MER – Procrastination will not work with Kurds

Procrastination will not work with KurdsThe recent oil agreement between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad once again confirms that we are in a new era in Iraq. As often happens, things needed to get worse before they got better in Iraqi politics.

It was nothing less than the loss of sovereignty over large swaths of Sunni territory to the Islamic State (IS) that finally led to a change of government in Baghdad. In that sense it was the IS that put an end to the sectarian and autocratic rule of the Nuri al-Maliki government.

Malikiand#39s shortsighted policies generated major Sunni discontent and significant Kurdish resentment. In fact, most analysts agree that without major Sunni resentment the IS would have never have received local support among Sunni tribes and former regime elements.

Similar dynamics of mutual resentment were at play between the Maliki government and the KRG. As the latter began to sign oil deals on its own and was denied its share of national revenue by the capital, the dynamics between Baghdad and Arbil went from bad to worse.

With Malikiand#39s replacement by a more pragmatic leadership (better late than never) there is now more common sense in the Baghdad-Arbil relationship.Thanks to the recent bilateral agreement, the Kurds will receive their 17 percent share of Iraqand#39s national revenue.

The oil deal between Baghdad and the Kurds also allows the Kurds to ship a considerable volume — 550,000 barrels per day — through a dedicated pipeline that they opened up in the beginning of the year to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. In exchange, Baghdad will resume paying the Kurds 17 percent of the state budget, in addition to funding the peshmergaAt first sight, this is a good development for Turkey.

The winners in the deal include foreign oil companies that have flocked to Kurdistan in recent years (and abandoned Iraq proper) because of better contract terms. Until now, it was not clear how ExxonMobil, Chevron, Total and Genel Energy would legally export their oil.

Now the deal legalizes oil exports from Kurdistan and eases Turkeyand#39s concerns. All year, the US and Baghdad vigorously threatened potential and actual buyers of more than 20 million barrels of Kurdish crude oil shipped furtively on tankers out of Ceyhan.

On the other hand, from a strategic point of view, the fact that Arbil is improving its relations with Baghdad also has a downside for Turkey. With Baghdad back in the picture the Kurds are no longer beholden to Turkish interests.

Add to this picture the fact that the US and Iran are providing military supplies to the KRG in the fight against the IS.All these new developments clearly illustrate that the context is changing and a new strategic environment is rapidly emerging.

In this new context, Arbil has more options and Turkey is paying a price for its reluctance to support the Kurds against the IS.Beyond these external dynamics, Turkey is also paying a high price for dragging its feet at home in the stalled Kurdish peace process.

There is a palpable sense of polarization in the country. One dimension of the problem is the autocratic style of government in Ankara and growing public frustration in larger segments of the urban middle class.

The second dimension of polarization is fueled by the gap between what the Kurdish political movement is demanding and what Ankara is willing to offer This gap became all the more evident during the governmentand#39s handling of Kobani with total disregard for Kurdish sensitivities at home and beyond.The frustration of the Kurdish community in Turkey brought the country to the brink of chaos, and mayhem was avoided thanks to the intervention of Abdullah calan.

But calanand#39s political capital is diminishing as rapidly as is the patience of the Kurdish street in Turkey.In short, the time of reckoning is fast approaching for Ankara Less talk and more concrete steps are needed in the direction of decentralization and genuine political and cultural reforms.

The peace process at home and the strategic partnership with Arbil are under unprecedented strain. Procrastination with the Kurds will no longer work.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman