The High Committee for Baghdad: Builders or Firefighters?

April 18, 2012

The prime minister’s suggestion for setting up a higher council for relations with Baghdad is an important step in the direction of institutionalizing relations with the center. But it needs to be handled very carefully, as it runs the risk of becoming yet another committee that travels to Baghdad, holds meetings with the various officials, comes back to Kurdistan and holds press conferences before everything returns to as it was and a word from Ashti Hawrami or Hussein Shahristani sets the whole cycle into motion again.

Historically, relations between both capitals were handled that way. Neither city appeared to seriously want to resolve their outstanding issues, and each side has interpreted the lack of progress as a card used against them by the other.

One of the main reasons for this firefighting style of relations is the concentration of the portfolio in the hands of a number of politicians who either have full-time jobs in Erbil or Baghdad or do not want to have anything to do with Baghdad at all.

Even those whose posts are in Baghdad can’t wait for the weekend so they can come back to Erbil. Hence, all talks between the two cities are confined to politicians who are not known for their ability to follow things up in a systematic or institutional manner.

It is important that such a council has political leverage from the ruling and opposition parties, but it is also as important to recognize that politicians alone cannot settle the outstanding issues.

The council should be directed and managed by a number of experts and technocrats who can pursue a correct follow-up and implementation mechanism. In other words, an institution that can act as a safety valve for relations with Baghdad. At the end of the day, the Kurdistan Region relies on the 17.5 percent budget that comes from Baghdad.

One way to achieve this aim is to have a permanent presence in Baghdad in order to guarantee the follow-up and continuity of talks and to also deal with problems as they happen before they are beyond the state of repair. This requires a clear political mandate and an authority that can make decisions and speak on behalf of the Kurdistan Region to the public.

Solving the problems with Baghdad within the framework of the constitution should be a separate issue from the politics of the day. It should be done in a process supported by and independent of the political parties.

The setup of the council with the correct composition and mechanism of work can turn the process of settling the outstanding issues with Baghdad from sporadic and moody firefighting into a professional building process, independent of the statements of Ashti Hawrami or Hussein Shahristani.

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