Baghdad in secret talks to resolve crisis with Kurds, says Iraq MP

Revelation comes amid international pressure to restore ties through negotiations

Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), speaks during a press conference in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, on November 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED

Iraq's government has been holding secret talks with leaders from the Kurdish region to resolve the crisis triggered by its independence referendum, a member of Iraq's parliament said.

Kamel Al Zaydi, an MP from the State of Law coalition, said prime minister Haider Al Abadi had "established a secret committee headed by instrumental political figures to negotiate with the Kurds on the referendum crisis".

"The negotiations are advancing rapidly and an announcement is going to be made," Mr Al Zaydi told the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

Relations between the central government and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) deteriorated after it went ahead with a referendum on independence for the semi-autonomous region. The September 25 vote saw an overwhelming response in favour of secession but was rejected by Baghdad as illegal.

Mr Al Zaydi was a member of a parliamentary committee set up to try to convince Kurdish leaders not to go ahead with the independence referendum.

His revelation about the secret talks comes amid international calls for Baghdad and the regional government in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, to begin negotiations on resolving their differences under the Iraqi constitution.

“If all sides work towards the same goal, while protecting the unity of the country and the constitutional system, Iraq could possibly overcome the major challenges it has faced,” German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Thursday.

The KRG said on Tuesday that it would respect a ruling by Iraq's federal court against its push for independence. “We believe that this decision must become a basis for starting an inclusive national dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad to resolve all disputes,” the Kurdish government said.

France immediately welcomed the move. A statement issued by the French foreign minister also called for talks to begin and praised the UN’s efforts in reducing tensions.

The United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres said the UN shared the Kurdish government's view that "outstanding issues between Baghdad and Erbil should be resolved by peaceful means through political negotiations based on the constitution of the republic of Iraq".

"I am encouraged by the fact that the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan regional government have publicly expressed openness to such negotiations on several occasions," Mr Guterres said in a letter delivered to Kurdish prime minister Nechirvan Barzani on Wednesday.

“A further destabilisation of the current situation must be prevented, in the interests of promoting national reconciliation, fostering greater stability in a volatile region and confronting the threat that ISIL continues to pose."

Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump's special envoy to the anti-ISIL coalition, Brett McGurk, also touched on the Kurdish issue during a meeting with Mr Al Abadi on Wednesday.

Kurdish politicians have also called for talks to begin as soon as possible.

"We call on Iraq to not waste any more time and to starts talks with the Kurdish regional government and to avoid the language of threat," said Jaafar Emnini, deputy speaker of the Kurdish parliament.

Begard Talabani, secretary of the regional parliament, warned that Kurds would "withdraw from the political process in Iraq" if Baghdad refused to start talks with the region.

The central government responded to the referendum by halting all international flights in and out of the Kurdish region and later launched a military operation that recaptured the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other areas that lie outside of region's borders but are claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil.