Barzani vs Maliki

May 31, 2012

The latest crisis between Erbil and Baghdad has been the longest and so far in Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s favor. Since President Massoud Barzani’s Newroz speech, many events have taken place and almost all of them played into Maliki’s hands.

Given the fact that relations between Erbil and Baghdad have always been about a handful of politicians from both sides, conflicts between people or certain individuals involved in the relationship do immediately become conflict between the two cities.

The conflict between Maliki and Barzani took a personal direction. Hence those who are outside the conflict have started to make a list of points the two men scored against each other.

Regardless of the fact that the issues are about the future of Iraq, the difference over the nature of the state to outsiders, the conflict is between the Kurds and Arabs, between the federal and the regional government.

Starting with the most recent event, the 5+1 meeting with Iran over its nuclear program in the Iraqi capital was an important recognition of the fact that Baghdad is a place fit for such meetings. In another word, it meant the rule in Baghdad is not that bad.

The other important event that took place in Baghdad and boosted Maliki’s confidence was the Arab summit. Again it was the recognition of various Arab states of the new Iraq led by Maliki.

Just around the time of the Arab summit, the president of the region left for the US and the message from his trip was “within the framework of Iraq”.

More recently, al-Sabah newspaper reported that the US ambassador to Baghdad James Jeffrey confirmed this by telling a number of reporters that president Obama had said the US support for the Kurds is conditional to them staying inside Iraq.

On the regional level, the Turkish PM made a strong statement against Maliki after his meeting with Barzani last month, but this sparked a strong reaction by Baghdad to the degree of threatening to affect Turkish investment in the south of the country. This made Erdogan to almost backtrack on what he said afterwards.

At the same time Maliki’s visit to Tehran was another win for him.

On Iraq’s political level, although some new figures joined the anti-Maliki camp, they are not confirmed to believe in the Kurdish demands. They are in these alliances to only overthrow Maliki and not meet Kurdish demands.

In addition, the recent interviews and media appearances by both sides have clearly tipped the balance in Maliki’s favor. In the Arab media, Maliki’s message to Iraq’s non-Kurdish public is ‘I am protecting Iraq’s interests and I will not let the Kurds win.’

In the Kurdish media, his message to the Kurds is that he is protecting their wealth and he wants to protect their interests. This media strategy is certainly gaining Maliki a lot of support amongst Arabs and some understanding if not support amongst some Kurds.

Barzani’s message to the media–Kurdish and Arabic–has been a consistent: Baghdad must meet the Kurdish demands. This has naturally rallied the Arab public behind Maliki and even forced some anti-Maliki politicians to side with him when it comes to conflict with Erbil.

Unless Maliki is changed by something radical, it is proving almost pointless to conduct a campaign against him out of Erbil. Every step seems to have made him more confident and Kurdish demands are becoming secondary to whether he should stay or go.

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