Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat/Reuters—Iraq’s Kurdish political bloc is heading back to Iraqi Kurdistan for a final meeting on Monday to decide whether to participate in the next national government, the Kurds’ top negotiator Hoshyar Zebari told Reuters.
“We are going back today to Suleimaniyah to have a decisive meeting with the Kurdish leaders on the status of the talks and the Kurds’ share of the government,” Zebari said. “The decision will be the Kurds’ final decision either way.”
Zebari, who is also Iraq’s outgoing foreign minister, said the Kurds want to participate in the national government, but until now the National Alliance—the coalition of Iraq’s Shi’ite political majority—has failed to make substantive concessions.
The main sticking point is the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) budget. This year, Baghdad stopped paying for the KRG’s civil servants’ salaries in protest against the Kurds’ exporting oil to Turkey independently.
Baghdad had specified that Kurdistan could only sell its oil through Iraq’s state-owned oil company, SOMO, and said it considered Erbil’s activities tantamount to “smuggling.”
Feriad Rondzi, the spokesperson for the Kurdish delegation in Baghdad, told Asharq Al-Awsat the Kurdish team had put forward a proposal to solve the issue, but this was rejected by the National Alliance.
“Regarding the oil and gas law, the Shi’ite side [the National Alliance] tied this to the issue of the budget and the [Kurdish public sector workers’] wages. They asked the KRG to come up with a solution to this problem,” he said.
“For this reason the KRG put forward a proposal to produce 125,000 barrels per day of crude oil through SOMO in return for a commitment from Baghdad to pay the first batch of dues related to our share of the budget, and an agreement on a clear and specific mechanism to return all the Region’s dues from the budget. But until now they refuse to pay the Region’s dues.”
He continued: “The National Alliance until now does not have a clear vision regarding this issue, and Prime Minister-designate Haider Al-Abadi is not ready to show his good intentions and pay out even just two months’ worth of Kurdish [public sector] employees’ wages, which have been accumulating now in Baghdad for eight months.”
Rondzi added that the team would now be returning to Erbil to draft a report on the meetings for the Kurdish political leadership, and would all meet to decide what the next steps would be in negotiating with Baghdad.
The Kurdish political bloc meeting will take place on Monday afternoon, Zebari said, adding the delegation will return to Baghdad later the same day.
Meanwhile, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters continued their onslaught, attacking a riverside town north of Baghdad on Monday with gunboats and a car bomb, killing 17 people and wounding 54, a security source told Reuters.
The source said the attack on Dhuluiya, around 45 miles (70 kilometers) from the capital, was carried out before dawn and continued for two hours before the militants were pushed back.
Among the dead in the attack, the largest of its kind in the area, were civilians and Iraqi forces. Most of the casualties were caused by the car bomb, which struck a market, the source said.
Dhuluiya is part of a belt of Sunni Muslim towns north of Baghdad where the hardline Sunni Muslim ISIS has managed to wrestle some control, often aligning with local militias who distrust the Shi’ite-led government.
ISIS fighters took advantage of the chaos in Iraq to muscle in and become the dominant force among Sunnis.
US President Barack Obama ordered air strikes in northern Iraq last month as Kurdish-controlled territory fell to ISIS and the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan looked in danger. These have since spread to central Iraq.
A tribal source near the Kurdish city of Kirkuk told Reuters that Iraqi Air Force jets bombed two areas near the town of Hawijah, killing 14 civilians in ISIS-controlled territory.
Additional reporting from Erbil by Dalshad Abdullah.