Kurdish leader blames Iraq for economic woes

Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani on Wednesday blamed Baghdad for the Kurdish region of northern Iraq’s economic woes amid unpaid salaries and deadly social unrest.

“The delay in salaries has not been the fault of the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG],” Barzani said in a televised news conference.

“It was the result of us waiting for Baghdad to send the region’s budget share.”

For several days, Barzani and his government have been the targets of widespread civilian anger over unpaid salaries, unemployment and a lack of basic services.

At least eight protesters and one member of the Kurdish forces were killed since the demonstrations began a week ago.

The spike in tensions between the federal government and the KRG follows the passing of a fiscal debt bill in November requiring the Kurdish region to deliver an unspecified amount of its oil revenue to Baghdad in order to receive its share of the federal budget.

The passing of the controversial bill prompted Kurdish legislators to storm out of the Iraqi parliament session in anger.

“We have performed our duties regarding the 2021 Iraqi budget law, and it is up to the federal government and the Iraqi parliament to deal with the rest,” said the Kurdish prime minister.

Barzani also called on his Iraqi counterpart, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, to “play his role as the prime minister of all of Iraq” and defend “the rights of the Kurds”.

“The very first step to calm down the angry protesters starts from admitting the failure of KRG to meet people’s demand by top officials, not only repeating the same old useless narratives,” tweeted Kurdish journalist Renwar Najm.

Iraqi President Barham Salih on Tuesday called for “radical solutions to the salary issues and improving living conditions through rapid and serious steps based on openness, directing the people’s resources to serve the citizens, and adopting real methods of reform”.

“The abuse of public money, administrative and financial corruption, plunder, looting and smuggling must stop,” said President Salih, a Kurd from Sulaymaniyah.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) on Tuesday issued a statement condemning the violence across the Sulaymaniyah governorate.

“The right to peaceful protest must be protected and it is imperative that demonstrations remain peaceful … The Mission calls for calm and urges the Kurdistan regional authorities to safeguard the freedoms of assembly and expression.”

On Wednesday, a Kurdish delegation touched down in Baghdad to discuss the Erbil-Baghdad budget crisis. Meanwhile, up north, protesters were back on the streets of at least three towns in the Sulaymaniyah area.

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