Master of soft diplomacy: how President Barzani showed Baghdad the problem.. and the solution

Master of soft diplomacy: how President Barzani showed Baghdad the problem.. and the solution

Shafaq News/ Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani's recent trip to Baghdad wasn't just about exchanging information or engaging in public political spats – often unproductive tactics. In fact, in this endeavor, the president of the Kurdistan Region showcased his skills as a master of soft diplomacy.

Barzani's presence in the Iraqi capital channeled a bold commitment to open dialogue. This "established approach," evidenced by his previous visits and regional engagements, prioritizes "direct communication" to address pressing issues frankly. It's a strategy grounded in Barzani's own powerful statement, delivered in May 2023: "Baghdad is the strategic depth of the Kurdistan Region," and the Kurdistan Region's well-being is "intrinsically linked to Iraq's stability."

This understanding was reflected in the importance of Barzani's meetings in Baghdad, particularly with Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, who included representatives from the Kurdistan Region in his recent meetings with US President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Barzani saw this move as a sign of goodwill on the Premier's behalf to tackle outstanding issues with the Regional Government, including oil exports to Turkiye, salary disputes, and shared security concerns.

In a meeting with Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr organization acknowledged the importance of Barzani's visit in strengthening ties between the Kurdistan Region and the federal government. He expressed optimism about the progress being made and praised Barzani's crucial role in setting a date for the Kurdistan Region's parliamentary elections – a complex decision that requires consensus among various parties.

The Presidency of the Kurdistan Region's statements confirmed Barzani's unwavering focus on dialogue and understanding during his meetings. He reiterated the Kurdistan Region's willingness to address problems with the federal government "based on the constitution." He emphasized the fundamental connection between regional security and stability and those of Iraq as a whole.

Barzani's meeting with Faiq Zaidan, the Head of the Supreme Judicial Council, took on particular significance in light of recent Supreme Court decisions regarding minority quotas in the Kurdistan Region's elections. These decisions, considered by many in the Region as a blow to electoral credibility and marginalization, led the Kurdistan Democratic Party to boycott the polls.

Despite these tensions, the president's media office said in a statement that Barzani's priorities are "enhancing cooperation and coordination between the judiciaries of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region" but also said disputes should be "resolved on the basis of the constitution" in a bid to maintain "peace and political stability in the country."

Barzani even overlooked the controversial rulings of the Federal Court and thanked Zaidan for his efforts in tackling national issues and discussing the importance of judicial independence and protecting the rights of all Iraqi citizens.

Even though Prime Minister al-Sudani and President Barzani participated in the meeting of the State Administration alliance, they met separately to discuss issues related to public services and living conditions for Iraqi citizens. Both leaders emphasized the importance of "continuing constructive dialogues on common issues" and collaborating to strengthen the Baghdad-Erbil relationship. Al-Sudani acknowledged Barzani's earlier well wishes for his US visit, and Barzani described the visit as a positive step towards resolving outstanding issues.

Dilshad Shahab, the spokesperson for the Kurdistan Region Presidency, emphasized their commitment to ongoing communication with all parties and the "Presidency's consultative approach," particularly regarding the upcoming Kurdistan Parliament elections.

Barzani's intensive meetings, according to Shahab, included discussions of key topics, including the Kurdistan Region's financial dues, parliamentary elections, regional security concerns – particularly the attack on the Khor Mor gas field – and the importance of implementing the agreement that led to al-Sudani's government formation.

Shahab revealed a shared vision for "inclusive elections" in the Kurdistan Region and the Presidency's intention to convene a meeting with "all regional political parties to reach a common agreement."

Addressing bilateral issues was also central to Barzani's meeting with President Abdul Latif Rashid. Barzani reiterated the Kurdistan Region's commitment to resolving differences with Baghdad, including public services and citizen well-being. He emphasized the Kurdish government's desire for "transparent and just solutions that strengthen national security and stability."

Barzani's commitment to Iraq's stability extended beyond the Kurdistan Region's immediate concerns. Following the principle of strategic depth, he expressed concern about developments related to Iraq's political, security, and economic crises, including the unresolved speakership of the Iraqi parliament. During his meeting with Acting Speaker Mohsen al-Mandalawi, Barzani stressed the importance of supporting the federal government and "fostering dialogue between the national forces."

Barzani emphasized the need to move forward with electing a new parliamentary speaker during his meeting with Muthanna al-Samarrai, head of the al-Azm Alliance. He called this a "significant and essential step" towards enhancing national political stability.

Barzani also met with Mohammad al-Halbousi, the recently removed parliament speaker. Their discussions covered the evolving political situation, efforts to appoint a new speaker, and Erbil-Baghdad relations.

President Barzani's recent Baghdad visit wasn't his first trip to the Iraqi capital this year. He met with President Rashid and Prime Minister al-Sudani on April 6th, just before his US visit. He participated in meetings with the State Administration and the Coordination Framework, keeping the Kurdistan Region's concerns and interests at the forefront.

These discussions addressed solutions for Erbil-Baghdad issues, the overall political climate in Iraq, and the Kurdistan Region specifically.

While praising the "very good" agreement reached with al-Sudani regarding Kurdistan's employees' salaries, Barzani acknowledged the outstanding issue of oil exports. He emphasized the need for further discussions, particularly given the significant financial losses ($7 billion) incurred by the Iraqi budget due to the export suspension. Barzani even proposed establishing a mechanism for ongoing meetings "to discuss current problems and find solutions for them."

In January, he participated in the Iraqi Martyrs' Day ceremony in Baghdad and held meetings with various political parties. This visit coincided with drone attacks targeting the Harir base near Erbil.

Barzani, underlining the importance of regional cooperation, stated, "We live on this geography, so it is natural for us to visit Baghdad and discuss the existing problems and try to solve them."

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