Wall Street Journal
by Jay Solomon
Kurdistan’s semiautonomous government is giving Iraq’s new leadership three months to negotiate a new power-sharing agreement with Erbil, or see it move forward with an independence bid, the region’s de facto foreign minister said in an interview.
Such a bid by the Kurdistan Regional Government would pose a major challenge to the Obama administration’s strategy to stabilize Iraq and push back the territorial gains made by the Islamic State terrorist organization in recent months.
The White House has pressed the Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities to unify behind the Islamist militants under new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The U.S. has also made the Kurdish military forces, called the Peshmerga, a cornerstone of its military strategy against Islamic State.
“This is the last opportunity that is there” to forge a power-sharing deal, said Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of the KRG’s Department of Foreign Relations. “Baghdad has the opportunity to show it has the political will, and to show us we are all equal partners.”
The core issues Erbil and Baghdad need to find common ground on include the KRG’s demand to control its oil exports; the funding of the Peshmerga; the status of disputed territories like the Kirkuk region; and the allocation of resources from the central government.
Mr. Abadi, a Shiite politician, has pledged to mend ties with Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish regions after succeeding Nouri al-Maliki, who was accused of pursuing sectarian policies benefiting Iraq’s Shiite majority.
Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials have pressed Mr. Abadi to quickly reach agreement with Erbil and Iraq’s Sunni leaders. But Mr. Bakir said it was too early to tell if the new Iraqi leader would significantly change the policies of his predecessor.
“We have some positive elements,” the Kurdish diplomat said. “These are not issues that are unsolvable.”
Mr. Bakir also pressed the international community to provide the KRG with more heavy weaponry, such as tanks, helicopters and Humvees.
“The needs for being on the offensive are different from being on the defensive,” he said, in between meetings in Washington with State Department, White house and congressional officials.