A leaked letter allegedly sent by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masrour Barzani to US President Joe Biden warns of a looming crisis between the KRG and the central government in Baghdad, and expresses grave concerns about the possible collapse of the Kurdistan Region.
The letter, revealed by Al-Monitor’s Amberin Zaman, is dated 3 September and was reportedly delivered to the White House last Sunday.
In his letter to Biden, Barzani stated, “I write to you now at another critical juncture in our history, one that I fear we may have difficulty overcoming. …[W]e are bleeding economically and hemorrhaging politically”. He went on to stress that this situation could lead to the collapse of the federal Iraqi model that the United States has supported since 2003.
Barzani further appealed to President Biden, believing that the United States still had considerable influence in Baghdad and could help defuse the crisis.
At the time of writing, the Biden administration has not publicly responded to Barzani’s letter.
The KRG issued a swift denial within hours of Al-Monitor’s story. In a strongly worded statement, Aso Haji, deputy head of the regional government’s media and information office, called the article “far from the truth” and accused it of being part of a broader agenda against the Kurdish people and their government.
Tensions between Erbil and Baghdad have mainly revolved around issues such as budget allocations, oil sales and disputed territories.
The recent outbreak of violence in Kirkuk, an oil-rich province, added to the urgency of the situation. Clashes between Kurds and Arabs, allegedly supported by Iran-backed Shiite militia groups, erupted over a court decision regarding Iraq’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) reclaiming its headquarters in the regional capital. The violence resulted in the death of four Kurds and the eventual intervention of federal forces.
The Kurdistan Region has been grappling with economic challenges due to Baghdad’s reluctance to allocate the agreed-upon share of Iraq’s budget to the Kurds. This has left the regional government struggling to pay its public sector employees, who are owed $625 million every month.
Furthermore, disputes over oil sales, especially those made without the central government’s consent, have strained relations. An international court of arbitration ruled in Baghdad’s favour, imposing a hefty fine on Turkey for its role in facilitating Kurdish oil exports. As a result of this, Turkey halted the flow of Kurdish crude, leading to significant revenue losses for the KRG.
The KRG agreed to make concessions in negotiations with Baghdad, but the central government has failed to uphold its end of the bargain. “Our goodwill in agreeing to market our oil through the federal government in return for a just share of the federal budget has been blatantly forsaken”, lamented Barzani, according to Al-Monitor.