In Washington DC today visiting top Obama administration officials, Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani was pressed on all sides to “re-engage” with the Maliki government, and to do everything possible to improve relations.
The sudden US interest in the long-standing split between Maliki and the Kurds, one which has been growing for months, is as usual oil related. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) halted all exports of oil Sunday, saying the central government hadn’t paid them any of the royalties owed for production in 10 months.
But the Kurd-Maliki split goes much deeper than just the oil, centering on Prime Minister Maliki’s attempts to centralize all military power in the country under his direct control, naming himself the Interior and Defense Ministers as well as the Chief of Staff of the military.
It was this power grab that led Barzani, in a high profile speech last month, to warn that overt fighting between the central government and forces loyal to the KRG was all but inevitable. Barzani even said he believed the only reason Maliki hadn’t attacked yet was because he is waiting for the F-16 combat planes ordered from the US.
Vice President Biden’s advisor Antony Blinken insisted that the US has been busily engaged in trying to settle the ongoing political standoff, and remains “the indispensable honest broker” in Iraq. Yet it is the single-mindedness of the US interest in Iraq, beginning and ending with how much oil can be pumped out of the nation, that is likely to make intervention less and less welcome in this complex landscape.