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Iraq: Barzani and Maliki meet in Baghdad - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki meets with Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani in Baghdad, July 7, 2013. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki meets with Iraqi Kurdish president Massoud Barzani in Baghdad on July 7, 2013. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, arrived in Baghdad on Sunday for talks with Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki, the first between the two in the capital for three years.

The two men held a news conference following Barzani’s arrival and stressed the importance of strengthening relations between the central and Kurdish regional governments in Iraq by resolving the outstanding issues between the two, and by finding solutions to the ongoing political crisis in Iraq.

Maliki said: “There will be cooperation to coordinate work between the two governments, because the circumstances around us dictate that we establish new climates to resolve issues and protect the country from any danger.”

He denied that there were irreconcilable political differences with the Kurds, saying, “There were only differences in opinion regarding the constitution,” adding that the “country’s interests were more important than these differences.”

Barzani said his visit at the head of an official delegation aimed to “deliver a message to those inside and outside Iraq that we intend to cooperate and endeavor to resolve our problems, especially because we live in an area where we are surrounded by problems, and because Iraqi’s unity is enough to put an end to any dangers or threats to our country.”

He said Maliki’s visit to Kurdistan in June helped remove obstacles hindering the normalization of relations between Kurdistan and Baghdad.

Barzani added that “it is true that we have differences, but we also have a constitution, which should be the reference we use to resolve these differences. There is will to resolve all the problems, which gives us optimism and satisfaction, and we are ready for anything that serves the interests of Iraq and Iraqis.”

Maryam Al-Rayyis, a political adviser in Maliki’s office, said: “There is an agreement between Maliki and Barzani that the constitution is the main point of reference, which both sides should use in the event of any difference on any issue.”

Rayyis told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Both sides believe that all sticking issues must be resolved through continuous meetings, in addition to the committees which were formed to establish the priorities and start dealing with the differences, such as Article 140 of the constitution.”

She added: “The federal government has promised to show some flexibility to resolve ongoing issues at all levels. There is also a belief that, if there were any differences regarding the constitution, then there is the Federal Court, which is tasked with explaining the laws and resolving differences on the constitution.”

Rayyis said: “Any agreement signed between the federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government will not be at anyone’s expense because Maliki does not meet Barzani as a leader of a political bloc, but as the prime minister of Iraq.”

A spokesman for the Kurdish Alliance political bloc, Mouayyad Tayyib, said: “Barzani’s visit to Baghdad is important because it comes after a pause of three years, as well as the fact that Barzani is the architect of the Erbil agreement which resulted in the formation of the current government.”

He added: “The Kurdistan region has become important on the world oil and energy map, and there are countries like France, Russia and others waiting for an agreement to be reached between Baghdad and Erbil, to start work in the region, away from threats and intimidation.”

The Kurdish opposition, however, questioned the benefits of the visit. Abdulsattar Majid, a member of the Islamic Group’s [Jama’ah Islamiyah] political bureau—which is part of the opposition in Kurdistan’s regional government—told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We suggested forming a Kurdish negotiation body to lead negotiations with Baghdad on current issues a few months ago. We wanted to end the two ruling parties’ control in the region, and their monopoly on sensitive issues on the relationship between the region and the central government.

“We also wanted that body to be under the jurisdiction of parliament, and to represent all Kurdish forces, in order to give the conflict between Kurdistan and Baghdad a popular dimension, not limit it to a narrow party scope which serves the interests of the two ruling parties only. However, the plan, despite being welcome by both parties, is still dormant, and has been clearly ignored by both ruling parties. Therefore, all meetings and negotiations taking place between the leaders of the two parties with Baghdad come under personal and party interests, and have nothing to do with the interests of the Kurdish people.”