Kurds vow to play hardball on grievances in efforts to reach Iraqi political consensus

Analysis: once kingmakers of Iraqi politics, the Kurds have a long list of demands

Kurdish peshmerga fighters near the Mosul Dam in Northern Iraq yesterday following itsrecapture  from Islamic extremists. Photograph: Lynsey Addario/The New York Times

Kurdish peshmerga fighters near the Mosul Dam in Northern Iraq yesterday following itsrecapture from Islamic extremists. Photograph: Lynsey Addario/The New York Times

Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 01:00

The threat of Iraq’s collapse has forced conciliatory tones from the country’s Sunni and Shia Arab populations – but the Kurds, once the kingmakers of Iraqi politics, are vowing to play hardball.

Prime minister designate Haider al-Abadi has 20 days left to put together a cabinet, and foreign powers are pressing for a national unity government that can bring Iraq’s main parties together and slowly heal divisions along sectarian and ethnic lines.

The race to reach the political consensus Iraq needs to unlock greater foreign and internal support for its fight against Islamic State fighters (formerly known as Isis) takes place as its army, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Shia militias separately battle to contain the territorial gains made by the group in a lightning offensive this summer.

The list of grievances and demands of Iraq’s Kurds and Sunnis, who feel they were discriminated against and sidelined by former premier Nouri al- Maliki, is endless and some politicians say they expect some 300 to 400 laws to be amended, issued or abolished.

Despite needing military support from the US – and occasionally even Baghdad itself – to fend off an Islamic State advance into their semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq, Kurdish officials say their hand in negotiations is still strong.

Difficult test Roj Nuri Shawes, a senior Kurdish statesman and Iraq’s outgoing deputy prime minister, said

Abadi faces a “difficult test” to ease Kurdish wariness of his ruling Shia party and secure their support, and cited a long list of Kurdish demands.

“We need to solve these problems before we enter a new government – or have a road map for the solution put in place before we accept to form a government,” he said.

Other Kurdish officials waved the secession card: “The government isn’t in a place to put conditions on anyone . . . If they don’t accept our legal, constitutional and just demands, we have other options,” said former Kurdish negotiator Adel Nouri.

Most crucially, the Kurds are eager to get back eight months of budget revenue Maliki withheld over a dispute on oil exports. They want a modified oil and gas law that would allow independent Kurdish exports. And they want Baghdad to help fund their peshmerga forces, who, despite setbacks, are still more intact than Iraq’s army, which melted away during Islamic State’s June blitz.

Iraq’s Sunnis have a different set of demands. They want Abadi to give them a greater share in Iraq’s Shia-dominated political and legal branches. They are also demanding an amnesty for tens of thousands of Sunnis arrested without trial, the formation of militias to help fight Islamic State and a pledge for greater Sunni self-rule in a more regionalised federal system.

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