London, Asharq Al-Awsat- As relations between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish leaders witness tension against the background of developments in Khanaqin and Kirkuk, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, traveled to Al-Najaf on Thursday to brief the Shiite religious authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, on the Kurdish viewpoint of these developments.
At a two hours meeting at Al-Sistani’s headquarters, Salih stressed “the Kurdish party’s commitment to the plan of a federal democratic Iraq and to the Constitution for which the majority of the Iraqi people voted.”
In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Salih explained the reasons for his visit to Al-Najaf, saying: “I explained the viewpoint of the Kurdish leadership on the latest political developments and on the security situation in Iraq. I also explained some of the developments in Khanaqin and Kirkuk.” According to Kurdish sources, Barham’s decision to visit Al-Sistani was prompted by the keenness of the Kurdish leadership to explain its viewpoint to Al-Najaf’s Shiite religious authority because of the recent “tense stances” in the Iraqi arena. They noted that for the past two weeks the Iraqi government and the Kurdish leadership have been negotiating to solve pending issues, like the future of Kirkuk and the disputed areas, but have not reached tangible results beyond agreement on calming the situation in Khanaqin. Salih said: “I briefed Al-Sayyid Al-Sistani on some of the developments in the situation in Khanaqin and Kirkuk which led to some frenzied stances and problems. I stressed the Kurdish view that these problems must be solved by resorting to the Constitution and by honoring the text and spirit of the Constitution.”
Discussing Al-Sistani’s response to the Kurdish position, Salih said: “Al-Sistani stressed the necessity for dialogue among Iraqis, national unity, and putting dialogue above any other means.” He added: “Al-Sistani emphasized his deep concern for a cohesive Iraqi national position on such crises and for solving problems inline with the Constitution and law.” On the possibility of the Shiite religious authority’s mediating between Baghdad and Arbil, Salih said: “There is no doubt that throughout history the Shiite religious authorities have played a [positive] role in cementing the unity of the Iraqi people.” He added: “We will never forget the [supportive] position of the Shiite religious authorities on the Kurdish people’s national demands. Al-Sistani adopts a moderate and wise stand on these issues. We thought it appropriate to explain to him some of our concerns and viewpoints while underlining that a solution to these problems must be made by Iraqis and according to the Constitution.”
Both sides also discussed the local elections amid questions about the possibility of holding the elections in the absence of accord on the new election law. Salih said: “We stressed the importance of freedom for the Iraqi citizen to elect whomever he wants and underlined the need to abide by the Constitution which guarantees every citizen the freedom to take part in the provincial council elections and secures continuity of the constitutional process.” Salih however declined to discuss the details of ayatollah Al-Sistani’s stand on the forthcoming elections. He said: “I do not want to delve into details.” Regarding Al-Sistani’s views of the security agreement that Baghdad and Washington intend to sign, Salih said: “Al-Sistani said that this issue concerns the Iraqi government which is expected to safeguard Iraq’s sovereignty and ensures Iraq’s interest in any stand it takes.”