From a Tale of Two Cities to a Soap Opera

December 3, 2013

The recent debacle over the Kurdish pipeline to Turkey and the argument over whether or not the Kurdistan Region’s move to begin direct oil exports was constitutional is set to intensify.

Soon, we will see strong statements from Baghdad. That will be reciprocated by Erbil, with either more contracts or stronger statements.

Then, the politicians will start making contacts that will lead to a summit either in Erbil or Baghdad. At the press conference that will follow, both sides will be full of nice words for each other and will decide on committees to either study the points of difference or start a round of negotiations that will fade within a week or two of the summit.

Does this sound familiar? Yes.

This is not analysis. It is becoming a recurring pattern in the relations between Erbil and Baghdad. So far, all major issues that evoke passions on both sides have gone through this cycle, and none was resolved in a fundamental way.

This is probably why the federal parliament can never make any real progress in legislating to settle these issues. The Hydrocarbon Law is a very good example. The absence of legislation that translates the constitutional principles into a legal, economic and technical reality is the main reason for this recurring cycle. And it is very clear that the differences between Baghdad and Erbil are not purely over the legal, technical or economic details of any step taken by the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The reason the two sides are not reaching a common understanding over these issues is because there are fundamental differences in vision, sense of purpose and direction. Neither side has made much effort to try and gap these differences and defuse the source of tensions between Erbil and Baghdad.

Many observers, including the writer of this article, have said in the past that this issue can only be solved if the relationship between Erbil and Baghdad is expanded to go beyond the handful of politicians from both cities, who normally kick up a crisis and then settle it after a while, without adding any clarity to the legal and constitutional status of either party.

Laws are normally passed to reduce gray areas and clarify things for the parties to any issue. But for laws to regulate hydrocarbons and other issues with Baghdad, one needs more than politicians engaging in debate and discussion. Right now, the circle of the federal and regional debate is very small. It includes politicians and a few others.

For this reason, the pipeline deal and many similar issues will not be the first — and certainly not the last — crisis between Erbil and Baghdad.

Hence, the outstanding issues will be deferred to the next parliament and they will be a very rich topic for the next election campaigns both in Baghdad and Erbil.

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