In withdrawing from Baghdad, Who is backing the Kurds?

March 13, 2013

By meeting urgently and issuing a statement Iraq’s Kurds, who are part of the coalition government in Baghdad, sent a strong message to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki after he recently forced the budget through parliament. But questions remain over how long and to what extent the Kurdish position will last.

Almost a week before the Kurdish reaction, a delegation led by Iraq’s National Security Advisor Faleh Alfayyadh, who is known to be part of Maliki’s inner circle, met with US Vice President Joe Biden and America’s Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken.

According to the official US statement that followed the meeting Biden, “Expressed the United States’ deep and enduring commitment to the US partnership with Iraq under the US-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement.”

The positive and carefully-worded statement of support should send the Kurds a message that the US is not going to support them if they choose to withdraw from the coalition government. Without US support, the Kurds are left to rely on local neighbors.

But Iran also clearly will not support any move to destabilize Maliki’s Shiite-led government. Tehran will side with Maliki, a fellow Shiite, and pressure the Kurds to go back on their tough stance.

Turkey may support the Kurds over their stance, but that does not seem to hold much clout or have a positive effect on Baghdad. In fact, Ankara’s role has so far been one of complicating relations between Baghdad and Erbil, and trying to settle the issues.

The various statements by Turkish leaders about Iraq (that angered Maliki), the visit of the Turkish foreign minister to Kirkuk and the recent deal with the region over oil, are steps seemingly aimed at distancing Erbil from Baghdad. At the end of the day, a region not at peace with its surroundings is preferred by Turkey, because it will have to rely more and more on Ankara.

Despite the relations that all neighbors and the US have with the Kurdistan Region, their stance on this move may be in favor of Maliki. The US does not want to create kingmakers in Iraq. If the Kurdish stance succeeds in toppling Maliki, Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani will become a kingmaker. This, the US has opposed from the start, privately and sometimes publicly.

Turkey and the Gulf states do not really matter for Iraqi politics because of their ineffectiveness on Baghdad. With every new development, they and the US are becoming less relevant in the politics of the country.

I hope the Kurds have made their calculations well and made a clear gain-loss analysis for the next step, if their intention is to withdraw from the coalition government in Baghdad.

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