Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 16
Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 16 March 30, 2012- April 5, 2012
KRG President Massoud Barzani Visits Washington
Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani met with senior White House officials in Washington on April 4. Discussions focused on defining what Vice President Joseph Biden termed as a “special relationship” between the U.S. and Kurds during his visit to Arbil last December. The day before the meeting, President Obama telephoned Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to congratulate him on the previous week’s Arab League summit in Baghdad, to emphasize continued U.S. support for a unified Iraq, and to say that he supported Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s initiative for a national conference to address continued political differences. The call was also likely intended to reassure Maliki ahead of the Barzani meeting.
Barzani met with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at the State Department in the morning, and was greeted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. During a working lunch and follow-on discussions, Biden and Barzani discussed a variety of topics, including the need for the Kurds to maintain their involvement in Baghdad. Obama stopped by the afternoon meeting to join the discussions.
Hashemi Makes Official Trip to Qatar
Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi arrived in Doha, Qatar on Sunday, April 1, on what he and the Qataris—but not Baghdad— termed an official visit. The Iraqi government wants Hashemi on charges of terrorism, and he fled to the Kurdish region in December. Many view the charges as politicized, and the Iraqi parliament has not officially removed him from his post. Hashemi is scheduled to be tried in absentia beginning on May 3. The reasons for the timing of the visit are uncertain. With most of the KRG senior leadership in Washington, Hashemi may have felt nervous remaining in the KRG in the absence of his hosts.
The Maliki government strongly criticized the move and demanded that Qatar hand Hashemi over for prosecution. Qatar rejectedthe demand, and Qatari State Minister for Foreign Affairs Khaled al-Attiyah explained that “diplomatic norms and the post of
Hashemi prevent Qatar from doing such a thing.” Hashemi continued his travels on Wednesday, April 4, with a visit to Riyadh, where he met with the Saudi foreign minister. Hashemi maintains that he will return to Iraq at the end of his tour and that he had flown out of Iraq with the consent of the Iraqi Aviation Authority.
National Reconciliation Meeting Postponed Indefinitely
Plans to hold a national reconciliation conference fell apart this week amid a deepening political crisis. Last week, Talabani announced the conference would be held on April 5, one week after the Arab League Summit. Iraqi Vice President Khudar al-Kuzaie, a Maliki ally, had hosted preparatory committee meetings ahead of the planned summit, but these meetings were suspended as talks broke down. Senior Iraqiyya leader and Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi announced on Wednesday that national conference was postponed indefinitely “due to mounting differences.” Iraqiyya Member of Parliament Ahmed al-Misari blamed Maliki’s State of Law coalition for reneging on agreements reached during previous preparatory committee meetings. Iraqiyya and the Kurds have also sharpened their criticism of Maliki’s centralization of power and unwillingness to implement power-sharing agreements.
Baghdad and Arbil Continue to Argue Over Oil Exports
The battle between the federal government and the Kurdish Regional Government over oil exports and revenues continued this week. On Sunday, the KRG announced it would follow through on last week’s threat to halt oil exports because the federal government hasn’t been paying firms operating in the region. Iraq Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussein al-Shahristani responded by accusing the Kurds of attempting to damage the federal budget by denying it of as much as $3 billion in revenue and of smuggling oil out of the region, primarily to Iran. Kurdish Alliance MP and member of the Commission on Oil and Gas Farhad Atrushi countered on Tuesday that the Iraqi Oil Ministry had been smuggling more than 15,000 barrels per day of crude oil to Israel via Jordan, claiming that “senior Iraqi officials” had been arrested in Jordan for this reason. Atrushi’s accusations subsequently prompted legal threats from Shahristani. Seeking to avert a serious break between Baghdad and Arbil in light of these allegations, Kurdish Alliance MPs in Baghdad called for the KRG to resume oil exports from the region as a gesture of goodwill towards the federal government on Wednesday. A spokesman said that the resumption of exports would serve to prevent others from exploiting the issue “as a pretext to inflame public opinion against the province.”
For a comprehensive look at the first two months since U.S. troops left Iraq, read Ramzy Mardini's backgrounder, " Iraq's Recurring Political Crisis." To read a transcript from the Feb. 29 event "Policing Iraq," click here, and to read a transcript from the Feb. 16 event "Iraq After the U.S. Withdrawal," click here. To read past and future weekly updates, click here.