MEI Event: The Dynamics in Iraqi Kurdistan

Hemin Hawrami seated in the center.

On July 8, 2015, the Middle East Institute hosted Hemin Hawrami to discuss the “Dynamics in Iraqi Kurdistan.” Hawrami is a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Leadership Council and the head of its foreign relations office. He has also served in the office of KRG President Barzani from 2004 to 2011, and was an active member in the Kurdistan Students Union from 1989 to 2000. Mr. Hawrami was given twenty minutes to discuss the myriad of issues the Kurdistan Regional Government and the KDP face at the present moment. The presentation began with Mr. Hawrami stating, “ISIS is the symptom of the illness. It is not the illness itself. ISIS is the product of failing states in the Middle East.”

On ISIS and the Peshmerga

When ISIS first began its advance on Iraqi Kurdistan, the KRG began a three phased strategy. The first goal was to stop ISIS, and the KRG has been 100 percent successful in doing, argued Mr. Hawrami. Second, the KRG wanted to roll back ISIS, and they have been largely successful in doing that as well, as the KRG has liberated 20 thousand square meters from ISIS. However, as Mr. Hawrami notes, despite the successes of the Peshmerga, ISIS is still able to gain elsewhere. Mr. Hawrami concluded, “[t]here is no comprehensive strategy to defeat and work in unanimous way to defeat ISIS everywhere.” Moreover, the KRG has lost 2,225 Peshmerga with 7,000 more wounded in the ongoing conflict with ISIS. In addition, the Peshmerga has killed 11,000 ISIS members since August 2013. However, as Mr. Hawrami conclude above, it means very little when ISIS regains that loss in manpower with 10,500 new foreign fighters during that same time. In the end, according to Mr. Hawrami, the KRG needs support to effectively battle ISIS and provide humanitarian relief. Essentially, ISIS is outgunning the Peshmerga and has better access to newer technology and weapons. Similarly, Iraqi Kurdistan is now home to more than 2 million refugees and IDPs. Between June 2014 and August 2015, the Iraqi Kurdistan population rose 28 percent. Of that 28 percent over 80 percent live in the Dohuk and Erbil provinces. The population bomb has increased tension and strain on the host communities. The KRG needs $282 per refugee and IDP to provide services for a month, cited Mr. Hawrami. Baghdad is doing hardly anything to help support the KRG and its own citizens, who are now IDPs inside Kurdistan.

Baghdad and the KRG

“Since 2003, we in Iraqi Kurdistan Region have done our best. We have done our best to have a federal democratic pluralistic constitutional inclusive government and based on power sharing,” argued Mr. Hawrami. Iraq is broken and its not likely it will go back to 2014. The KRG supported Prime Minister Abadi, and entered into an agreement with him. Abadi promised to undo all of the wrongs under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In December 2014, the KRG and Abadi settled the oil issues between them. Unfortunately, the Abadi government has not lived up to expectations and agreements not only with the KRG, but also with the Sunnis.

Essentially, the KRG agreed to ship 250 thousand barrels of oil from Kurdistan and 400 thousand from Kirkuk to Baghdad. In return, the KRG was expected to receive 17 percent of the Iraqi budget, plus the budget for the Peshmerga. The Iraqi government has failed to live up to that agreement, stated Mr. Hawrami. In May the KRG shipped more oil than agreed upon, about a billion dollars worth of oil and only received around 40 million in return.

Baghdad has claimed it does not have the money to send to Iraqi Kurdistan. However, they have money to support the ‘Popular Mobilization’ forces. There are over 150 militia groups operating inside Iraq. Some of them are well known, and have a command structure. Baghdad pays each member of these militias $800 a month.

“Baghdad must be committed, if not please do not interfere with efforts by Kurdistan to fill their own financial responsibilities towards our citizens, and refugees and IDPs and towards the continuous war with ISIS,” said Mr. Hawrami.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD)

Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, the KRG has had a consistent policy. The KRG has tried to unify the Syrian Kurds, hosting them, supporting them diplomatically and even militarily. They want the Kurds in Syria to have their own agenda, and not be part of the Iranian, Turkey, or a Syrian agenda.

Barzani hosted the different political groups, the KRG monitored the negotiations between the PYD and the other Kurdish political groups. The PYD has not lived up to the Erbil I agreement in 2012, the Erbil II agreement in 2013, nor the Dohuk Agreement 2014. That is the agreement to a joint administration, joint military force, and also to act as one political movement for Syrian Kurds.

Mr Hawrami reiterated the point by saying, “whatever you do, just be united,” and continued a bit later in the closing moments of the presentation with, “[o]ur policy is consistent, we don’t want to copy and paste the Iraqi Kurdistan experience on Syrian Kurdistan. We don’t interfere with their own affairs, but we want their unity.”

Originally published at on July 9, 2015.