Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki has called for early parliamentary elections to coincide with the scheduled provincial polls next April, a solution he said he prefers to “sectarian conflict” and “division”. He warned that Turkey was planning to divide Iraq through the Kurdistan Region.
The statements came during an interview with Iraqi Al-Sumaria TV on 30 December, in which he spoke about a host of issues including the latest protests in the Sunni Anbar province, Baghdad’s ongoing security problems with the Kurdistan Region and what he described as Turkey’s “interference” in the Kurdistan Region.
He said the disputed areas will be protected by joint Kurdish and Iraqi forces once an agreement is reached to that effect.
“There are four options for Iraq’s crisis,” Al-Maliki said. The first two are either to plunge into a “sectarian conflict” or to “divide the country”.
But he added that these two options were totally “rejected” and that he was fully behind a third option which is to hold early parliamentary elections.
“In April the provincial election will be held. We can hold the parliamentary elections simultaneously; so we can end this parliament, end this government and this presidency and have a new presidency, new parliament, and new government within a new framework, which will reshuffle the posts, whereby some will go up and others go down.”
“This is the option which we support”, he said, and “it is the best solution for the Iraqi crisis”.
A fourth one would be to sit around the negotiating table to have “realistic and objective” talks based on the constitution.
He said the Sunni protesters’ demands need to be realistic if they want the government to take them seriously.
The current negotiations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), he said, were only on the issue of security. Relations between the two sides have been dogged by several outstanding issues, including disputes over oil, land and budget.
The talks come amid high tensions between Baghdad and the KRG. Al-Maliki’s decision to set up the Tigris Operations Command in the Kirkuk region with a view to taking full security responsibility in the area and following a small clash in mid November in a town south of Kirkuk led both sides to deploy extra armed forces in the region amid emotionally charged rhetoric from Al-Maliki and Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani.
His view was that the disputed areas — which he also at times referred to as “mixed areas” — are outside the Kurdistan Region; hence the presence of the KRG Peshmerga forces there is a “breach”.
He said that unless the Presidency’s bill to rectify the governorate boundaries is approved in parliament, these areas cannot be even considered disputed. But the bill has not even been discussed in the parliament yet.
“Nonetheless, to avoid a crisis and avoid harming the Region, we have agreed to establish — in that strip of land where the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been based — a zone of common security concern, where we will conscript locals, and we will set up checkpoints and security formations. They will control these areas and manage them until they are settled.”
He added that a technical team had thoroughly checked the maps to see how many checkpoints and security centres would be required in those areas.
“But as a first stage, the joint force will be made up of Peshmerga, police and army, until it is possible to recruit locals.”
He said that apart from that nothing is possible and that the Tigris Operations Command, which Kurds have called for its abolition or any other command has nothing to do with this matter.
He argued that other issues such as oil, airports, border need to be resolved in line with the constitution, and the ongoing negotiations concern the security issue only.
He said that “if a conflict erupts this time, it will take an ethnic dimension — that would be difficult to control; for it would not necessarily be a war between two forces, between the army and the Peshmerga, but it could turn into a war between the people. And we do not want that.”
Al-Maliki added he would exert all efforts to avoid an armed conflict, “but if you ask me, indeed the situation was close to erupt into a fully-fledged fight due to some provocations; and were it not to our effort to control it, it would have. But for now I can say that the ghost of war is farther than it was”.
Turkey, Kurdistan and Kirkuk
On Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoga’s recent remarks saying the Iraqi government was sectarian, he said, that Erdogan “talks a lot, and all his talk is provocative”.
“I am certain that Turkey will disintegrate at the hands of this man, and it will fall into pieces and it will hurt the regional security as a whole.”
As regards Turkish oil deals with the Kurdistan Region and a projected pipeline deal between the two in light of a Washington Post report that said these deals could divide Iraq, Al-Maliki said, “There is a plan [to divide Iraq] but it will fail.”
He said that the Turkish policy has put Kurdistan in jeopardy, and it will put Iraq in jeopardy through Kurdistan.
“There are indeed deals; to an extent that the Turkoman brethren [a minority Iraqi ethnic group heavily based in Kirkuk] told us that Turkey had told them not to oppose to the claim that Kirkuk is a Kurdistan city. This is strange and new to Turkish stance vis-a-vis Kirkuk… We will observe and see what the deal is,” he said.
Regarding his meeting with ailing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on 17 December, hours before he was taken ill, and rumours that it was due to an alleged exchange of harsh words with the premier that the president suffered a stroke, Al-Maliki dismissed them by saying that the talk that evening was “generic”.
“It was more about relations, fraternity and the history we share, and that we cannot jeopardize our country for the sake of gambles and gamblers”.
He said Talabani promised him to return the visit.
The 79-year-old Talabani has been in hospital since, first in Baghdad and then in Germany, amid reports he was in a coma after he reportedly suffered a stroke.