Representative from the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Hemen Hawrami, led discussions in London about issues facing his party and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Hawrami explained that as the largest party in the Kurdistan political process, the KDP has played a vital role in the success achieved by the KRG; Since 2005 Iraqi Kurdistan has become a well developed, constitutional part of Iraq. The region is regarded as safe and secure and there has been an increase in foreign investment, income per capita and a fall in unemployment.
The KRG believe the main challenge facing Iraqi Kurdistan is from interference from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who they believe wants central control of all of Iraq from Baghdad. The KRG advocate a democratic, pluralistic Iraq, but claim that the central government are not moving the country in that direction. Instead, the Kurds see the Iraqi government becoming centralised and more authoritarian under Maliki. Increasingly the Kurds are feeling less and less that they are being treated as federal partners in the government of Iraq.
There are further issues surrounding the repatriation of the Kirkuk province. The KDP want to return the Kurds and Turqmen who were removed from Kirkuk by the Ba’ath Party. The KDP also want to remove the Arabs that were sent in to ‘Arabise’ the region, a process Hawrami called “normalisation”. However a major stumbling block is the cost the ‘normalisation’; Hawrami claims that it is going to cost an estimated $1.5 billion, but the Iraqi government is only willing to contribute $150 million. Ultimately the KDP hope that the original people of Kirkuk should then be the ones who decide their political future, they believe that a referendum in Kirkuk is vital for people so that they can decide if they want to be Kurd, autonomous, or Iraqi.
There are further issues between the KRG and Baghdad over oil production. The KRG maintains that the oil of Iraq belongs to all Iraqis, but they hope that any new oil fields should be run by the territories they are found in, in coordination with the federal government. Despite fears that Baghdad will try to maintain control over any new oil fields the KRG has passed its own law to make Iraqi Kurdistan capable of producing all its own oil - estimated to be 275,000 barrels of oil a year. Under the oil revenue sharing agreement, 83% of the oil revenue in Kurdistan currently goes to the Iraqi government, but the KRG would like to have control over any new oilfields in the Kurdish zone.
A final key point of friction between Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad is related to the make up the security forces in Iraq. The KRG stress that they are eligible to have their own security forces as part of Iraq’s defence system. Currently the armed Kurdish fighters, the Peshmerga, have been responsible for security of the Kurdish areas of Northern Iraq since the American led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Despite this the Iraqi government refuses to recognise them as part of the Iraqi defence system. As a result Baghdad does not contribute substantially to the cost of upkeep this force, even though they have been securing large stretches of the Northern Iraqi border for a number of years.
The KDP also has concerns over the ethnic makeup of the Iraqi military - Currently out of 14 divisions in the national army, there is only one Sunni division and one Kurdish division. Hawarmi, and the KDP, worry about the lack of balance and fear that the Iraqi military may not treating Iraqi Kurdistan as friendly. With that in mind the KRG cannot support any plans for funding the Iraqi military until there is a grantee that the military will not be used for internal conflict.
Hawarmi also spoke at length about the current situation in Syria. With more than 2 million Kurds in Syria, any decisions affecting Syria’s Kurdish population affects Iraqi Kurdistan. Hawarmi stressed that the KRG believed in the importance of system change rather than regime change. The KRG believe Syria needs a pluralistic, secular and democratic system. The KRG support the Syrian Kurds’ dream of autonomy, but urges them to be realistic, stating that autonomy can only realistically be achieved within the confines of the territorial integrity of Syria.
Finally Hawarmi discussed the improving relations with Turkey; Turkish companies continue to invest in Kurdistan and there are now more than 1000 Turkish companies operating in Iraqi Kurdistan, eclipsing the sizable investment of Iranian and British firms. The KDP hoped the Turkish based armed separatist group, the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, could “silence their arms” and engage in a peaceful political campaign. In the future it is hoped that President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, will hold national conference for all Kurds promote democratic and civil movement and denounce violence.