oil, land, budget funds and power sharing in Baghdad. Barzani said the partnership that built a national unity government formed at a meeting he had hosted was now “completely non-existent and [had] become meaningless.”
“It is time to say enough is enough,” Barzani said in a speech marking the traditional Kurdish and Persian New Year holiday, Nevruz. “The current status of affairs in unacceptable to us and I call on all Iraqi political leaders to urgently try and find a solution - otherwise we will return to our people and will decide on whatever course of action that our people deem appropriate.”
“There is an attempt to establish a one million-strong army whose loyalty is only to a single person,” Barzani said in the speech in Arbil. He claimed that al-Maliki and the government were “waiting to get F-16 combat planes to examine its chances again with the Kurdish peshmerga [fighters],” referring to a government order for 36 warplanes from the United States. “Where in the world can the same person be the prime minister, the chief of staff of the armed forces, the minister of defense, the minister of interior, the chief of intelligence and the head of the national security council?” he asked.
Barzani said while he was committed to an alliance with Iraq’s majority Shiites, he was not committed to one with al-Maliki. Kurdish MPs hold nearly a fifth of the seats in Parliament, and Barzani’s Kurdish Alliance bloc has five cabinet posts in the national unity government formed in November 2010.
Baghdad has been arguing for months with Kurdish leaders over whether Exxon Mobil Corp. should be allowed to develop lucrative oil fields in the north without the central government’s approval. Iraq’s Oil Ministry last week said Exxon agreed to shelve its plans to avoid being blacklisted from other oil deals in Iraq until the country passes its oil law, which could take months at least, if not years.
A spokesman for the Kurdish region denied Exxon had frozen its plans, and Exxon officials have not commented. Barzani accused Baghdad of pressuring oil companies against working in the north. “They in Baghdad get mad whenever any corporation comes to the region to sign contracts,” he said.
Barzani’s heated complaints came the week before top Arab leaders are to meet in Baghdad in what the government hopes will showcase Iraq’s move toward stability and national unity after years of sectarian fighting.