Kurdish airport debacle close to resolution

Baghdad and Erbil will soon announce final agreement over control of airports and borders, which, as expected, will revert to the central government.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi  said, “Inshallah, we will pay the region’s salaries and reopen the airports before Nowruz [Persian New Year on March 21].”

The pending agreement will place security of the Erbil and Sulaimaniyah airports with Iraq’s Ministry of Interior and National Intelligence Services. The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority would continue its management of the airport, probably with some engagement of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials.

The government of Iraq closed the Kurdistan Region’s airports on Sept. 29 in response to the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum. Last month, Baghdad extended the ban on the airports until May, although Abadi has since granted permission for flights to the umrah in Saudi Arabia,  in addition to signaling that a final agreement on control of the airports and borders may be imminent.

Abadi added in remarks March 7 that Baghdad would only pay “a portion” of KRG salaries, because the Kurdistan Region exports approximately 300,000 barrels of oil per day, about 10% of all Iraqi exports. The government of Iraq will conclude an audit of KRG ministries prior to issuing payments.

The pending deal on the airports follows a March 4 vote by the Iraqi Council of Representatives (parliament) to reduce the Kurdistan Region’s percentage of the Iraqi federal budget from 17% to 12.5%. The country’s total general budget of approximately $88 billion did not include funding for the Iraqi peshmerga. Iraqi Kurdish parliamentarians boycotted the vote.

To reduce or modify the budget, the government would have to propose another law to the parliament. Only then could Kurds negotiate again to amend the law or reach other solutions, such as the prime minister cutting expenditures to address the KRG budget deficit. Iraq’s always contentious budget deliberations have occurred amid discontent over taxes and perceptions of nepotism.  International Monetary Fund concerns about the Iraqi budget, both the revenues allotted to the Kurdistan Region and the cuts in taxes, may place $5 billion in loans on hold until after the Iraqi elections in May.

This article first appeared in Al Monitor


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