New Kurdish PM makes Baghdad ties priority over independence

Masrour Barzani swears-in as prime minister of Kurdistan in the Parliament in Irbil, Iraq, on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 10 July 2019

New Kurdish PM makes Baghdad ties priority over independence

  • Iraqi Kurdistan has a new regional government with Masrour Barzani as new prime minister

IRBIL: Two years after a failed independence bid plunged Iraq’s Kurdistan Region into months of instability, the new regional prime minister said his priority was strengthening ties with Baghdad, signaling dreams of self-rule should be put on hold.

Masrour Barzani, sworn in as regional prime minister on Wednesday, told Reuters in an exclusive interview that under his leadership, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s focus would be to establish a “strong and constructive” relationship with Baghdad, leaving the question of independence aside for now.

“This (independence referendum) happened in the past and it’s a reflection of the enduring aspiration of a nation,” said Barzani, speaking at his palace in the hillside village of Salaheddine, near regional capital Irbil.

“However, the focus of my government will be how to build a stronger relationship and partnership with Baghdad,” he said, adding he would look to fix “those issues that were actually keeping us apart.”

The independence bid was led by Barzani’s father Masoud, who stepped down as Kurdish president in 2017 after the referendum backfired and prompted a military offensive from Baghdad.

At stake for the new premier are long-running disputes over independent oil exports, revenue sharing, security, and territory which have plagued ties between Irbil and Baghdad since a US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Barzani was instrumental in orchestrating the September 2017 referendum, which was held over the objections of Baghdad and regional powers. It was seen as the culmination of years of oppositional politics by the semi-autonomous region.

The backlash was swift and pushed the country to the brink of civil war, threatening to undo the years of unprecedented autonomy the region had enjoyed. Relations eventually improved, cemented by a change of government in both capitals.

A ‘win-win situation’

The region’s oil exports have long been a source of contention with Baghdad. The Kurds, who control Iraq’s only northern pipeline, had been exporting oil independently since 2013. Exports were restarted in 2018, after a year-long freeze amid post-referendum disputes.

As part of the 2018 and 2019 budgets, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) agreed to send 250,000 barrels per day (bpd) to federal authorities in exchange for Baghdad paying civil servants’ salaries.

However, Iraqi officials, including the prime minister, complain that the KRG has not kept up its end of the bargain, having not sent a single barrel to Baghdad.

Barzani said negotiations on oil and gas were already underway and he sees room for “quick progress” on the file.

FASTFACT

At stake for the new premier are long-running disputes over independent oil exports, revenue sharing, security, and territory which have plagued ties between Irbil and Baghdad since a US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“There is great potential for a win-win situation,” he said. “Working together in cooperation with each other, we can increase the production of oil.” Mutual benefits for both sides is a theme Barzani echoed regarding regional security.

Nearly two years since Iraq declared victory against Daesh militants, the country has seen a deterioration in security in the areas bordering the Kurdistan Region.

Barzani, formerly the region’s security chief, said the threat from Daesh is not yet over. 

The group exploited the rift between the Kurds and Baghdad, he said, who fought side by side to defeat the militant group in 2017.

He is looking to establish a joint security mechanism in the so-called disputed territories, areas claimed by both Baghdad and Irbil, “to close that gap.”

Masrour is the latest Barzani to head the regional government. His father Masoud, himself the son of a veteran Kurdish leader, still holds considerable sway over its politics.

His cousin Nechirvan held the premiership until last month when he was sworn in as president, following a regional parliamentary election in September 2018.

Barzani said winning back hearts and minds was a leading priority, as was tackling graft. 

The Barzanis are one of two families that have dominated regional politics for decades. 

Though they enjoy continued support among their respective bases through extensive patronage networks, their continued grip on power has opened them up to allegations of mismanagement and corruption from voters, many of whom are owed years of back pay from the government.

“I’d like to see reform,” he said. “To make sure that people have more trust in the government.”


Turkey considering quitting treaty on violence against women

Updated 06 August 2020

Turkey considering quitting treaty on violence against women

  • The AKP will decide in the next week whether to initiate legal steps to pull out of the accord

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party is considering whether to pull Turkey out of an international accord designed to protect women, party officials said, alarming campaigners who see the pact as key to combating rising domestic violence.

The officials said the AKP is set to decide by next week whether to withdraw from the deal, just weeks after the vicious murder of a woman by an ex-boyfriend reignited a row over how to curb violence against women.

Despite signing the Council of Europe accord in 2011, pledging to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence and promote equality, Turkey saw 474 femicides last year, double the number seen in 2011, according to a group which monitors murders of women.

Many conservatives in Turkey say the pact, ironically forged in Istanbul, encourages violence by undermining family structures. Their opponents argue that the deal, and legislation approved in its wake, need to be implemented more stringently. The row reaches not just within Erdogan’s AKP but even his own family, with two of his children involved in groups on either side of the debate about the Istanbul Convention.

The AKP will decide in the next week whether to initiate legal steps to pull out of the accord, a senior party official told Reuters.

“There is a small majority (in the party) who argue it is right to withdraw,” said the official, who argued however that abandoning the agreement when violence against women was on the rise would send the wrong signals.

Another AKP official argued on the contrary that the way to reduce the violence was to withdraw, adding that a decision would be reached next week. The argument crystallized last month around the brutal killing of Pinar Gultekin, 27, a student in the southwestern province of Mugla, who was strangled, burned and dumped in a barrel — the latest in a growing number of women killed by men in Turkey.

Opponents of the accord say it is part of the problem because it undermines traditional values which protect society.

“It is our religion which determines our fundamental values, our view of the family,” said the Turkish Youth Foundation, whose advisory board includes the president’s son Bilal Erdogan. It called for Turkey to withdraw from the accord.

“This would really break Turkey away from the civilized world and the consequences may be very severe,” Gamze Tascier, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, told Reuters.

The Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), of which Erdogan’s daughter Sumeyye is deputy chairwoman, rejects that argument. “We can no longer talk about ‘family’... in a relationship where one side is oppressed and subject to violence,” KADEM said.

Many conservatives are also hostile to the principle of gender equality in the Istanbul Convention and see it as promoting homosexuality, given its principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Critics of the bid to withdraw from the pact say it would put Turkey further out of step with the values of the EU, which it has sought to join for decades.

“This would really break Turkey away from the civilized world and the consequences may be very severe,” Gamze Tascier, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, told Reuters.

Turkey would not be the first country to move toward ditching the accord. Poland’s highest court is to scrutinize the pact after a Cabinet member said Warsaw should quit the treaty which the nationalist government considers too liberal.

Turkish women’s groups were set to protest on Wednesday to demand better implementation of the accord, taking to the streets after an online campaign in the wake of Gultekin’s killing where they shared black-and-white selfies on Instagram.

Turkey does not keep official statistics on femicide. World Health Organization data has shown 38 percent of women in Turkey are subject to violence from a partner in their lifetime, compared to about 25 percent in Europe.

The government has taken measures such as tagging individuals known to resort to violence and creating a smartphone app for women to alert police, which has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.