Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) head of foreign relations said on Saturday that the autonomous region’s links with foreign states remained strong, despite worsening tensions with the Iraqi federal government.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, the head of the KRG’s Department of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa said: “Our ties with the Arab world are very good,” adding that the region’s policies and positions have been met with “worldwide understanding.”
Erbil’s recent attempts to export oil independently of the federal government has infuriated Baghdad, which has responded by suspending transfers of the autonomous region’s share of the national budget, and blocking payment of salaries for public sector workers in the region.
So far, neither side seems willing to compromise, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki remains preoccupied with the crisis in Iraq’s restive province Anbar and attempts to form a new government after April’s parliamentary elections.
Despite the growing tensions, Mustafa said the KRG’s relative stability compared to the rest of Iraq had allowed it to improve its international links.
“There is a significant progress in our ties with Arab countries. The political stability and security in the region, the policy of openness adopted by the KRG and the development in Kurdistan are proof of reaching out to Arab countries,” he said.
“There are now 31 foreign consulates and missions in Kurdistan in addition to the many offices of Arab and international airlines,” the Kurdish official added. “There are [also] countries that intend to set up consulates in the region, a thing which will help consolidate the relationship between Kurdistan and the world.”
Responding to a question about the US position on Kurdistan’s decision to export oil, particularly after Washington said it would not support such a step without the approval of Baghdad, Mustafa said: “The Kurdish–US relations are historic. We were together in the process of liberating Iraq and worked together in drafting the country’s constitution . . . It is normal that differences in opinions and positions exist between the two sides.”
Mustafa also placed much of the blame on the breakdown in relations on Baghdad, saying: “We have tried all ways to reach a solution with Baghdad, and the US has tried to mediate between us, but Baghdad refused because it lacks the political will needed for solving the problem.”
However, despite claims that foreign ties remained strong, Mustafa criticized the international community’s lack of response to what he said was the Iraqi federal government’s “economic war on [the KRG].”