Iraq: Central Government Reaches Preliminary Agreement with KRG
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the Iraqi central government and Kurdish leaders had come to a preliminary agreement regarding authority in the disputed areas of northern Iraq. He indicated that security units will be formed from local ethnic and sectarian groups to replace Iraqi and Kurdish forces currently in these disputed areas. The relationship between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the central government in Baghdad is extremely tenuous, particularly in resource-rich Kirkuk. Kurdish president Massoud Barzani condemned the recent formation of the Tigris Operations Command and its deployment in Kirkuk as an “illegal, unconstitutional and provocative act” which contributes to an expansionist government policy. Halgurd Hikmat, media director of the Kurdish Peshmerga ministry, said last week that defense ministry officials in Baghdad refused a 14-point peace proposal by the KRG. Many Iraqi Shia clerics, including Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have issued fatwas prohibiting the Iraqi government from fighting the Kurds. Sistani called on Prime Minister Maliki to “be patient and refrain from pushing Iraqis into any bloody conflict, which would only harm the people.”
The Iraqi government has also been at odds with Turkey over that country’s increasingly close relationship with the KRG. Iraq turned back a plane on December 4 which was carrying Turkey’s energy minister Taner Yildiz to a conference in the Iraqi Kurdish territory. ”They make formal visits without permission of the central government,” said Ali al-Musawi, media adviser to Prime Minister Maliki. In a change of rhetoric, Maliki told Turkish paper Hurriyet, “Despite all the problems, we want good dialogue with Turkey. I am extending an olive branch from here.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and acting Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dlimi signed a memorandum of understanding in an effort to strengthen security cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq. The memorandum includes provisions for high-level military-to-military visits, professional military education cooperation, counterterrorism cooperation and the development of defense intelligence capabilities over the next five years.